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Pure Principles, Plus Innovation

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 [email protected]

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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