Tracy Anderson: Aspiring Ballerina turned Millionaire

 

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Tracy Anderson teaching dance-cardio class in her TriBeca, NYC Dance Studio

Tracy Anderson walks into her small studio, which hides on Hubert Street in Tribeca, sets the thermostat to ninety-eight, positions herself in the center of the dance floor and looks up at the neon elastic bands strung across the ceiling. The bleached blonde, at a mere five feet and 90 pounds, sways her hips, rolls her shoulders and brings her arms above her head. “Sweat is my fairy dust!” she screams as she pulls the elastic band down her body, engaging her core abdominal muscles tight. The sun is down, the streets are cold and her clients are fast asleep, but inside her studio, the celebrity fitness trainer, Tracy Anderson has already warmed up.

Tracy Anderson, the fitness guru and celebrity trainer to stars like Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow, is perhaps best known for her training program, “the method,” –her fitness program which includes dance-cardio and muscular work—which she says can transform any woman’s body into a “teeny-tiny ballet dancer.” She designs each patented exercise—now 3,000 of them—strategically to target the smaller accessory muscles in the body, found hidden beneath the larger ones like the hamstrings and biceps. It’s when you exhaust and confuse the “Cinderella baby muscles,” as she calls them, that they pull on the large muscles and stretch them out, producing a lithe and longer body, she says. She had stumbled upon this philosophy and now mission statement of her Method, as she battled her own weight issues and determinedly sought for her own transformation. After ten years of researching, Anderson says she found her tool—the Method—and encourages women, dissatisfied with their bodies to try, “So they too can have a Cinderella Story like mine,” says Anderson. And that she did, for the Method’s success helped Anderson blossom from a former aspiring ballerina in Indiana into the worlds third wealthiest personal trainer with a net worth of $110 Million dollars inFrom the outside, her TriBeca studio is an unprepossessing Spanish colonial with a grey facade, but a dazzling yet austere sanctuary waits inside. The studio charges it’s members $1500 to join in addition to its $900 monthly rate, yet there is no sign on the front door. Instead, the studio in camouflage, laughs at newcomers, like myself, who pace the streets in search for Anderson—perhaps, they too, are allured by her promises. It was twenty minutes later when I had found her studio, when Anderson revealed herself to me. What caught the eye was a white shimmer from just three stories above. Peering closer at the image, it became clearer as it drew me in. She was like a mini acrobat suspended in the air, Anderson, as she dangled from her Hybrid Reformer, a contraption that looked like a metal black box hanging from the ceiling—as her blonde-whitish colored hair illuminated against the glass window.

Anderson calls Hollywood Star, Gwyneth Paltrow, “her most devoted client” and Paltrow dubs Anderson “the pint sized miracle,”– today the two women are former business partners and are the names behind “The Tracy Anderson Brand.” Within four years of Paltrow’s investment Anderson has opened fitness studios in Los Angeles, New York, the Hampton’s, Miami, London—her next plan is to open one in China. She also published books and DVDs for women to follow at home, sells workout clothes, offers a food delivery service, following her strict diet plan devised and finally, as of most recently—December 2013— Anderson and cohost Paltrow, launched an AOL Webshow with Ryan Seacrest Productions titled “Restart Project”.

Anderson teeters in the room, apologizing for running late. At 39 years old and two pregnancies later, Anderson has barely an ounce of body fat on her tight physique. Her compact curves are so defined, it’s as if someone had carved her into a rock statue with hammer and chisel. She is dabbing at her sweaty forehead with an old pink towel, with has a screened image of her face and pushes back her tangled bleach blonde hair, glowing white against her caramel tanned skin. Her eyes, round and doughy are hidden beneath long, black false eyelashes coated in mascara. Anderson is Malibu Barbie in the flesh and the personified ideal of her objective—a teeny, tiny dancer. But Anderson is quick to say that she worked hard for her body—20 years of trial and error. “It’s funny,” she says, “when people automatically assume that just because I’m short, I am naturally skinny.” She raises her eyebrow, “Little do they know, I’m naturally built like my dad. And my dad is built like Danny Devito.”

Her frustration at being unable to get back into shape prompted her to develop her own workout program.  Anderson was four years old when she began dancing in her small hometown of Noblesville, Indiana, when she created her life life-long dream of becoming a professional ballerina. She admires her mom, she says, for encouraging her to dance and also instilling presence in her student’s movement. Seven years later, as she constructed her Method, when Anderson had found that performing her exercises with precision and purpose lead to faster results to tighten the body.

As she prepared for college, everything changed for Anderson when her parents divorced and left her mother, with three kids and no support– and with a dance studio that earned little income, her mother took up three jobs to push Anderson through her training. “These were the times I had to build my back bone and be strong. I felt incredibly guilty to ask for my mom to pay for college, I knew we didn’t have enough money. I had a passion though and gut feeling and when I was accepted [into the Dramatic Academy of New York City] I had to go. It was my calling.”

She arrived to New York City with 23 dollars in her pocket, soon joined by a key to a dorm room full of cockroaches but Anderson was over the moon. But her dream of becoming a ballerina soon made a turn for the worse when she packed on “the freshman forty,” as she calls it. At 19 years old and a mere five feet, Anderson weighed 130 pounds—40 pounds over her average weight— and was miserable. “By normal standards, I was considered chubby but in a dancer’s world…I was fat,” she says, and her teachers took note of it—as one instructor put it: “her best chance at dance was as a teapot on Disney’s Broadway.”

Her dream was snatched before her eyes. “Everyday I woke up I hated myself even more, I hated my body. I wanted a teeny-tiny dance body, more than anything and at that point of my life I was willing to try every single exercise until I got it.” Anderson tried many exercises: treadmill routines, Pilates Classes, elliptical workouts and took up an extra job as a waitress to afford a personal trainer—she said nothing lead her even close to the results she had expected. She admits that the only way she could lose weight was through extreme dieting, subsisting off of steamed chicken and a few crackers for weeks at a time. However, Anderson explained how starving was only a quick fix and never worked because in the long road she would binge eat all of her weight back on. Her college memories stained with misery, says Anderson— those of over excising and observing women’s dangerous eating extremes—were the catalysts that fueled the creation of her Method. “I created my Method for the women who come to me hopeless after having gastric bypass surgery, but cant afford a full-boy skin tuck after, and the teenage girls, like my friends in college, terrified that exercise would create too much muscle and bulk them up, so they replace sweating with starving and experiment with eating disorders to stay tiny—Many of them would purge, others replaced meals with laxatives… girls were starving to be thin.”

Anderson calls it her “Oprah Aha moment [as a dancer].” Back in November of 1993, during the time of her pregnancy, with her first born, Sam when Anderson’s former husband [now divorce] and NBA player, Eric Anderson was seeking therapy consultations for a back injury. Anderson went along and was fascinated by the process of building supporting muscles.

The two ventured down to Puerto Rico the following year as Eric wanted to visit a holistic doctor for his back injuries from basketball. They met Dr. Ash who focused on natural healing methods in place of surgical procedures. While Eric was healing his back, she decided to ask Dr. Ash some lingering questions. “Before talking with Dr. Ash I had never cared about the internal structure of my organs while I over exercised but then he started talking about the muscular construction of the body and it had become clearer to me. I knew I needed to approach the body scientifically and precise.”

In June of 2001, Anderson moved back home to Noblesville, Indiana with Eric, where they opened a joined business together—a 7,000 square foot gym and dance studio called Young Artists & Athletes Development Center. Intrigued by her conversations with Dr. Ash and pregnant with Sam, her first son, she said it was the best time to start researching for more answers to her formula, says Anderson. From Internet sites and stacks of medical books—read to tapers to the neurologists and the sports-conditioners she met with, Anderson found a common theme. She notes that while each source provided in depth explanations for the functions of the large body muscles, like the hamstrings and biceps, the textbooks barely emphasized the usage of the smaller ones– “No one cared or questioned the smaller accessory muscles… except me,” Anderson remembers.

It was her epiphany moment— the formula to the teeny dancer body, she says. “Muscles get smart fast but they get stupider faster”, she explains, “so you have to change your workouts constantly to make sure they never get bored and stop working for you. This is why so many fitness methods plateau and you start to gain weight. The secret is to use the accessory muscles that lay underneath the larger ones, in addition to a constant change of workouts so your muscles never get bored. I go after the accessory muscles, where other fitness programs don’t, which pulls everything teeny-tiny.”

Anderson was nine months pregnant, but could not rest for a second, she says. She began creating dance-cardio exercises to test her philosophy—exercises that targeted smaller muscles and had variation. With sketches in hand, she lined up 150 women who agreed to participate as variables of Anderson’s experiment. She explains “I had overweight women lose up to fifty-five pounds in six months; I had women calling up their doctors to cancel their tummy tucks.”

She strayed away from the details of why she moved from Indiana to Los Angeles—with very little much to say. Her old neighbors from Indiana, on the other hand, certainly did. They criticized Anderson in their Noblesville local newspapers, calling her a fraud and financially irresponsible. One paper reports, Anderson was forced to go to court twice—the first time for refusing to pay for advertising in a fitness magazine and the second for “abandoning her PR rep of the fitness studio, leaving him not a penny.”By late April of 2005, Anderson was forced to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. She closed her studio, but that wasn’t the only thing she left behind, she walked away from her marriage too. She noted that she wasn’t very worried: “Indiana wasn’t for me anyways,” she says and puts a wad of hot pink bubble gum in her mouth, “I had a fitness career calling me elsewhere.” She didn’t want to discuss Indiana for much longer; Anderson wanted to show me around the studio instead.

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The exterior, grayish tones of her Tribeca studio mask Anderson’s somewhat parallel fitness universe within. It possesses an ambiance similar to Anderson, full of energy and color— and heat. Each individual fitness room bursts with color from neon elastic bands that stream the ceiling—the rooms burst with heat too at 90 degrees. Anderson makes sure of it, she likes her clients to sweat, and “It means they are working hard enough It means they will see results.” She also notes that her studio at 4,700 square feet is quaint in size compared to the other’s but she doesn’t find the flagship is too grand: offering hair blow out bars and fresh juice treatments, on sight physical therapists, nutritionists and expert blood paneling. She defends her studio though, “Women find too many excuses to skip their workouts,” she says. She wants women to start loving their bodies through exercising with no fear of bulking up. “Now they can’t, I provide everything they need and if they can’t join, for whatever reason, they can do the dance moves with my DVD’s ($20- $300 depending on the program) or books at home,” she notes.

She points to the contraption in the corner, which I had seen her dangling from earlier that day. She springs on the black metal box like the Disney figure, Tinker Bell, in her high-heeled, Nike sneakers. It’s called the “Hybrid Reformer” she says.

As her dance cardio movements couldn’t access all the smaller muscles in the body, she wanted to build a machine that could. She dubbed the machine, “the Hybrid Reformer,” and after contacting a fabricator from close to home in Portland, Indiana, she pitched it to an investor. It was harder than she expected, admits Anderson but she had built many contacts while designing her method and found a man willing to invest. He was a businessman from Los Angeles, who called himself Barber. “I immediately knew that Tracy was going to be a viable product,” he says. “Her idea seemed fresh—a contraption to reengineer muscular structure. And she’s got the personality; she’s bubbly; she’s got the talent. So I agreed to invest.” With his investment, the Hybrid Reformer was put into action and completed her method—dually dance-cardio and Hybrid Reformer movement. That was the day that “The Tracy Anderson Method” became alive, she says.

“Gwyneth Paltrow, has always been my number one client,” Anderson admits—“It’s also thanks to her why I am sitting here today.” It was June 2007 when Oprah interviewed Paltrow to discuss her role in Iron Man I, a movie, which had just released in theaters and Oprah’s mouthed dropped wide. “Your body looks fantastic, what’s your secret?” Oprah asked Paltrow. She pointed her finger towards Anderson and explained her method and “right after that interview, I started getting the real calls… Clients wanted to train with me and they came by the dozen,” says Anderson.

She doesn’t like to discuss her celebrity clients too much. Anderson is a brand now and “there are too many liabilities,” is how she puts it. She had dealt with them in the past in addition to her harsh critics—calling her a fraud and questioning her degree for the high scientific claims she makes. “Perfection is possible with my method. I can turn you into a Victoria Secret Model,” splashed across her books and DVDs.

Justin Foley, Manager of Equinox Fitness Clubs with 30 years of expertise in personal training, questions Anderson and her philosophies. “She’s a controversial subject, Tracy Anderson,” he says, but he personally disagrees with many of her theories. He admits that her philosophy of “strengthening the smaller muscle groups so that they can pull in the larger muscles, resulting in a lean, long, figure that is not bulky,” has its appeal but her single handed discovery of the “accessory muscles” that are overlooked by traditional fitness instructors and physiologists is misleading, he says. 

“I appreciate that she “tested” her method with 150 women, her method has not been peer reviewed or has statistical science figures from studying the electrodes under a microscope. Without any of that, “research” in the fitness industry is worthless. One scientific theory that has been proven is that you can’t spot reduce fat, which goes against all of her theories like targeting small accessory muscles. Your body looses fat from everywhere in the body—ask anyone in this fitness industry.”

Dr. Bruce Grossinger, an orthopedic specialist of over 40 years agrees with Foley. He is skeptical of Anderson’s claim that “no woman should ever lift more than 3 pounds weights,” as she stamps on her website. Dr. Grossinger disagrees with Anderson and after thirty years of studying the muscular structure of the body; he has many reasons why:

“Muscle builds off testosterone and women who generally have low levels of it should have no problem lifting weights, even heavy ones at that, without making their muscles larger or “bulkier.” Heavier weights actually train the larger muscles of the lower body with exercises like squats and lunges which increases muscle mass, burning more fat,” he said. “It’s also good to mix your exercise routine up. You can do something like Tracy Anderson’s program – but it’s good to use some heavier weights too.”

Anderson pulls her knees in two her chest, clenching the Hybrid Reformer in an egg shape and starts to summersault around the black pole— “I’m toning my abs”, she tells me. She doesn’t seem to care much about what critics have to say about her method. “Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion,” she says, “But it’s unfair to get attacked for my method of “a teeny tiny dancer body,” she says. “My image of the ideal body doesn’t have to be everyone’s. For the women who want that… I can provide it,” she notes.

She glances at the clock—“Ah, I’m late,” she tells me, she has a training session with a celebrity client of whom she won’t disclose the name. Like a ballerina, Anderson climbs down the Hybrid Reformer with grace and goes to check the thermostat once more. She raises the temperature two notches higher. Had she exceeded limitations, of taking on too great of a fitness empire as critics say? No, says Anderson, she’s not worried about having too much on her plate—“I wouldn’t be running such a large business if I didn’t think I can handle it,” Anderson says. She walks to the door, light on her feet, like the petite ballerina worked hard to become. Pausing before she turns the doorknob she looks back at me, she has yet one more thing to say: “It’s all about performing life’s movements, not just doing them, is when we find success. So what if you sweat a little to climb to the top,” she says. Anderson loves to sweat—it’s her fairy dust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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