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League celebrates 45 years

Original members host an event to mark the milestone

"MOVEMENT is Life."

The Fitness League, the first women's fitness class on the North Shore, has been proving the truth of its motto for 45 years, with 40 of those years under the guidance of instructor Lily Fisher.

Inspired by the flexibility and posture of the women of India, Mary Bagot Stack developed the principles of a fitness program for women. In 1930, she founded the Women's League of Health and Beauty, or H&B, to promote her vision of encouraging the body's potential for good health.

The foundation of the Bagot Stack method is central control - what would be called strengthening the core today. Core work improves posture, which in turn improves breathing, joint mobility, balance and flexibility.

The league, or H&B, believed that fitness should be affordable and accessible to women at all levels of society. With childcare available at every class, the league gave women the opportunity for a life outside the home, where friendships could be established and sustained.

Bagot Stack's daughter, Prunella, built the league into an international nonprofit society with branches in New Zealand, South Africa and Canada but not, however, in British Columbia.

Back then, fitness classes for women did not exist on the North Shore. In 1967, Heather Elliott, a certified league instructor, trained by Prunella Bagot Stack, decided to do something about that.

She rented space, including a room for childcare, at St. David's United Church in West Vancouver, hired a caregiver and placed a tiny advertisement in the local paper.

In 1967, the Fisher family was newly arrived in West Vancouver from Yorkshire. As a member of the league, Fisher knew one or two fitness instructors had preceded her arrival but she was having no luck locating them.

"I was so joyful when I saw the advert for H&B," recalls Fisher, "I rang up immediately. Heather welcomed me to the class, said she had someone to look after the fees and would I make the coffee."

The North Shore League relied on word of mouth and performances at Park Royal to attract members.

"Classes were a dollar," recalls Anthea Frakes. "We used to joke, 'Where else could you get value for a dollar?' The worst part was wearing black leotards that had no shape to them. We wore leg makeup that was really streaky in those days. Our husbands would paint it on up and down our legs to get the desired effect."

Along with health and childcare, friendship is a factor in the success of the Fitness League, as the organization was renamed in 1999.

Far from home and brought together by the league, the émigrés from England found they had much in common. Like Elliott, Frakes had been introduced to the league by her mother. At five years old, Fisher and Elliott started ballet lessons and went on to train as dancers.

Elliott, who lived in Surrey, went on the stage as the juvenile lead in the children's play Where the Rainbow Ends and established a career in the performing arts.

During breaks from performing and teaching drama and elocution, Elliott would join her mother at league classes, eventually training as an instructor and moving north to Yorkshire to teach.

Fisher went on to perform with the well-known theatrical troupe, Terry's Juveniles, though the stage was not to be her career. She was in her 20s and working in a hair salon when the league came to Yorkshire.

"I joined with three good friends," recalls Fisher. "One of them is still a member of the league in Rotherham."

Elliott, now retired and living in Peachland, recalls that Fisher was "a lovely mover," tapping her for training as a league instructor and as her replacement when Elliott moved away from the North Shore.

On Tuesday, June 26, Lily Fisher, Anthea Frakes and Bea Egger, three original members of the North Shore Fitness League, will celebrate 45 years of fitness at West Vancouver United Church with a class at 10: 15 a.m. and a performance at 11 a.m. followed by tea for all.

A warm welcome is extended to former members and to women interested in learning more about the Fitness League. For more information, call Lily Fisher at 6049265185.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her at 778-279-2275 or email her at [email protected].