Let me count the ways in which I felt out of place at a workout class in Edmonds' Harbor Square Athletic Club. No. 1: I really don't do class workouts. No. 2: I was the only...

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LET ME COUNT the ways in which I felt out of place at a workout class in Edmonds’ Harbor Square Athletic Club. No. 1: I really don’t do class workouts. No. 2: I was the only man there, and a newbie to boot. And No. 3: I spent much of the time wrapped from shoulders to legs in this spandex loop that sort of resembled a rubberized Spaghetti-O.

Yet, somehow, it worked. An hour after I began, I walked away with a worthwhile and gentle Pilates and yoga workout.

Kimberly Dye, a former professional ballerina who became a movement/dance therapist, led the way with understatement and her invention. She calls the 15-inch-wide loop “the Stretch-eze,” and she created it to help each student and clients focus on precise movements and body alignment. I frequently struggled to find the right stretch and resistance within the spandex loop — pulling with my elbows and arms and pushing with my feet.

I often wondered whether the prop was making things easier or harder. Which one it is, Dye says, comes after finding focus. Once you identify the movement’s origin, natural path and the way your body is interconnected, she says, you can make your choice: harder and easier. The device is designed to offer support for people who lack muscle tone, body awareness, coordination and flexibility. Some of her students have told her the class is too easy, but she’s used to that, and the device can make things harder, too, she reminds them.

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“When I was a ballet dancer, I had to work through that no-pain-no-gain stuff, and have spent much of my life since looking for ways to help people find ways to make the mind-body connection without that idea of pain is necessary,” she says. “We should respect the natural alignment and movements of our bodies.”

After retiring at 30 from her career as a professional dancer in New York and Pennsylvania, Dye acquired her master’s degree in dance/movement therapy. She used her expertise to work with patients in psychiatric and addiction centers in New York and an eating disorders program at Swedish Medical Center.

Ten years ago, she received the Parent’s Choice Award for the “ElastaBlast,” a springy fabric-covered cord that allows kids (or adults) to tug, pull and rebound against the force of others while in a group circle. She came up with the idea as a way to work with patients in a psychiatric ward. It was a way for them to work together without touching one another and become more aware of their own bodies.

Using resistance and stretching props has long been common for dancers and in therapeutic settings, but it is huge business in today’s fitness market. Such devices can be used to stretch and strengthen simultaneously by stretching a muscle group while stabilizing an opposing body part. This concept of “counter-tensional” pressure is at the root of Dye’s Stretch-eze and latest class.

“The development of strength and endurance need not depend on excess force and overuse,” she says, mindful of her dancing injuries.

Now, at 49, she focuses on teaching a few fitness classes, working with people who find her and enjoy life. She maintains a Web site at www.dyenamicmovement.com.

Help with props

Stretching, strengthening and supportive devices remain popular in large part because baby boomers are aging and favor more gentle and focused movements. Workouts such as Pilates and yoga promote muscle elasticity, body alignment and strength of the body’s core.

One book that gives a good rundown on the various devices and their applications is “Ellie Herman’s Pilates Props Workbook” (Ulysses Press, $14.95).

Herman cofounded a performance troupe, choreographed for another and made an ill-advised stab at professional wrestling (with the stage name of “Ruth Less”) before turning to Pilates in 1988 to rehabilitate an injured knee. She now runs her own studio in San Francisco.

The prop-workout book is her third effort in explaining Pilates methods. In this one she describes ways to use resistance bands, the Feldenkreis Roller, the Pinkie Ball and a stiff hoop known as the Magic Circle. It contains lots of pictures and easy-to-follow instructions.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at rseven@seattletimes.com. Harley Soltes is a Seattle Times staff photographer.