Music in Pilates Classes?

Typically, music isn't a component in Pilates classes. The reasoning: It's already hard enough to make the initial body-mind connection without the added distraction. When people are new to Pilates classes, they need to hear and understand the directives and explanations. The focus is on breath control, alignment, stability and maintaining a neutral spine, not on rhythm and lyrics.

Research shows that music beats out all other art forms in producing a dynamic response in the central nervous system. Considering the current place Pilates holds and the spirit of the movement itself, can the right music help participants connect on a deeper level with their breath, alignment and proprioception?

Elizabeth Larkam thinks so. Larkam, whose experience as a Pilates instructor spans more than 20 years, is director of Pilates & Beyond at Western Athletic Clubs in San Francisco. "Well-chosen sound scores enhance a Pilates class by creating a flowing, harmonious ‘sound carpet' that supports smooth movement phrasing. This allows for integration of breath, attention and physical form. Music also inspires an instructor to speak musically, with attention to vocal phrasing, inflection and rhythm."

Some instructors are using music in many different types of Pilates classes, including reformer, mat, magic circle and private sessions. Valentin, owner of Pilates Body by Valentin in Dublin, California, taught a reformer class she called "Allegro Technique" set to music. "The students were fairly proficient on the machine and with the terminology," she says. "The principles of Pilates were second nature to them. Only once in a while did I have to cue breathing, pelvic stabilization, straight legs or relaxed neck. I do not use music with beginners unless it's just background music to relax them. If the music has an overpowering effect, participants won't concentrate on the moves or their muscles." Music as milieu is a common theme. "I use music in the background during mat classes but not to keep tempo," says Cathleen Murakami, director of Synergy Systems® Fitness Studio in Encinitas, California. "It is usually somewhat ‘trancy,' but not too much so; otherwise, there is no energy. Music adds atmosphere and an energetic quality to the class. Some days I am more ‘stretchy' and other days more tough."

All the Right Moves: Choreography
Introducing music to a Pilates class might beg the question whether or not to choreograph the movements. It depends on the nature of the session, the participants and the goal. "Although I have choreographed Pilates Performance, a professional performing ensemble, I do not choreograph classes or private sessions," says Larkam. "In my observation and experience, clients perform the exercises more correctly in terms of biomechanics when they have the opportunity to move at a pace and rhythm that allow for some individual variation. Although participants in a mat or [reformer] class move approximately together in response to verbal cues, individual timing variations are allowed and expected, given differences in motor learning, flexibility, strength and coordination."

Valentin taught choreographed sequences to music for nearly 15 years in her signature "Body Lines Stretch/Strength" class, so choreographing her Pilates sequences to music was a logical transition. She shares a sample sequence using a double leg press during warm-up (music is "Cavatina" by Hapa):
* to start: feet in second position with external rotation and on high half-toe
* leg presses for 8 reps
* heel cord (Achilles tendon) stretches for 8 reps
* "treading" for 8 reps
* Repeat the same sequence with feet in first position parallel, with internal rotation, all on high half-toe.

"This sequence is very similar to a ballet barre class," Valentin says. "It is highly choreographed and set according to the music's verses and chorus. Sometimes there are no real choruses or verses; in this case, phrasing determines the speed and number of reps. Depending on the movement, you can choose from strong drums for any push-up segment to very balletic waltzes for side-bending stretches."

Hold the Notes
Instructors shouldn't get too comfortable with the idea of using music in Pilates classes. All sources interviewed for this article agree that music is a no-no for new students. "Do not use music if participants don't have a clue about mind-body principles and Pilates," Valentin strongly urges. "It is only with these concepts solidified in their movements that you can bring in another element to enhance the experience. It is quite a chore to have mind-body control  let's not confuse the issue with some other influence."

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