I first heard about Jennifer Nichols and her interesting ballet-based fitness approach back in the Fall. It wasn’t until January that I was able to attend a class and meet the woman behind the Extension Method. The class was SO much fun and despite the fact that many in the room were dancers and I most decidedly am not one, I was made to feel very welcome and by the end of it, very fit. The classes are a ton of fun but there is no doubt that this is a serious workout. I highly recommend you give it a try though – particularly if your typical fitness routine is in need of a shot in the arm.
Here is the text for those on their mobile…
THERE ARE TWO THINGS BEHIND THE EXTENSION METHOD: BALLET BASICS AND THE VISION OF JENNIFER NICHOLS. THESE COME TOGETHER AT THE EXTENSION ROOM DANCE STUDIO WHERE PARTICIPANTS IN THESE POPULAR CLASSES EMPLOY DANCE STEPS AS THEY ENJOY FUN AND FITNESS.
I have never taken dance although I have enjoyed many fitness classes so I was unsure about whether I could keep up with an Extension Method class. I need not have worried. Although many of the participants were professional or at least trained dancers they could not have been more welcoming and while Extension Method classes are built on ballet basics, they are designed so that dancers and non-dancers alike can participate and benefit. In fact, Jennifer Nichols built the program largely because she was finding so many people around her at the gym curious about her workouts. “Whenever I was doing my own workout, ballet would sneak in,” Jennifer explained to me, “People were always asking me about things I was doing so I decided to create a fitness program other people could enjoy.”
Ballet snuck in to Jennifer’s workouts because she is a professional ballet dancer. Born in Collingwood, Jennifer studied at the Quinte Ballet School and L’Ecole Superieure de Danse du Quebec. She later completed post graduate programs at Ballet B.C and The National Ballet School.
Jennifer was always interested in the physiology as well as the art of dance. Years back, Jennifer was seeing a chiropractor who saw professional dancers as well as athletes. The chiropractor and Jennifer agreed that athletes could improve their performance if they took dance classes. “I jumped on that,” Jennifer says and out of this shared belief, the Extension Method was born.
The program has evolved over about ten years. Jennifer started with a ballet boot camp and focused on “putting together patterns of movement.” In addition, she “had to go from being a performer to being an instructor” in order to learn to cue her classes. Each sequence in the Extension Method classes involves a series of movements. None repeat for too long and there is a constant changing of positions and stretches and jumps and bends. It is an art in itself to be able to remember all the steps and mirror them to the class.
The class I took was Allegro Ballet Boot Camp. Extension Method clases are named using ballet or musical terms. Allegro is taken from music and means “rather quick, brisk and lively.” The class was certainly that. It was fast but not forced and quickly got the heart rate up but not in an uncomfortable way. Personally I couldn’t stop smiling for the full hour and only really ran into trouble when I tried to sing along to the contemporary music Jennifer plays – I needed to use my breath for keeping up, not for singing.
Coda Cardio is another class, this one is named for the Coda, or tail end of a classical production. Adagio stretch reflects the meaning of Adagio which is “having slow movement” and this class moves at a gentle pace and takes participants through a series of stretches on the matte and barre. Classical Core and Ports de Bras focuses on abs and arms and of course there is a Barre class. The Extension Method Barre class develops balance on one leg and fine tunes muscles with a focus on alignment.
Barre classes have lately become popularized in pilates and yoga studios but as with all Extension Method classes, the focus here is strictly on ballet basics, so the classes are decidedly different from any yoga or pilates-based programs. The ballet in these classes is unmistakeable and evident within the first few steps of any sequence. Jennifer often has her class set up in first or third position. Direction at times includes mention of “turning out”. Ballet is present right down to the cues.
“We offer a fully comprehensive ballet work out that targets all muscle groups,” Jennifer says. “I wanted to make ballet accessible to all because it can be intimidating.” Jennifer also believes that ballet can benefit anyone. “Ballet dancers are supposed to be the strongest athletes,” she explains. After a class you can see why. Muscle groups are constantly tested through repetitive postures and movements. Jennifer firmly believes that athletes from other sports can benefit significantly from Extension Method workouts. She mentions as an example that hockey players skate down the ice in a turned out position. She says basketball players can benefit from the jumping in her workouts since they can “gain height in their jump shot by learning how to tap into their lower leg and strengthening their arches.” She adds that ballet builds very strong peroneal muscles along the lateral side of the calf which can keep athletes from rolling their ankles over – a common problem in many sports.
Jennifer has a highly-trained team who assist her in teaching classes at her studio, The Extension Room. She is picky about who she brings on to teach since instructors need to have a background in ballet as well as a motivating personality to lead the class. Jennifer is a Can Fit Certified Fitness Instructor as well as a dancer.
The Extension Room studio is stunning. It is a large bright, white room complete with chandeliers and full of natural light. The floor is a professional surface that allows participants to work out in bare feet without slipping. The space is available for events and one can see why. Jennifer found the space a few years back when she left her west-end studio and was looking for space in the east. She had to completely renovate the space and it has a stylized and personal feel that suits The Extension Method.
Recently, Jennifer added Pilates Reformer sessions and Chiropractic services to her offering through a side company called Health Pointe. All of these exist in the same building on Eastern Avenue, just a hop skip and a jump from Parliament. The studio is a quick 5-10 minute drive for most Local readers and parking is easy to find on-site or nearby.
The week I saw Jennifer she taught 25 classes which is remarkable when you see the level of fitness required to do just one. But Jennifer Nichols does not sit still very often. As well as running the Extension Room, Jennifer has her own professional dance company – Hit and Run Productions. She and her business partner arrange dance for private parties, dance studios, commercials and film and tv studios amongst other things. Jennifer also performs and tours with Opera Atelier’s Corps de Ballet, “Atelier Ballet”. As if this were not enough, Jennifer teamed up with the award winning television show, Reign and does all the choreography for this popular show that just picked up Best New TV Drama at the People’s Choice Awards.
Primarily though, Jennifer has made her mark with The Extension Method. Many professional dancers attend her classes for the additional cardio component they provide. Dancers also come if they are somehow injured and seeking rehabilitation. The day I was there a dancer who had formerly been with the Hungarian Ballet company was beside me with his wife who danced in River Dance. They couldn’t have been kinder about my beginner stumbles. “Some dancers do come and professionals as well,” Jennifer says, “Everyone has fun and seems to adapt.”