Written By: Emme Duncan
Tucked away on Amelia Drive sits a special little studio that blends the best of Pilates, yoga, orthopedic exercises and classical ballet technique into a 1-hour class that is sure to have you sweating and shaking as you strengthen and lengthen. Nantucket’s longest-operating barre studio, Go Figure Barre Studio offers four or more classes a day in the summer months, meaning you officially can’t use the “scheduling conflict” excuse to get out of this top-notch workout. As the summer kicks into high gear, N Magazine sat down with owner Christina Schwefel to discuss what makes the Figure Method so effective, why beginners shouldn’t be afraid to give it a try, and what new and exciting beach-side class offerings she’s bringing to the island.
N MAGAZINE: How did you originally become involved with the Figure Method?
SCHWEFEL: I was living in New York City pursuing a doctorate in Counseling Psychology and decided to simultaneously train to be a yoga instructor. So for years, I was teaching vinyasa yoga and I found myself always looking to add something into the flow — hand weights, more focus on the core, and so on. Being someone who loves to learn, I attended many continuing education workshops for yoga and ultimately found myself in a Pilates mat certification program. This was incredibly helpful in increasing my understanding of abdominal and spinal health. At this point, I found myself teaching only privately (instead of in gyms or studios) and I was fusing the principles of these two practices together, along with plyometrics and more traditional physical training exercises.
I moved to Connecticut after about 8 years in the city and took my first Figure Method class. I was instantly in love! The method brought together the aspects of these disciplines which I loved (yoga & Pilates) with a clear additional emphasis on classical ballet technique. It all clicked for me, and I felt I had found my exercise “home”. I trained to become an instructor under Cindy Sites, the Founder of Go Figure, and opened the Nantucket studio about 3 years after I started teaching in our CT & NY studios.
N MAGAZINE: How would you describe the Figure Method to someone who has never heard of it?
SCHWEFEL: The Figure Method barre class incorporates the best of Pilates, yoga, orthopedic exercises and classical ballet technique. It is incredibly effective in toning, strengthening and conditioning the entire body. Muscle groups are shaped and strengthened through slow, sustained, precise movements followed by intense stretching to avoid building bulk.
Clients work both on the floor and at the ballet barre, using their own body for resistance (there is no heavy lifting or use of machines). Light hand weights are used to sculpt and tone the arms, back and shoulders. Exercises are non-impact, gentle on joints and produce dramatic results!
N MAGAZINE: What is your favorite Figure Method “move” or set during class?
SCHWEFEL: I have so many favorites! I love the arm sequence (with weights) because I enjoy the fluidity and I see real results quickly in this area. I always love seat work, too. Standing pretzel is an exercise performed at the barre in a turnout position during which I always feel challenged but also rather graceful. This move targets the side seat and the hamstring-seat connection. It is especially gratifying to see the shake in this muscle! Unlike traditional glute work (e.g., squats) which can broaden the muscle, this move helps to lift the seat off the back of the leg, giving a more defined posterior. Who doesn’t love that??
N MAGAZINE: What would you say to someone who wants to try a Go Figure class but is nervous that they aren’t fit enough and it will be too hard?
SCHWEFEL: This method can be intimidating for new clients because it can be intense! It may very well feel “too hard” the first few times around. But I would encourage anyone who feels this way to stick with the Method and continue to practice and come to the barre multiple times a week. Like any other discipline, it will take time to build stamina and strength and work on ideal form. I would say: the result is well worth the journey. When I am in class, I am often surrounded by women who range in ages from 18 to 80. There is nothing more motivating than seeing a woman who is 20 years older than me in perfect form in her push-ups, with amazing cut arms, a lifted seat, toned legs and an overall long and lean appearance. This is a method for the lifespan because it is joint friendly and low impact. I would want anyone new to realize that they are making an investment for the future with this method.
N MAGAZINE: Your Go Figure Nantucket instructors are incredibly friendly and welcoming. What do you look for when hiring your instructors?
SCHWEFEL: That puts a big smile on my face! Our Nantucket instructional staff is a family. We are very connected to each other and all really love what we do. The Nantucket instructors all have either professional dance or performing art experience (except for me!). While professional dance experience is not a requirement for our instructors, it is something we look for because dancers come to training with an existing knowledge base about kinesiology which is essential for teaching Figure Method. We also look for individuals who love to learn about choreography, movement, and anatomy because continuing education is prioritized and valued in our studio. Figure Method is more than a hobby for our instructors. It is a passion, and it shows.
N MAGAZINE: One of the mantras in your classes is “embrace the shake.” Can you talk a little bit about this and what is happening to muscles when this occurs?
SCHWEFEL: Yes! Often in class, you will see a client’s muscles shaking as they work through a set. This is a sign that the exercise is working to change the body! The shake indicates that we have literally worked that muscle to its fatigue. Then, by design, we move into a luxurious stretch phase to take that same maxed-out muscle and elongate it. This is the crucial sequencing that results in a long, lean physique and gorgeous muscle tone. The reason we want clients to embrace the shake and go deeper instead of feel apprehensive, afraid, or even embarrassed is because the shake is a signal that they are changing their body. The cornerstone of a Figure Method class is in sustaining positions — your muscles have to generate a lot of force to hold your body like that — and the result is a deep muscle engagement that gets to the heart of the matter rather quickly. This is why I often also say, “It Works!”
N MAGAZINE: What makes Go Figure different than other studios?
SCHWEFEL: Our studio is focused on precise movement and deep muscle engagement rather than a quickened pace. In fact, we pride ourselves on not moving quickly from one exercise to the next. In the last 6 months, we have sharpened our vision for this method and heightened our awareness of postural alignment. We work closely with two alignment specialists (one specializes in Egoscue Method, the other in Mensendieck Therapy) who bring their unique perspective and expertise to our continuing education instructor meetings. The more we learn from physical therapists and postural alignment specialists in these meetings, the better able we are to fuse this information with the principles of our method and deliver instructions that are clear and helpful for our clients. In essence, each instructor continues to grow their knowledge base of barre fitness and postural alignment to deliver a class that is safe, effective, and challenging.
N MAGAZINE: Go Figure has an exciting new (outdoor!) class experience this summer. Tell us a little about this and how it came about.
SCHWEFEL: We sure do! In June we launched Beach Barre, an outdoor barre experience that is like no other! For the last two years, Michelle [Birmingham] and I have been talking about ways to bring Figure Method to the amazing beaches of Nantucket. We tried several variations with portable barres and other equipment but never felt quite satisfied that the real experience of Figure Method was being delivered. Then this winter, my husband found a 1979 Pinzgauer which he had been eyeing for some time. When he showed it me, he said, “doesn’t the side of this look long enough for a ballet barre?” I knew exactly what he meant! Before long I was ordering parts, researching the Pinzgauer, and creating a literal barre studio on wheels! It was all very exciting. Michelle and I were together in CT doing a Figure Method training when she got the call that our permit was approved to offer our classes on Nobadeer Beach — an ideal spot. We literally jumped for joy when we got the news. With the Nantucket surf in front of you, the incredible ocean air and just perfectly picturesque scene, it still feels too good to be true. Michelle taught the first couple of classes in mid-June and she summed it up best when she called me and said, “I had to pinch myself while I was teaching.”
N MAGAZINE: As a female small business owner, what advice would you have for other women out there who are considering breaking off on their own and going the entrepreneurial route?
SCHWEFEL: Say goodbye to sleep! Just kidding… kind of. There are so many facets to business ownership and you may find that in a given day you are wearing many different hats: working on social media posts, writing copy for marketing materials, interviewing a new instructor, or honing your craft! But, always make time for yourself.
Often, women put everyone’s needs in front of their own and it becomes so normative that doing otherwise can feel wrong. Prioritizing your own needs is not selfish or egotistical, it’s essential. I would say to create boundaries around your work time and your personal time (don’t take your phone into bed or check email during a massage!) and be confident that you can do this, in your own way. This is why you went on your own in the first place! Trust and nourish your inner voice, and value your perspective, even if you don’t necessarily receive external validation. And finally, teamwork makes the dream work. Surround yourself with people whom you admire and respect, and who share the vision for the company.
For more information on Go Figure and to sign up for a class, visit their website here.