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The Evolution of the Pilates Professional

Elizabeth Anderson is the executive director of the Pilates Method Alliance, the professional association and certifying agency for Pilates teachers. Anderson joined the PMA in mid-2007, after moving to the United States from London, where she’d lived for 17 years. Anderson had worked in the United Kingdom’s Pilates industry for 6 years and had founded Polestar Pilates UK Ltd., as well as her own Pilates Umbrella Ltd., a continuing education company for Pilates practitioners, which she still directs. Before this, she spent over 25 years as a performing arts producer and manager.

IDEA Pilates Today (IPT): What are some of the main educational obstacles facing people who want to train to become Pilates teachers?

Elizabeth Anderson: One of the biggest obstacles people face is identifying the right training program. Potential students must consider what they want to learn. What is the desired outcome? For example, there are fitness professionals who work in a gym environment, teaching a range of modalities, who also want to offer Pilates mat (or reformer) classes. This is very different from an individual who wants to undertake comprehensive Pilates training—which includes mat and all of the equipment—with the intention of becoming a full-time Pilates professional who teaches in a dedicated studio. Understanding the difference is the first step in identifying which program is most appropriate.

Some schools offer Pilates teacher training in a modular format in which mat, reformer, trapeze table, etc., are offered as individual courses. Students may complete one or more modules as separate elements. Other schools offer modular programs that put it all together. Still other schools teach the full Pilates repertoire on the mat and all the equipment. Here the method is taught in a more integrated manner, and [the education] conveys the knowledge and skills that a comprehensively trained Pilates professional needs. Graduates of comprehensive programs are the ones who qualify to take the PMA certification exam when they complete their studies.

Prospective students should accept at the outset that choosing a school will take some time and deliberate research. The investigation phase shouldn’t be rushed, because the wrong choice can waste time and money. Talk to a range of teachers about how and where they trained. Ask others for recommendations, read lots of websites and call a variety of schools to ask questions. Going to conferences (like the PMA’s) is also helpful because you can experience a large range of different teaching styles at these events. The PMA has a registry of schools (see www.pilatesmethodalliance.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3377) to help with the challenging task [of choosing where to go].

IPT: Has the PMA pinpointed certain deficits in teacher training?

Anderson: I think there tends to be a lack of distinction between “training” and “teaching.” In other words, some schools teach trainees in the same way they teach their clients, where the training is completely [customized to each] individual. Contrast that with schools that have a more academic curriculum. In this context, you know that no matter who you are or where you’ve come from, if you’ve completed a certain course, then you’ve learned the same material as everyone else who has completed that same course.

We’re seeing a movement toward a more structured approach to training programs, where organizations are identifying themselves as “schools” rather than “training companies.” There’s a big difference. Ultimately, an established vocational school—which is what a Pilates school really is—can seek licensure as such by its state, and can then consider national accreditation. This could lead to the school applying for Title IV funding, which gives access to various financial aid options for students. This is the future!

IPT: How has the accreditation in 2012 of the PMA Pilates Certification Program by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies changed the landscape for Pilates instructors who seek certification?

Anderson: There’s now more understanding of what certification represents. Accredited status gives the PMA Pilates Certification Program a national-level validation and positions it alongside more than 250 other accredited certifications in a range of different industries, such as financial services, health care, construction, manufacturing and social assistance. The goal of positioning the Pilates teacher alongside professionals in other established industries has been realized, and the result is that we’re seeing increased participation. More employers are requiring the credential from their employees. The accreditation helps distinguish between true certification and the completion of an educational program. This is an evolution of the field, and it’s a healthy thing. It’s all about establishing the identity of the Pilates professional.

IPT: What do you look forward to in the next 5 years?

Elizabeth Anderson: I think we’ll see the Pilates Certification Program grow internationally. I believe that public awareness of the value of the credential, as well as of Pilates itself, will increase—perhaps not in the fitness facility context, but in the dedicated studio context.

IPT: Please share your current viewpoint on educational standards for Pilates instructors. Are we better off than we were, say, 5 years ago? What are the next touchstones for growth?

Anderson: I think we’re definitely better off than we were 5 years ago. Many in the Pilates teacher-training community have worked together at our teacher-training summits to develop and improve aspects specific to the training field. In 2009, a majority of the schools attending the summit agreed to stop misusing the word certification and to distinguish between true certification and the completion of an educational program. Since then, we’ve had two rounds of data-gathering about what is being taught in comprehensive Pilates programs around the world, and the results of this [research] were revealed at our third summit in June 2013.

At the summit, we presented, discussed, debated and ratified a template for the essential minimum components of a Pilates teacher-training program. This is a major milestone; and while the template will certainly evolve over time, this marks a starting point of understanding and agreement about what comprehensive teacher training must include. The work these delegates do, the improved cooperation among schools, a growing understanding of the importance of an educational template—these are all signs of healthy growth and development. We’re very pleased with how it’s coming along, and we look forward to continuing the process.

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