Whitney Herr was a dancer with the San Francisco Ballet when she discovered Gyrotonic, an exercise program often compared to Pilates. It was an epiphany, she said--one that made her feel great and prompted her to become a certified instructor of the method about two years ago. The program was created by Juliu Horvath, a Hungarian raised in Romania who considers himself a "universal being," according to the Gyrotonic Web site. For more information or to set up an appointment with Herr, visit www.whitneyherr.com or call 307-1157.

I looked up some stuff on the Internet, but I still want to ask you: What is Gyrotonic exercise?

I describe it as an exercise and movement-therapy system. How I usually like to explain it is sort of making a compare/contrast to Pilates, because the general public has basically grasped that concept already. ... The difference between them is that Gyrotonic is all about circles and spirals. Pilates is a very linear system. ... The body is an organic form, and so it moves in circles and spirals. Gyrotonic is a pretty natural way of moving for the body. It has two components: It has the machines, which are technically called the Gyrotonic Expansion System ...


... and then it has a sort of yoga-class-like component. I like to say it's more like a yoga class than it is a Pilates mat class, because it involves breathing, but it also sort of--like yoga--you can use it strictly as a physical-exercise practice. You can sort of take it a step further, if you choose, and use it as a more holistic, meditative kind of thing, as well. So that's why I like to compare it a little bit more to yoga, and it's called Gyrokinesis.

Do you have to get certified?

Yeah, you do have to get certified. The good part of the system is that ... it's still a small enough community--well, they keep a hold on it. So everyone who is certified today with Gyrotonic, you know that they've been certified with Juliu Horvath. So no one at this point can be certified by someone else. He's present at all of the certifications, so you kind of know what you're getting. It sort of keeps the authenticity.

Do you communicate with Juliu?

(Laughs.) Not on a daily basis or anything. It's not small enough of a community that that happens. You have to go to him in your certification and things like that, so not really. When I was trained--and I was teaching this in New York for the past 2 1/2 or two years--who you do communicate with on a daily basis if you're in a studio are ... some of the original people he taught. They've sort of opened their own studios throughout the years and stuff like that. If you work at their studios, you get a lot of information that's gone through them. That's sort of a secondhand way.

I'm curious--does Juliu Horvath rule the world of Gyrotonic with an iron fist?

Definitely not. ... He's sort of an interesting person, because he's not really interested in any kind of ruling or administrative anything. These (administrative types) are sort of the people who have surrounded him, who have learned from what's actually happened to Pilates, where it sort of got away from them, or the patent ran out. I'm not exactly positive what happened there. (These are) the people who surrounded Juliu and really liked his work, because you know there are always those people who are like, you know, extreme followers.

The disciples?

Disciples, right. You know, those people sort of were looking out for his best interests, and that's how they made the certification process and the updates. He's really just interested in teaching it and just sort of transferring his experience and educating. He's an interesting person: He has a lot of knowledge, but he's one of those people who doesn't talk a lot unless he really has something to say, in my experience.

Why should someone go for Gyrotonic instruction over, say, Pilates?

One of the aspects of the system I think is so important is that it really follows the natural movement of the body. We tend to live in a very linear culture; things are very boxy. ... What I guess I'm saying if I could sum it up is that, because of the circular nature and spiraling nature of all aspects of the Gyrotonic system in terms of the movement patterns and when you use your breath, it corresponds with the natural way that the body moves. So it tends to be really effective for tons of different kinds of people.