Fit for Each Other

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From high school prom dates to international fitness gurus, homegrown husband and wife team Fred Devito and Elisabeth Halfpapp reveal their secrets to love, fulfillment, and of course, fitness

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

The couple that plays together really does stay together. Husband and wife team and Hamilton, New Jersey natives, Fred Devito and Elisabeth (Lis) Halfpapp have managed to transform their work into play as vice presidents and founding members of Exhale Spa and co-creators of the workout routine, Core Fusion. While Fred and Lis’s version of play might include planking, lunging, and weight lifting, it’s certainly kept their relationship strong—32 years strong to be exact.

The dynamic duo has been connecting through fitness since they were Hamilton High School sweethearts. Fred played football for the Hornets and Lis was a cheerleader while she took ballet classes outside of school. With a mutual desire to teach after graduation, they decided to explore career paths that allowed them to share their interests with others. For Lis, that meant getting a dance degree from the School of The Hartford Ballet, and for Fred, it took on the form of a B.S. in Physical Education and Health from The College of New Jersey. After graduation, Fred worked as a health and physical education teacher at Hamilton’s Reynolds Middle School while Lis commuted out of Princeton Junction to conduct private fitness training in New York City.  Always torn between teaching fitness and dance, Lis found her niche in the 1980s after answering an advertisement in the New York Times for a full-time teaching position at the Manhattan Lotte Berk Studio, the American home of the Lotte Berk Method. Founded in the 1960s by European modern dancer, Lotte Berk, the Method combines ballet, pilates, and sculpting to create a lean, dancer-like physique. It is also known as the mother of the barre movement.

Lis was immediately taken by the effectiveness of the Method, so much so that she and Fred decided to move to Manhattan, NYC. After a period of traveling around playing music and teaching fitness classes on the side, Fred also became impressed by the body transformations created by the Lotte Berk Method. Although the method started out exclusively for women, it became gender-neutral when Fred joined Lis and the Lotte Berk team in 1980. For 20 years, the couple taught 36 classes a week, and further revolutionized the Method by developing a barre/core technique that they taught to other instructors.  As they began to see that the needs of their clients required more mind body balance, they decided to add yoga elements to the Lotte Berk Method, creating their own unique version of a barre workout.

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In 2001, Fred and Lis’s years of fitness teaching and experimentation paid off when President and CEO of Exhale Spa Annebeth Eschbach brought them on to co-create Exhale’s proprietary Core Fusion classes. A combination of the Lotte Berk Method, pilates, yoga, dance, and orthopedic exercises that develop lean functional muscles, Core Fusion focuses on position and alignment while avoiding tedious repetitions. Fred is the first to admit that it was scary for him and Lis to leave secure jobs at Lotte Berk, but with their families’ support they found the confidence to take the risk.

“My dad always told me to follow my passion,” Fred recalls. “Lis and I started doing the Lotte Berk Method and Core Fusion before fitness teaching was a thing, and our parents believed in us. I took my dad’s advice and followed my passions when I joined Exhale. Our families were always there for us, and now we are living the dream, doing what we love.”

Fred and Lis’s love of Core Fusion is shared by Heidi Klum, Cameron Diaz, and Allison Williams, just to name a few of their high-profile fans.  It also attracts many professional athletes and dancers who are looking to recover from injuries or increase their balance and flexibility.  Despite all the physical benefits offered by Core Fusion classes, what truly sets it apart is Fred and Lis’s time-tested expertise in teaching. Unlike many other barre companies, Exhale is not a franchise, so Fred and Lis can be found teaching classes at one of the 29 Exhale Spa locations in 10 top markets to ensure quality control. Recently, they’ve started a certification program that welcomes people outside of Exhale to learn Core Fusion and take their practice back with them to their studio.  As Fred explains, “We are teachers, not instructors who bark at you.  [Exhale Spa] has teachers that find out where you are and try to get you to other levels of fitness.”

Fred and Lis are such good teachers that they’ve created a suite of 11 Core Fusion DVDs together. Taping their first DVD in their early 50s, the couple proves their belief that as fitness evolves and changes; they should also evolve and change. This philosophy is furthered by their plan to do live streaming videos of Core Fusion techniques so their teaching can have unlimited reach.

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Core Fusion and Exhale Spa have spearheaded an entire fitness movement that focuses on mind, body, and soul. As Fred points out, in an industry often flawed by excess of ego, Exhale Spa teaches wisdom.  The holistic approach to the Core Fusion training classes blends stress reduction, breath focus, and mind body awareness, so that their students achieve a higher level of living.  For proof of its ability to make for a fulfilling life, look no further than the creators.

Fred and Lis’s key to a fruitful existence is balance, something that’s very fitting for a couple that specializes in core strength. Lis explains, “We try to balance our relationship so that sometimes it’s a work relationship and other times it’s a marriage.”  In regard to exercising and healthy living, the couple has a surprisingly similar attitude. They follow the “80-20 rule,” where 80 percent of the time they eat well and stay healthy and allow 20 percent for sweets, treats, and cheats. Both also emphasis time alone to focus, restart and reflect. Not surprisingly, the duo puts in many hours of exercise instructing Core Fusion classes five days a week, but it’s something they both love, especially when teaching in Exhale’s Turks and Caicos location. While Fred prefers Core Yoga and Extreme Core Classes for his workouts, Lis still takes a ballet class once a week.

Fred and Lis are so passionate about Core Fusion that they never want to retire. Although they will eventually allow higher management at Exhale to take over, they hope to continue teaching fitness classes.  Lis repeatedly states that she wants to teach until she’s 90, a promising aspiration for a woman trained in the Lotte Berk Method where Berk herself taught until she was 80.  But, as Fred says, why retire when you have the best job in the world?  “We’re so lucky to have a job that’s healthy for us.  We can work while maintaining body and mind health. God willing, we’re going to do this as long as our bodies allow.”  With plans to expand Exhale Spa to at least 50 locations, a book coming out in November, and live stream teaching videos underway, there seems to be no end in sight for Fred and Lis, a couple that is clearly fit for each other.