by Lou Mancinelli
Juliu Horvath, a Hungarian-born swimmer and gymnast turned professional dancer with the Romanian State Opera Ballet, developed an exercise technique called GYROTONIC® in the 1980s after he suffered a career-ending Achilles tendon tear and herniated disk. It is an exercise modality designed to increase the strength and flexibility of one’s muscles, bones and heart.
Vitality Studio, 7109 Emlen Street in Mt. Airy, is one of the only locations in the area that offer gyrotonic sessions on a gyrotonic pulley tower machine. The discipline is offered via one-on-one sessions with one of the studio’s two certified practitioners, a 65-year-old Pilates instructor and former doctor of school psychology, and a 1995 Juilliard College graduate and former New York City professional dancer.
Watching an individual employing GYROTONIC® is like watching a solo dancer with a streamer, but instead of flaring gestures of the streamer, the dancer’s two hands grip a handle connected to a pulley tower by a line. An onlooker can see how the continued practice of this modality could strengthen one’s muscles and body as the practitioner rotates and stretches.
Sixty-five year-old instructor Patty Segal is a testament to that strength. Segal, who was a high school cheerleader in North Jersey, studied art history at the University of Wisconsin, graduated in 1968, the same year she married her fiance, Stephen, and earned her master’s degree in educational and school psychology at the University of Cincinnati in 1971. In her 50s she earned a Ph.D. in the field from Temple University while raising three children. In 1975 she moved with her husband to Mt. Airy, where they have resided ever since.
Segal spent the majority of her career as a school psychologist until she retired in 2005. That’s when she got hooked again on vigorous exercise, and in 2006 she earned her certification in Pilates. Like Horvath, as she aged Segal recognized her body’s flexibility and mobility decreasing.
She had been an amateur international folk dancer since her 20s, focusing on Balkan and Israeli dances, and in 2008 a friend introduced her to gyrotonic exercise. She felt the benefits and subsequently completed its 160-hour training regimen. (One can begin to teach after 100 hours.)
Segal says it has extended her life. “I feel relaxed and energized at the same time,” she said about how she feels after a gyrotonic workout. “I feel both strengthened and flexible. Some of that may sound contradictory, but I would say that captures how I feel.”
Segal completed her training hours with Vitality’s owner and fellow instructor, former professional dancer with the Manhattan-based Stephen Petronio School, Jessica Meeker. “My clients have said that it’s better than Celebrex,” said Meeker, 39. “That it has relieved them of plantar fasciitis [inflammation of tissue along the sole of the foot], helped their golf game and increased their range of motion.”
Horvath first worked to develop the modality with the aim of rehabilitating himself back into the dancing world. As such, its original intention was to extend the life of the dancer. He initially called it yoga for dancers, although Segal insists it will benefit all athletes as well as non-athletes.
Throughout her career as a dancer, Meeker, a certified yoga and Pilates practitioner, has practiced various exercise modalities and kinetic disciplines. The fluid circular movement of the gyrotonic modality appealed to her sense of dance while at once connecting her to her breath, much like meditation or yoga.
“You really do feel like you expand,” said Meeker, who has lived in Mt. Airy with her husband, Christopher Plant, since 2002. (The couple has two children.) “Like you’re stretched out … Many of the beginning clients never knew they could move in this way, and they say that it feels so good to move and breathe, spiral and stretch.”
For more information on Vitality Studio, which also offers yoga and Pilates, visit www.vitalitystudio.com.