By Jacqueline Ann Au
This article was posted on YesPilates.com 2010 in celebration of MLK Day.
This week I completed my third Pilates professional training program. In wrapping up this Pilates academic journey of 10 years, I spent this long weekend trying to integrate all that I learnt to date into an intelligible system of information. In the end, I feel I have come full circle back to the Classical work. Perhaps a few years ago, my mind wasn’t ready and perhaps neither was my body. As in the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” Interestingly, today marks the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A person whose life was about Integration, Anti-segregation, and the powerful possibilities of Unity and Togetherness.
The Pilates arena is not immune to (political) segregation. One of the greatest divisor amongst Pilates professionals are the Classical Camp vs. the Evolved Camp. Within the Evolved-Pilates camp, many view Classical teachers as “snooty” and “elitists.” To an extent, there can be some truth in their complaint. Just because one is “Romana taught”, doesn’t necessarily make one a better Pilates teacher. Lineage does not guarantee good understanding and teaching. However, Classicalists have their own valid observation that although some evolved Pilates professionals teach exercises inspired by the Classical exercises, some Pilates Institutes have so altered the exercises used in their teacher-training curriculum they hardly resemble Pilates. It looks like random exercises using Pilates equipment. Classical teachers see these watered down versions as the destruction of the method (As opposed to the preservations of Mr. Pilates original work.) Joe Pilate’s creativity was inspired out of a necessity to rehabilitate immobilized soldiers, and moved on to create what we now know as the Classical Work to challenge and strengthen a very different clientele. He did it all. As Pilates teachers and carriers of his legacy, why shouldn’t we also strive to?
As you see, neither view is necessarily “wrong” but what is more important, in my opinion, is a meeting of the minds and finding a safe space to embrace both modalities in the spirit of preserving the very purpose of the work.
The Spirit of Pilates
When practiced correctly, Pilates becomes a portal to experience (the six principles and more): Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breath( to be alive), and Flow. Every body part gets to fulfill its purpose: for example, when the shoulders and core stabilizes, the limbs move freely. There is a yin and a yang. The beauty of this coordination is akin to the synergy and harmony between two figure skaters creating a marvelous dance, or the synchronicity of a perfectly performed symphony. When a body gets to move the way it was created for, it is an expression that shouts joy and freedom. As a trainer, I would like to offer that possibility to all clients that walk through my studio door. Given, not every person’s body is in the ideal condition necessary to jump into the Classical work. And that is where the Evolved work comes in as an indispensable tool, as a bridge towards the Classical Repertoire. Power Pilates urges their teachers and apprentices to “WORK TO THE IDEAL.” Have a reason if you have to modify, but at the same time, it is important to remember end goal of working to as close an ideal as possible to the original work. The Hundred, for example, is a Classical beginner exercise. For some beginners, they feel the powerhouse engagement right on. They are in touch with their bodies, perhaps their trade (recall that many of Joe’s clients were dancers, acrobats and even contortionists) requires that attuned intuition. Some others, especially non-movement familiar individuals, or post-rehab individuals still healing from weaknesses, regressing the Hundred to simple arm presses in straps in the beginning, or even in combination with other small props, is a necessity to help them find their powerhouse connection. As Pilates is built upon this critical connection, sidestepping this step may create clients that “do Pilates” but never really connect, and also lays a dangerous foundation for future injuries when more progressive exercises are introduced. As in the cliche, “Its About The Journey” , not being able to perform all of the Classical repertoire does not make one a “failure” as a Pilates student. The point is honesty, and truly doing the best our body is capable of, and striving to surpass our comfort zone- not necessarily more choreography, but more importantly to take the work deeper with each practice, vertically into the muscles, bones and joints. And to strike a balance between knowing the repertoire one is practicing at hand, and working it deeply so that one’s practice is not an “empty shell” or an outward performance, but rather a practice that invigorates the mind, body and spirit from the inside out, like Mr. Pilates said, where every cell is renewed with life.
I think both camps of school has its own rightful place in the Pilates arena. I suggest what is as important as preserving the original work of Mr. Pilates, is the intention behind the teaching, the goals for the client, for the Evolved teachers to work to the ideal of the original work , never losing sight of it, without sacrificing depth and discipline for creating new exercises as fluff entertainment. Especially for those of us that came from a fitness background where new choreography used to be part of getting the job done, we need to really see that Pilates is a scientific and artistic discipline, much like ballet, martial arts, and ashtanga yoga– there is a definite system of progression and integration backed by critical thinking, logical reasoning and intuition from teaching experience. When a teacher correctly facilitates in connecting the client to working the powerhouse, “boredom/ repetition of order” is a nonfactor! In return, perhaps the Classical world can offer a little more compassion for those students whose bodies need to be prepped to even come close to the Beginner Repertoire. After all, we all pursue Pilates for the same goal: to feel happy and alive and to live in harmony within the bodies that houses our spirits. Our body is made to move. When muscles are balanced and flexible from proper training and movement pattern, they are evenly used; when evenly used, the outward appearance is a graceful poise and sculpted, the inner feeling is pliable and pain-free.
One of my third-grader’s favorite pop songs is a great summary to this article. The chorus goes: “Are we human, or are we dancers?” I believe within the context of this song, human refers to our capacity to make intelligent choices, to live and work purposefully and with integrity; dancers here is a metaphor for living a choreographed life. I offer fellow instructors to occasionally reflect upon this: Are we working to the ideal of Joe’s legacy that we entrust ourselves upon, helping our students work towards the repertoire at their readiness, or have we strayed so far with modifications that we have indeed lost sight of the original work? Hopefully, you have answered the former. We are human, and we are here to help the person in front of us make intelligent choices in their lessons to experience the joys of the work. And like our students, we are also works in progress, evolving to become ever more compassionate and demanding as teachers.
In 2007, three of the most respected Pilates training organizations—Body Arts and Science International (BASI)TM, Polestar Pilates® and Power Pilates®—joined forces , calling it Tri-star, to bring together experience, unique teaching styles and multiple instructors with the goal of encouraging professionals to learn from a variety of leaders in the field. _Pilatesstyle Newsletter June 2007