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Everybody’s Port: A Woman of Commitment

Your indulgence is craved while my story unfolds with a fable so old it has grown long grey whiskers. Old, it may be, but it is nevertheless apropos in this instance. In brief, the difference between involvement and commitment is like an eggs and ham breakfast: for the chicken, it was an involvement; for the pig, it was a commitment. Past and present pioneers, successful and unsuccessful, have one thing in common: commitment. With that in mind, read on and meet a pioneer who believes the ultimate success of her efforts begins with inculcating her students “with the need for exercise.”

Her first name is Roberta, but she would rather you called her Bobbi. She’s been married 57 years to a judge, whose name is Bob. Together, they are Roberta and Robert and — if you like what they like — it’s Bobbi and Bob Straus. For now, let’s concentrate on Bobbi and save the equally interesting Judge Bob for another time.

She is a natural athlete and trained swimmer (backstroke). Where was she born? “Brooklyn, New York, like everybody,” Bobbi said. Her father taught developmentally challenged children at a New York City school in Bedford Stuyvesant.

Bobbi describes her mother as a “free thinker who thought outside the box and dragged us kids to classes in Dalcroze Eurhythmics”. (If you know about Eurhythmics, you’re dating yourself. Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, a Swiss musician in the early 20th century created his approach to teaching music by physical awareness and experience through all the senses. Don’t look at me. That’s what it says in Wikipedia.)

In 1954, Bobbi found herself a sophomore at Great Neck High School, where she played varsity hockey (impressive for someone who never held a hockey stick before), varsity volleyball, tried out successfully for the Dance Club and ended up as an angel on high while standing on a ladder with the rest of the dancers below. “I told my mother not to come because I didn’t have a big part,” she said. “The curtain opened and there I was in the center of the stage on the top spot.” You can be sure from then on everybody knew Bobbi.

While everything else was going on, Bobbi was learning ballet at the American School of Ballet in Manhattan and studying modern dance with the late Merce Cunningham. Modern dance cognoscenti speak about Cunningham with the same reverence they do for Martha Graham, whose ballets – to Aaron Copland’s music – “Billy the Kid” and “Appalachian Spring” remain American modern dance classics.

With a B.A. from Beaver College and an M.A. from Hofstra, Bobbi was hired as head of Manhasset High School’s physical education head department, where she remained for 20 years. She also taught evening courses in adult education. Meanwhile, in 1975, her neighbors on Wakefield Avenue asked Bobbi to teach morning exercises to, what was then, a kaffee-klatch. They weren’t serious, but she was. Blame it on her born-with-a-commitment–to-teach how a well-balanced exercise program would translate into a healthy, more fulfilling life.

Starting with private classes of eight into her house, as Bobbi described it, “There were four in the living room and four in an upstairs bedroom. I was teaching while standing under the staircase. They were coming and going all day.”

It was inevitable. As her reputation grew, so did the need for more space to teach. And thus, in 1977, Necessity was the mother of the Bobbi Straus Exercise Bite Studio. Why Bite? “Build In Tone and Endurance and Tone,” said Bobbi. “It combines, with music, the most effective movements of modern dance, ballet, and calisthenic exercise.”

Forget Jane Fonda. Now in her 70s and cherished by her students, Bobbi’s commitment continues, privately, of course. That reminds me of a moment in the timeless Broadway musical, “1776”. Alone on stage, John Adams muses aloud about the futility of trying to get his fellow members of the Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain. The voice of his wife, Abigail, reminds him of something he once said: “There are only two creatures of value on the face of this earth: Those with a commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.”

John Adams would have loved Bobbi Straus.

Howard Blankman has lived 55 years in Port and is the recipient of three lifetime achievement awards. Blankman has successfully pursued a multifaceted career encompassing business, government, television and the theater.

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