The blocky, six-story structure at the southwest corner of Broadway and 11th Street has a namethe St. Denisand two addresses, 80 East 11th Street and 799 Broadway. Completed in 1853, it was a grand hotel when the area around Grace Church was a fancy shopping district. Designed by James Renwick Jr., the St. Denis gave shelter to the likes of Sarah Bernhardt and Buffalo Bill. Ulysses S. Grant used it as headquarters after the Civil War, and Alexander Graham Bell offered the first New York demonstration of the telephone here, in 1877. (An elegant spread in the May 2001 issue of Metropolis, with text by Mindy Aloff, documents the whole history of the site.)
The neighborhood foundered when the commercial center moved north, and the hotel became an office building in 1920, coming to house plasterers' and bakers' unions as well as the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, American volunteers who fought the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Its dining rooms and restaurants are now antique shops and other retail outlets. Pioneering conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp rented suite 403 from 1965 until his death in 1968. Dialogue House, founded by depth psychologist Ira Progoff, has been a tenant since 1974, and the building is currently home to designers, small publishers, nutritionists, homeopaths, smoking cessation counselors, and, overwhelmingly, psychotherapists and bodyworkers, happy to fill the one-room suites with massage tables, stability balls, and the more complex paraphernalia of the contemporary health and fitness industry. The 150-year-old building has very thick walls, so the individual suites are quiet, perfect for the stress-busting activities they house. We talked to several current tenants, some of whom breathe the same political fire as earlier residents, though their methods are more contemporary.
JAE GRUENKE, a Feldenkrais practitioner and personal trainer, moved into the St. Denis (suite 201, 646-256-4414) in July; she rented there because "the building has a great vibe, it's known for people in related fields, it's close to Union Square and near my home. After six and a half years of making house calls all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, I felt the less travel, the better."
Feldenkrais, a form of somatic education, uses gentle movement and directed attention to enhance human functioning. It was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born physicist and judo expert who honed the technique to heal his own crippling knee injuries.
Gruenke, who also coordinates the Democracy in the Park cell phone efforts on Sunday afternoons in Tompkins Square, offers private sessions and workshops in "intelligent exercise," specialized for people experiencing a lot of physical stress, like pregnant women, senior citizens, and long-distance runners. She publishes a regular free newsletter, available at intelligentexercise.com.
In the coming weeks she'll be offering "What Runners (K)need to Know," a two-part workshop aimed at helping runners and walkers keep their knees functioning smoothly while preparing for the upcoming New York City Marathon (October 4 and November 1, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Chelsea Studios, 151 West 26th Street, sixth floor, $35 each, $60 for both). A session on October 5, "Feldenkrais: What Your Knees Need Now," has been designated a fundraiser for Run Against Bush (runagainstbush.org), a group trying to run Bush out of office; the $35 (or pay what you can) fee will be donated to the cause. Another workshop, "Running Freer and Faster," meets October 18 from 7 to 9, also at Chelsea Studios.
SUSAN BRAHAM, a former dancer and choreographer who first sublet at 80 East 11th Street 15 years ago, likes the building because "it's a very comfortable rent for this profession. It's quiet and well kept." Now in her own suite, she offers Swedish and deep tissue massage and Reiki bodywork, and also sees clients in Brooklyn, while subletting to two other practitioners (suite 639, 212-505-0136). (Another attraction of the building, many tenants observe, is management's easy attitude about sharing and subletting space, which helps defray the rents and the rising real estate taxes that are passed on to commercial tenants.)
MARTHA PARTRIDGE moved into the building in 1993 (suite 440, 212-358-1083). In a peach-colored studio filled with exercise balls, stretchy bands, and other aids, she assists people dealing with Parkinson's, doing movement and hands-on work influenced by Milton Trager's approach as well as Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, and Pilates. "I do lots of walking up and down the hallways with my clients," she says. "That's why it's nice to have a friendly building. We borrow each other's stuff, and we pay each other rent if we need their spaces. It's like a nice college dorm with really mature people; I haven't met a practitioner in the building that isn't good." What she does is "movement education, not massage," and her work with clients feels like partnering, resembling the "fall and recovery" path of Humphrey-Limón dance techniquenot surprising since Partridge, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence, trained with former Limón dancer Ruth Currier and taught at the Limón studio herself.
Clients are referred to Partridge from several area hospitals and by word of mouth; she has more work than she can currently handle, and has just taken on an associate.
Sage Fitness, the large suite PAMELA WARSHAY shares with other bodyworkers, looks like a nursery school for adults. It's full of equipment ranging from the hospital-plain "reformer," a spring-loaded bed used by Pilates instructors to lengthen and strengthen clients' muscles, to a curvy wood-and-metal contraption that might have been designed by a hobbit, but is in fact a "Gyrotonic Tower" developed by Juliu Horvath, a Hungarian dancer raised in Romania, after a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his career. Horvath founded the White Cloud studio in New York, but has recently relocated to Miami, says Warshay. His Gyrotonic Expansion System, which she teaches, is "all about arching and curling." Poised on the bench of the tower, you hold wooden handles that guide your shoulders and arms through sweeping circular movementstwists, spirals, and figure eightsimproving posture and alignment, range of motion, and general flexibility. "You can add weight," says Warshay, "thus developing strength on one side while stretching the other." Lie on your back, insert your feet in little black slings, and the counterweights in the machine offer resistance and support as you move your legs in wide circles. All these exercises engage the "core" abdominal muscles, essential for general conditioning. The apparatus, which sells for about $5,500, is only available to certified instructors.
Warshay, a New Yorker who danced for several years and is also a trained Pilates teacher, studied with neuromuscular trainer and anatomist Irene Dowd. After renting a smaller space at 80 East 11th Street, she moved Sage Fitness two years ago to suite 414 (212-982-5756).
REBECCA KLINGER has been offering sublime massagesfrom prenatal and infant treatments to bodywork for adults dealing with various health challengesin Manhattan since 1981; she moved into the St. Denis in 1989. "After my sweet suitemate in Gramercy Park moved upstate to get married and have babies, I decided to go solo. The building worked in terms of my clientele at the time. This was not such a hot area then, but you could get charming one-room offices for relatively affordable rates." Her love of the ocean has led her to create a studio that feels like an urban beach cabana, decorated with dozens of fish images (suite 521, 212-777-4201, rebeccaklinger.net).
In addition to what she jokingly calls "Yiddish massage, because it's such a conglomeration of all the styles of bodywork I've studied over the years," Klinger is certified in "interactive guided imagery," a profoundly effective, safe, and fast mind-body technique that uses the power of the imagination to address issues ranging from stress management and pain reduction to life challenges, decision-making, and creativity. As a holistic health counselor, she also advises people about developing healthier lifestyle choices"mood, food, and attitude. I want people to leave here feeling better than when they arrived."
JULIANA LUECKING, a massage therapist who divides her practice between Park Slope and the St. Denis, is a fairly recent arrival. She offers massage and Reiki, and treasures "Lawrence and Tamika, the security guards, and the awning coming out in the streetbefore my clients get onto my table and under my hands, they have a feeling of comfort and welcome. When I walk in, I can feel the depth of New York, the solidity. I like the age of the building, and the spiral staircase; I'm lucky 'cause I'm on the second floor. I'm very people-oriented, and there are several psychotherapists next door, a lawyer, an antiques magazine. We refer folks to each other. There's a whole feeling that's grounded, peaceful; we're quite independent of each other, but there's a comfort level because we're all helping folks make positive transitions in their lives, learning about their bodies and their minds. Even the lawyer.
"I did intuitive healing for many years before I learned about the physiology of the body. There are sources I have already on tap. Doing Swedish massage, sports massage, or deep tissue massage is what folks ask for, but if they talk to me about other complexities in their lives that are manifesting energy block, then I love to assist, leaning my energy against theirs. I'm a big listener. My experience with hospice patients and their families helps me learn lessons about those transitions. I'm patient with myself and with people." (suite 238, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 718-622-7342)
Kannikar Ravinsky massages at WAT
photo: Cary Conover
Marketing itself as a full-service, non-mechanical gym, the fragrant and tranquil WAT in Lower Manhattan offers its patrons Western and Thai boxing, Thai massage, and jai-yet, an exercise that co-opts movements from yoga and massage. I chose a two-and-a-half-hour Thai massagenuad phaen boran in Thai, also known by the cheeky appellation "the lazy man's yoga." Performed on a floor mat in loose clothing (provided by the gym), the technique uses the push and pull of body weight to aid circulation, relax the muscles, and relieve fatigue. From toes to scalp, P Dang, the Wat's star masseuse from northern Thailand, prodded energy points, kneaded the tension from my tendons, and listened to my muscles moan their tales of New York City woe. P Dang's shoulders and forearms served as fulcrums between our bodies, stretching my legs and arms every which way, releasing pent-up tension (and a little flatus).
The remarkable grand finale: P Dang cracked my back from what felt like the fifth lumbar vertebra up to my neck in one sweeping gesture. I emerged from our session well-oiled and embarrassingly giggly. As if her adroit hands weren't enough to ease my neurotic tension, P Dang quelled my pre-session jitters by sharing her credentials: "I learned massage from my ancestors." Who can argue with that kind of expertise? DEBORAH S. ESQUENAZI
The Wat, 31 Howard Street, 212.966.4010, thewat.com. Sessions: One to three-and-a-half hours. Pricing: $80 to $225 for nonmembers, $60 to $210 for those with monthly memberships
DANCING TO HEAL
"I want to work directly with people who are in trouble and struggling to survive," says dancer and visual artist Jennifer Donello, a new faculty member at the CREATIVE CENTER: ARTS FOR PEOPLE WITH CANCER. "I connect to that process of spiritual, emotional, and physical healing. I know I'd be lost if I weren't able to do what I do." Tuesdays at 6 in November, CCAPC hosts Donello's new series of workshops in folkloric Afro-Cuban dance, music, and song. Participants will channel the awesome cleansing and strengthening rhythms of natureOshun's river, Yemaya's ocean, Oya's storms. This fall, CCAPC also presents Michelle Lerer's "Dance, Dance, Dance!" (Tuesdays, October 5 through 26 and Friday, October 29, at 6), in which students will experiment with improvisation and choreograph pieces for performance. Peggy Peloquin, artist in residence at Dance Theater Workshop's Public Imagination Program, offers her stress-healing movement and storytelling retreat, "Tender: Tending to Ourselves" (Saturdays, October 23 and 30, noon to 4), to "transform life's 'extreme moments' " through relaxation, creativity, and community. All workshops are free and held at CCAPC's loft at 147 West 26th Street. For registration details, call CCAPC at 646-336-7612 or visit thecreativecenter.org. EVA YAA ASANTEWAA
I feared I'd turn jaundice yellow, the unfortunate stain of some drugstore self-tanners, or "porn-star orange," as Michelle Barback quipped while suffusing my body with Fantasy Tan at HAIME MUNOZ HAIR SALON. Applied with an airbrush from a gurgling compressor, the solution spreads evenly on the skin, dries streak-free, and looks surprisingly natural.
Barback selects the color best suited for your skin tone, then mists the solution while you stand on a tarp in your skivvies. I preferred a muted glow, so she chose Celebrity, one of the paler available shades. The process takes about half an hour: several minutes to airbrush and 10 to 20 minutes to dry. Fantasy Tan shades can be mixed to complement your tone if you hope to conceal skin discolorations or fill in that terminal farmer's tan. Bring a thong and plan on not showering or sweating for at least eight hours after your session. The treatment lasts six to nine days. D.S.E.
Barback offers Village Voice readers a special introductory rate: one session for $45, two for $60 (regularly $75 for one session or two for $125). By appointment only at Haime Munoz Hair Salon, 146 East 74th Street, 212.861.9933
Hoodoo's roots, if you will, stretch way back past slavery to Africa, where nature means survival and empowerment. Though far from their native woodlands, resourceful slaves in Alabama, the Carolinas, and other Southern states found local plants to substitute for traditional herbs used in old healing, protection, and cleansing spells and rituals. When most Americans outside black culture hear the words hoodoo or mojo, they think of ridiculous movie stereotypessticking little dolls with pins or cooking up a noxious brew to keep your man from straying. Now, in Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring With Herbs, Stephanie Rose Birda talented author, healer, and artist who inherited her family's way with roots and spiritsoffers a deep, sumptuous new guide to hoodoo's true origins, philosophy, ethics, tools, and techniques, worth reading if just to learn more about Afro-Atlantic culture. You might think you'll never find time to concoct "Angels on High Soap" or "Commanding Powder""for tough jobs, strength, and to build courage"but, honey, you never know when you might need a "Stay Away From Me Mojo" hand. E.Y.A.
Stick, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring With Herbs by Stephanie Rose Bird, Llewellyn Publications, llewellyn.com, 274 pp., $14.95
MATCHES MADE IN HEAVEN
Bring me a higher love! The bar scene sucks, and I'm ready to try an online dating service. But match.com reminds me too much of eBay, and although I have a hunch that "spiritual chemistry" is essential in a good relationship, religion-based dating sites rub me the wrong way. A new site called soulmatch.com might be my saving grace.
SOULMATCH.COM was launched this summer by the beliefnet.com portal, a "multi-faith e-community" whose popularity among local folk has soared since 9-11. Already over 30,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have filled out Soulmatch profiles, a task which can take a half-hour or more, since the questions prompt you to think deeply about your values, political leanings, and worldview. (Do angels or astrology rule your world? Positive thinking or the power of love? Science or capitalism? These are some of the multiple choices the site offers.) Luckily for Internet seekers of higher love, from spiritual dabblers to the devout, Soulmatch has the depth and flexibility to let you express your own personal mélange of beliefs and practices, and specify the qualities you're looking for in a mate, way beyond the basic age-looks-hobbies stuff. Filling out a profile and searching for matches is free, but it costs $29.95 a month to become a member and contact others by e-mail. Ya never knowthere just may be a fellow vegan liberal Quaker who enjoys Sufi texts, believes in the Force, and whose spiritual experiences mostly involve yoga and the use of mind-altering substances, waiting just around the corner. JERI HELEN
SWIMMING FOR LIFE
Can you learn to swim from a book? Probably not, but you can certainly improve your stroke, your timing, and your attitude by reading Terry Laughlin's Total Immersion, a revised edition of his 1996 treatise on how to swim like a fishor a racing yachtrather than like a barge. In addition to providing step-by-step instruction on reorganizing your body so it displaces less water, thus cutting down on drag and improving your speed and efficiency, Laughlin functions as a cheerleader, reminding you that at its best, swimming is a "practice" like yoga, rather than merely a workout. The literal-minded, obsessed with competing and logging mega-miles, will find plenty of detailed instruction and drill. The rest of us, for whom swimming is physical pleasure and a way to loosen muscles pounded by pavement, will delight in his evocations of "mindful swimming" and the "flow state." Traditional cross-trainers will find tips on winning triathlons; new-agers will revel in his conviction that yoga and Pilates are great ways to improve your swimming chops. At Laughlin's website, you can sign up for his free newsletter. ELIZABETH ZIMMER
Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Faster, Better, and Easier by Terry Laughlin with John Delves, Fireside Books, totalimmersion.net, 302 pp., $15
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.