Pure Principles, Plus Innovation

Industry Issues: Can Pilates philosophies from both sides of the reformer come together to build an agreeable platform for future growth?

So far, Pilates has had quite a ride in the fitness industry, but it hasn’t been without bumps. As programming gets ever more creative, Pilates advocates have raised questions of safety, adequacy of training and method authenticity—and some experts ask whether Pilates and fitness really belong together, after all. The thorniest philosophical area in Pilates continues to be the debate between “classical” and “contemporary” Pilates. Nearly every conversation is shadowed by the question, “What would (founders) Joseph and Clara think about this?”

“It’s all interpretation of what we think Joseph Pilates would do, but no one really knows because he’s [no longer with us],” says Ton Voogt. Voogt and his longtime collaborator, Michael Fritzke, worked with famed Romana Kryzanowska for over 10 years in New York City, where they were teacher trainers for her original international Pilates certification program. They co-own ZENIRGY LLC and created the revolutionary TRIADBALL™, two DVD lines and several Pilates certification programs.

“The reality is that when you talk to ‘first-generation’ teachers, such as Romana—the ones who worked directly with Joe and Clara—they all had such different experiences, so that may be one reason we get a lot of different perspectives about what authentic Pilates is,” says Voogt.

Despite the fact that Voogt and Fritzke come from a generally “classical” background, they are strong believers in innovation. They point out that Pilates was initially created as a fitness discipline for military men before it became a favorite of dancers. “Pilates is actually a really good fit for fitness; it was never meant to be just for dancers or for rehabilitation. The beauty of Pilates is that it can be adapted. We’re in favor of evolving. Just don’t call it Pilates if it goes too far. Call it Pilates-based.”

Innovation and new programming begets new approaches to cuing and correcting, which applies to all types of exercisers, according to Lindsay G. Merrithew, president, chief executive officer and co-founder of STOTT PILATES®. “Many years ago, . . . the cuing terminology was very balletic,” he says. “Now beginner and advanced exercisers alike can make Pilates part of their routine without having a dance background at all or seeking the same results. Athletes, pre- and post-natal women, rehab and postrehab clients, the active aging population and even teens can all find their place in Pilates.”

Labels and Tradition

Voogt and Fritzke note that the phrase “classical Pilates” sometimes implies rigidity or a lack of open-mindedness about Pilates. “You never heard that term 10 years ago, and I think it gets misconstrued,” says Fritzke. “Joseph Pilates himself said, ‘I teach for the body in front of me.’ He believed in adaptation for every client.”

Nora St. John, education program director of Balanced Body® University, agrees, saying, “Joseph Pilates was a serious innovator, and he innovated until the end of his life. I think he would have wanted us to keep growing.”

While innovation is welcomed even among many Pilates “purists,” straying from the basic principles of the Pilates method is not. “If you’re not teaching the principles, it’s not Pilates,” says Kevin Bowen, education director at Peak Pilates®, and co-founder of the Pilates Method Alliance®. “If you know the principles well, such as working with breath and [having] a commitment to working with the body as a whole, you can carry those principles into any setting.”

Kathy Corey, owner of West Coast Pilates, developer of the CORE Band™ and an active leader in the Pilates community for over 30 years, adds that some diversity among teachers is inevitable, no matter how “pure” your approach. “We’re like a wheel, and at the hub we have Joseph and Clara. As teachers we come from our own backgrounds and experience to create the spokes. My mentor, Kathy Grant, who worked with Joseph Pilates, told me that even if you try to teach an exercise exactly as your teacher did, with the exact breath work and repetitions, you won’t be able to do it, because as soon as you do the exercise, it becomes your own.”

“Bringing the community together is an ongoing challenge. “We have a ways to go, but the direction is toward unifying rather than judging,” say Fritzke and Voogt. “The question isn’t about what’s right or wrong, but what works best for the client.”

Corey sees greater community in the future as well. “It’s like ice cream. Pilates would be boring if we were all the same flavor. The more styles you learn, the more people you can reach. This is about integration of mind, body and spirit--and it shouldn’t be a mean spirit. It should be the spirit of unity.”

What do you think? Should Pilates practitioners from different schools of thought, lineages and approaches do a better job of connecting and communicating? Or do some people take the Pilates principles too far out of their original context? We want to hear from you! Please send your response to Senior Editor Joy Keller at kellerj@ideafit.com.

This preview article is excerpted from the larger, more comprehensive feature story “The Pilates Phenomenon: Where Do We Go From Here?” which will be published in the July–August issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

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Mary Monroe

IDEA Author/Presenter
Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area.
June 2010

© 2010 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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Article Comments

Laura Gideon
On Jun 22, 2010
This is a fantastic topic for discussion thank you for writing this article. The world of fitness is dynamic and ever-changing and I am a big believer in innovation and creativity. With that said, I also believe that at the core of any "Pilates-based" movement the basic fundamentals should be the foundation from which to build upon. I was trained by Elyse McNergney (IM=X) who was classically trained in Pilates from Romana. She was also trained in the F.M Alexander technique. What Elyse decided to brilliantly do in the mid-90's was to design her own synergistic blend of both Pilates & Alexander and call it IM=X (Integrative Movement = Xercize) and then later added Pilates after it. Now it is called IMX Pilates...what I love about this technique is it is traditional Pilates "based" or at its origin, with specific attention to posture & alignment (Alexander) in addition to having a strong strength "training" component. I have been teaching this method for 10 years now with great success and amazing transformation in my students. Additionally adding creative challenging (safe) exercises as they progress, which keeps the boredom factor away. I believe there is room for both "schools" of thought - the answer is to keep the interest of the public and not to dismiss something because it may be "different" from what has been embedded as "Tradition". Be open minded!
Joann Melgar
On Jun 24, 2010
I'm a STOTT Pilates certified instructor with my own studio. When travelling for pleasure, I try to schedule sessions for myself specifically with practitioners of other methods and have found immense benefit in doing so. Granted, I may rule out a certain approach to an exercise, but, for the most part, I've picked up cues and modifications that made perfect sense to me and to some of my clients. It only makes my job more rewarding to be able to present a different twist on an old exercise. Experience with other brands of apparatus (my studio is 100% STOTT) is also enlightening. The bottom line is that knowledge is power and we should all take advantage of as much of it as possible.
Clare Dunphy Hemani
On Jun 29, 2010
Great topic and one that I think we all grapple with to some extent. My roots are from the fitness industry dating back to 1980 where I taught aerobics and personal training for 18 years before I discovered Pilates. I have a degree in Physical Education, presented at many conventions in the US and internationally, made videos and kept up my studies. I thought I understood movement and my body until I was exposed to Pilates! I was shocked when I began my Pilates training in NYC with Romana to learn just how much I didn't know. I realized I was going to need to completely let go of my fitness brain in order to adopt this new way of thinking about movement. Back in 1995, if you remember, there were some contraindicated exercises that seemed to show up in the Pilates repertoire, and I had to work hard to understand that while they looked similar they were really quite different in their goals and intention. Only after immersing myself in Pilates was I able to understand how to adapt the Pilates Principles back into fitness. As a Master Trainer with Peak Pilates, co-developer of the Peak Pilates Certification and author of the MVe Chair Program I have been exposed to many different teachers through conventions and courses. It takes a good deal of understanding and guidance from a seasoned Pilates teacher to actually "teach for the body in front of you". There is no quick fix to learning this method. I see teachers making up their own versions of things that actually go against the very Pilates movement principles that have stood the test of time and have gotten proven results. My concern in the fitness industry is that we are so accustomed to one-day or weekend workshops and leave the experience with just enough information to make us believe we understand what we are doing, when in fact we only just scratched the surface. I believe that if someone wants earn the title of Pilates teacher, they should get the proper education, with a connection to Pilates lineage--for the integrity of the Pilates Method as well as the safety of our students.

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