On a typical morning, prior to the pandemic, a keen observer would notice a stream of legging-clad women darting in and out of the chasm marking the brick structure nestled in the heart of Chappaqua. They exit with slightly mussed hair, a light sweat and an unmistakable peaceful glow. To those familiar with Chappaqua’s Stephanie Spiegel, it’s no surprise that she’s behind it all. She is the owner of Centerpeace, a studio based on the full-body workout developed by ballet dancer, Lotte Berk. Classes are challenging yet fulfilling and distinguished by Spiegel’s words, which convey a spiritual sensibility wrapped in the approachability of a longtime friend. Her trademark positivity transcends the studio, radiating through Zoom and even here in typeface.
The Metamorphosis of Centerpeace
Born and bred in California, Spiegel came to New York almost 25 years ago where she was introduced to the Lotte Berk method. She recalls, “I danced my whole life. In college, I was a dance major with a psychology minor and I fell in love with the discipline of the method.” After undergoing teacher training and working at several studios, Spiegel launched Centerpeace in 2007. Her unique approach features a faster pace and longer reps, while integrating her background in dance and psychology. She explains, “When you weave the two together it creates, what I believe to be, an extraordinary practice and is a foundation for life. There is an intensity to the discipline of my classes that requires a focused lens. Life is filled with distractions–I wanted Centerpeace to be a lily pad where everything could be left at the door and anyone can tune in to their feelings.”
Since its inception, the studio has indeed become a haven to its base of loyal followers. Longtime enthusiast, Rebecca Scarpati of Sleepy Hollow, credits the practice for changing her life. A passionate recreational dancer and breast cancer survivor, Scarpati was a self-proclaimed “mess” when she found Centerpeace, recounting, “I had just completed chemotherapy as well as multiple surgeries for injuries I developed throughout the years and could no longer dance at my former level. Stephanie taught me to push through my limitations while listening to my body to grow strong. The exercises brought back the emotional connection I had for telling a story using choreography and I got stronger in my own body.”
The Centerpeace practice is a holistic integration of the body and mind. “The practice sculpts and strengthens while simultaneously elongating every major muscle,” Spiegel says. “The focus throughout class is mind/body alignment with an emphasis on core strength. The power of a body comes from our core. All exercises help to promote better balance and good posture; not to mention the chemicals that fire up our brains, which is important,” she adds, her eyes twinkling, “as we grow young.”
Spiegel adeptly shifts between challenging seasoned devotees and supporting greener clients. Everyone receives the same encouragement. “Work from where you are. Be mindful and listen to your body.” And, Zoom has expanded her audience across the country. Spiegel steadily scrutinizes form and choreography, calling out adjustments while bestowing inspirational messages.
Long Island resident Marni Ellis, for one, is “living in fear” that Zoom classes may ultimately end. The longtime barre enthusiast says, “The practice has changed me physically and mentally. Not only does Stephanie have a deep understanding of the body and form, but she’s a special human being with an organic teaching style, exuding a contagious energy and passion that translates across the screen.”
Lessons from the Studio
The positive vibe of the Centerpeace community is palpable, a fact Spiegel simply attributes to “the laws of attraction,” saying, “People come together to create good collective energy. I am so proud to be a part of such an amazing group.” Spiegel had no idea just how deeply she would come to rely upon this community when she opened the studio, candidly sharing, “My husband of 20 years was diagnosed with cancer ten years into my practice with Centerpeace. Week-after-week, day-after-day, that group of women were the life vest that held me up.”
In 2017, Spiegel’s husband, Scott, sadly lost his battle. “There’s nothing more valuable than the net that holds us when we need it. The community gave me unbelievable support and strength at a time when my heart was so broken. I believe that my clients and my team know how central they are in my life. When you are surrounded by such great people, it becomes so much more than a job. It becomes part of the very fabric of your life.”
Woven within each class is the theme that life is a gift. Spiegel says, “I wake up every morning, look to the left and think, ‘This was not the way my story was supposed to go.’ I know how fast life can be taken away, so I always talk about the importance of making each day count. After losing my husband, every day I asked myself, ‘What’s today going to be Stephanie? You get to choose.’ And so I would cry, put the tissues in my pocket and head out to breathe in fresh air. I worked, walked miles and spent every day loving my kids through the most unimaginable pain.” Calling her children, Morgan, Brandon, Adam and Taryn “central in my life and in my heart,” she guided them through this time. There was no roadmap, but she said, “I don’t know how to do this either, but we’re going to learn together and I’m going to love you through it.”
When the pandemic came, those lessons proved instrumental. Spiegel and her family had just regained a semblance of normalcy when the ground was again pulled out from under them. This time, however, everyone was impacted. “I already knew that I could handle anything difficult because I’ve been through the worst.” Spiegel shared this insight with her children and Centerpeace family saying, “We’ve trained for this. We can do hard things. When you get deep into muscle and work your body hard like we do, you learn to center yourself when there is uncertainty. Stop asking when we can get our lives back. Life is happening. Life is right now.”
Living a life of resiliency has become central to Spiegel’s philosophy. The ability for our minds and bodies to bend, move and stretch is only achieved through practice. “We don’t become resilient simply because we want to,” she imparts. “Taking the time to move and connect to yourself, whether at Centerpeace of somewhere else, makes us better to ourselves and the people in our lives. It’s creating strength from the inside out and maintaining that discipline to stand tall when life shifts or the wind blows or a pandemic comes about. I always say, ‘Look up so you can see where you’re going.’ We might get knocked down but none of us are staying down,” adding resolutely, “Not if I have anything to do with it.”