Alex Phillips, founder of Alps Movement in Switzerland, joins me on the podcast. She shares her journey as a Pilates teacher, her interest in Pilates history and evolution, and adds some context to Joe Pilates as a man growing up in Germany, living in New York, and the health trends of the time. Tune in!
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Alex is the founder of Alps Movement, a Pilates school and studio in Switzerland. She is a comprehensively certified BASI Pilates instructor. She has been teaching movement full time since 2016 and enjoys diving deep into Pilates history and the great outdoors.
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[00:00:00] Welcome to Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and the Pilates community on Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. Today's chapter starts now.
[00:00:56] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. I [00:01:00] am really excited today to have Alex Phillips on the show. She is the founder of Alps Movement, her studio in Switzerland. She is a Pilates teacher, she is a outdoor enthusiast, and just a really cool, curious person who, I don't know if I want to say you've made it your mission, but you're just really want to get to the bottom of where Pilates came from, how it came to be.
[00:01:30] And I know that I met you at a Advanced Mover Series that Maria Earle was hosting, her workshop series, but I've also been just really interested and impressed by what you've been sharing on social, because you're really looking at kind of the origin of Pilates and how it's changed and shifted, and then kind of the Pilates community as a whole, like you just ask really great questions. So I'm really glad to have you on the show. Thanks so [00:02:00] much.
[00:02:01] Thank you. That was so nice.
[00:02:03] I mean, I think it's fun. Like sometimes I know that when you, when you're first diving into Pilates or first becoming a teacher, you don't even know what questions to ask, because when you're going through your teacher training, you're just, okay, I've got to memorize spring settings, but the fact that you went that route, also are teaching classes and all of that, and then you're also really interested in the theory and kind of the history behind it, I think is super valuable.
[00:02:31] The first thing I always want to know is how you got into Pilates.
[00:02:36] Yeah. That is a great question. It probably leads very clearly to why I am the person I am right now. So my grandmother lived in Seattle and she was Dorothee Vandewalle's like first or second client after she left New York. She, Dorothee, had trained under Romana. Um, and then she moved to Seattle with her kids and built her [00:03:00] studio. And my grandma absolutely loves Dorothee or loved . My grandma passed away earlier this year. And she was always raving about her. So it made me super curious about what this thing was. Cause I'd never seen her get kind of that excited about something like she did with Pilates.
[00:03:20] And then when I was in high school, I was a competitive team sports athlete, and I had a really bad ankle sprain. So I had to skip a season and I did Pilates using VHS's Mary Windsor VHS's in my school gym, because I couldn't run. And the next spring season I was in phenomenal shape. And I didn't really know why. And I was like, oh, I guess those videos really did something. I really enjoyed it. But I guess that they really worked cause I was running stronger and had more control than I ever had before. So yeah.
[00:03:58] And then down the line, um, [00:04:00] I became a teacher accidentally, as I think, kind of happens to many people. I had a rough career shift happen. I used to work in educational marketing. I was very randomly asked to apply to teach at the Lagree or Lagree studio that I was going to. And I figured why not I'll do it. And I did that for a few years. And then after that, I decided I wanted to transition to just doing Pilates.
[00:04:28] I personally didn't know what studio Lagree was before I became a Pilates teacher. And I only learned what it was because there was a studio very close to where I was teaching. And I was like, that looks similar, but also different. Can you tell me a little bit about first of all, the group fitness teaching experience, because I know that that's always fun, but also what is studio Lagree in case someone didn't know?
[00:04:51] Okay. So great question. So the Lagree method, generally a little bit of a hot topic in the Pilates community, because it was [00:05:00] developed by a French guy named Sebastian Lagree. He lives- or lah-gray- um, he lives in LA and he was actually a bodybuilder and personal trainer and he was teaching his clients some Pilates exercises and he thought that was beneficial to their routine, but he would get the feedback that it was, it was boring. So he developed his own machine that is called a mega former, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It is just a very, very large version of what we call a reformer also with Springs, also with ropes, but there are some differences. You can always use that both ends of the machine. It's not just like there's the foot bar side. And then there's the back pulley side. All of the spring mechanisms are underneath. And yeah, they have their set exercises and it's supposed to be slow resistance [00:06:00] training. Yeah.
[00:06:00] So there, when I was teaching that, you know, I was teaching at three different studio, well studio locations, with groups of anywhere between five to 16 clients at a time, which in hindsight has, I think really given me an upper hand in my teaching because I understand how to teach those large groups. And the differences in teaching because, you know, a five person class, it was very personal. I know a lot of people might think that sounds huge, but for me, it was very personal, easy to manage. To 16 people where, you know, I'm wearing a mic pack and you have to really communicate with people via eye contact and like small off mic conversations and everything like that. So I think it was a really helpful skill. And also to understand what the fitness space is really like for the general public right now, and kind of now as a Pilates teacher, knowing a lot of people associate that world with Pilates has been really [00:07:00] helpful. One thing I do want to add.
[00:07:01] Lagree as a brand has made it very clear that they do not want to be associated with the word Pilates. And it's not that they that's just not their brand. And the challenge that they've had is that they aren't a franchise. So they have a licensed model. So some studios that have the license to use their equipment and to teach their methods still choose to kind of lean into the Pilates association which I think causes a lot of challenges for everyone involved, but it's, to me, I think really important to voice that like Lagree, the central brand is something that that's not something they're actively encouraging. They're actually doing the opposite. They're discouraging.
[00:07:45] I've definitely had people in my classes who have been like, oh, well, I've been on a megaformer. And as a, as a Pilates teacher, you're like, well, it is similar to, but not the same as, uh.
[00:07:58] Exactly. [00:08:00]
[00:08:00] Yeah. So how did you make the jump from- well, actually, to be fair, there are really big Pilates classes as well. I used to teach 12. That was my, that was my jam. So how did you make the jump from Studio Lagree to Pilates full time?
[00:08:19] Yeah. Uh, so I mean, it's, it's funny, cause this is, it's all very organic. My studio manager, she did Pilates here in Zurich. And one thing that I taught that was a little bit like considered off book with the Lagree method was when I taught all of the arm exercises, I would always do it on a lower spring than what we were supposed to do, because I felt that the clients were really struggling with unnecessary and constant tension and pain in their shoulder.
[00:08:53] Zurich, you know, is we're a financial center. So a lot of people who have high stress banking, insurance jobs, spend a lot of time at a [00:09:00] computer and then they'd come in and they'd just be like, Hey, like this hurts. So my studio manager, she, she knew about this and she noticed the care that I kind of took and the attention to detail I had in those classes. And she'd always say to me like, Hey, I really think you need to just like go for Pilates like, you know. I know Pilates, I love Pilates. I think that you're so aligned with that style of teaching. You should really pursue it. And I knew that I also personally loved, loved the Pilates that I had done. And I felt like there was that point where I knew my values don't align just with the main messages that fitness has kind of putting out there of anti-fat and, you know, the fact that everything has to hurt time for it to be considered somehow valuable doesn't sit with me. So yeah, I was like, well, I'm just going to translate what I've been doing here into something that I find to be more sustainable. And I think that's, that's with Pilates so [00:10:00] often. And then it was a rollercoaster.
[00:10:04] So as you dove into Pilates land, when did you get really interested in the history of Pilates and Pilates beyond knowing the springs and the exercise choreography, but really Pilates as a method that exists in a historical context?
[00:10:23] Immediately? I mean, I think that's the thing that's really, that probably made it really obvious to me from the beginning to ask those questions of what is this and how is this different is probably the cause I came from the Lagree fitness worlds where it was, we were already talking about we're different from that. And I wanted to understand those differences.
[00:10:51] And then the other thing as well is. You know, my grandmother didn't understand the lawsuit. That wasn't something that she and [00:11:00] Dorothee you know, were talking about, but she knew from Dorothee that she had this closeness to Mr. Pilates and, and she kind of said that enough times is that I knew that there were different kinds of teachers or teaching styles or something. And I wanted to understand.
[00:11:18] And that was important to me also going through teacher training, I, my first career was in educational marketing. So I knew that I needed to kind of be aware that not everything is always as it seems, just because in educational marketing that's always the case. And I really wanted to make sure I was finding a program that was, that was going to be high quality. And for me, that meant, you know, getting something that was as close to what- it w- it wasn't a watered down version of, of it.
[00:11:48] And I say that cautiously, because I'm not trying to get into the classical versus contemporary debate, but just like I wanted a high quality program that was going to teach me something with substance. [00:12:00] And when I started looking into just different schools, it was clear. Okay. There's more stuff going on here. And, uh, I need to figure it out just for my own.
[00:12:11] It is interesting. And I feel like the more teachers I meet and talk with, and the more classes I take with people from different schools of thought that you can see that different schools have different philosophies about Pilates and that they focus on and make the goal of certain exercises- that there's just different goals. Not saying that one is better than the other.
[00:12:39] Uh, when you look at, you know, training programs that you may have to audition to get into the training program or requirements that you've done Pilates for a certain number of sessions or a certain amount of time. Again, not that those things are good or bad, but they, they just, they have a different focus. They [00:13:00] exist. Exactly.
[00:13:01] And I think about it as well, because. And a lot of ways, those things can be limiting. I wouldn't have been able to be a Pilates teacher if the program that I went through had those requirements, because I had been teaching yoga for seven or eight years and was familiar with the idea of leading classes, classroom management, as you've touched on and like large groups, getting people to do similar things and also not be in pain all the time. Um, but, but the Pilates language itself was new to me. And so in some ways I'm very glad that they were like, yeah, sure. Come on in. Because I had not been on a reformer when I signed up for teacher training.
[00:13:44] It's such a important point of accessibility and diversity of teachers right now. And because, I mean, I was the same. I'd been working on a, a mega former for years. So I was very familiar with that. I hadn't, I'd never been on a Cadillac. [00:14:00] I still, to this day, I've never been taught on a high chair, you know, and from the classical repertoire. And that was simply because I literally couldn't afford it. One thing, I mean, you know this about me privately, but like I- I'm an immigrant. And so I had, uh, finances were a legitimate concern for in my story and I wasn't able to, to pay to explore some spaces, even though I wish that I had been able to. And I think that's one thing that is exciting now. And we are seeing so much of now is people with very diverse, physical, financial, and personal experiences coming into the space. And that's really valuable.
[00:14:42] Yeah. I mean, I love when. Is it Lori Shipp? I want to say it's Lori Shipp. She does Wunda chair, Wednesdays. And she's always showing like really fun classical chair variations. And like, I haven't worked on a Wunda chair, like I learned on a balanced body Exo chair. So [00:15:00] again, same thing, but a little bit different. Or like there's the electric chair. And I'm like, we just need to change the name of that one, but still, or like the low chair. It's neat.
[00:15:12] And I love that, you know, if you were to have those different pieces of equipment that they are going to fit different people's needs, depending on how large they are. The Wunda chairs are small, they're little, they're narrower, shorter.
[00:15:27] I have in my studio, I have a mix of like, what is considered classical and contemporary equipment, um, that also has to do based off of the country where I live and what's accessible to me again, getting back to just general accessibility. So I have a, a brand from Italy, um, called Tecno Pilates. Their chair, which I believe are more or less the same dimensions as a classical Wunda chair, but then I've also had an Exo [00:16:00] chair, which one of my clients ended up buying from me during lock down. And I've got some Balanced Body combo chairs, and then same with reformers. I've got classical dimension reformers, and then I have a Balanced Body studio reformer, and I think it's really important to be able to- to understand why those things existed.
[00:16:18] I think that's also to get to your question of why, why was I interested in Pilates history? I just wanted to understand why it had evolved the way it had to help me better serve my clients. It's as simple of an answer is that I wanted to understand.
[00:16:37] And also, again, getting back to finances. I didn't want to invest in a reformer that wasn't going to work for me or my clients, um, particularly my clients. And so I spent a lot of time just trying to understand what are these differences? Why do they exist? And what does that mean for me as, as a teacher? [00:17:00]
[00:17:00] We were chatting about this a little bit before we recorded, but this idea that Pilates history is vast, various, and interesting. And as we know, from Caged Lion, it is partial legend, partial myth, and some retelling. That Joe had his own, you know, mythology while he was still alive. And I guess the core question is, is it important to know where Pilates came from? Is it important to know about Joseph Pilates? I mean, I know how we feel, but just like theoretically.
[00:17:37] I mean, to be honest, I probably have a different answer for you now than I did two years ago. I think two years ago before the pandemic, I would have said, no, it's not really important. Now, though, I think it is incredibly important that all teachers, regardless of, of what they do, but if they [00:18:00] like are into, into teaching Pilates, understand where these things came from and how that they they've evolved over time and how evolving scientific research and cultural trends have impacted the ways that we teach. You know, the whole conversation in, in Pilates alone- and this is not me, trash-talking, you know, the classical world- but for a long time, I understood the only difference not a long time, but there was a point in time where I interested the difference between classical Pilates and contemporary Pilates to be like the spine and the lumbar spine in particular. And you know, this pushing of the spine in, and not staying in neutral spine and how that was, you know, unhealthy and could actually be quite, uh, have negative effects for people.
[00:18:55] And what I find interesting [00:19:00] about that conversation when we take a step back is, it's like at no point in time, do I think that, you know, Joseph Pilates was intentionally trying to do harm. I also don't think that, you know- I think he was trying to take the information that he had and apply it as best as he could. And he did reach out to get more medical advice and input. We know that. But that we have to acknowledge that these things do evolve and what we learn does change and like collectively learn, it changes. And that means we also have to shift how we teach. And if we, if we're not willing to explore that- and we don't have to, you know, know this is the year Joseph Pilates was born in, this was his favorite food, not in that way, but just the basics of how this grew over time. It makes us aware that we can never be dogmatic in our teaching and in what we tell our clients, because what [00:20:00] we think of as truth and healthy, now we might learn down the line. Ooh, actually we were a little bit off on that. The research has, has shifted or it's evolved. And if we want the wellness industry to stop misinformation, we need to understand that, yes, what we do is always changing. It is always evolving.
[00:20:22] I think you're right. That is, I mean, I don't know what else to tell you. That sounds, that sounds true. I do think that, you know, a hundred years from now people look back and they're like, oh yeah, that funny little exercise. We all did that. Like now we know we shouldn't do or that we should do differently or that it should have a different focus, like it is constantly changing.
[00:20:46] And I think that that's rather freeing as well, because you don't have to feel like a broken record or like the VHS that you were watching from Mary Windsor, that no matter how many times you watch it, she's going to tell you to do the same [00:21:00] thing, but that you can take what you're learning, because we're constantly learning as teachers, whether or not you're even doing continuing education. Every class you teach, you're getting different feedback from your students about what makes sense, what doesn't make sense, what feels good, what feels less good, as they change, all of that.
[00:21:20] I also want to make sure that we touch on, because I know that you have the goods and that you can speak German and you have these super cool books from, did you say 1901? Is it? Because if we think about Joe as a youth, he's got a mom who was like, was she a women's doctor? She was like a woman health?
[00:21:44] I don't-
[00:21:45] Natural women's doc?
[00:21:47] I should- We can open up Caged Lion and check. But I mean, what I, and this is what I think is also interesting, to be clear with my interest is- I don't consider myself to be [00:22:00] like a Joseph Pilates expert. There's a lot of other people who are, you know, doing a lot of work on that. And that's not where my interests lie. I'm interested in understanding him as a man and then contextualizing him in the world that he just, like you said, grew up in like, and was influenced by and lived in. Who were his parents and what were the things around?
[00:22:25] Joseph Pilates was a fairly- from a fairly working class family in Western Germany. Oddly enough, his family worked in the mill that potentially distant relatives of mine owned, which is just very strange. But yeah, you know, that's the thing, is they were a family and his dad was in the gymnastics club and, you know, he had brothers and sisters.
[00:22:53] Women at that point in Germany, their roles were, were also shifting and there was this [00:23:00] whole shift in culturally and in how society operated. And I think we, to understand the man, we should also look at that.
[00:23:09] This book that you found from back in the day was, I think I remember you saying it was like one of the most popular, like bestseller books at the time. And this book that you found that came out in 1901 may very well have been a book that his family may have owned and he would have been able to look at. So tell me about this book.
[00:23:32] So this book, which was, I cannot take credit for, you know, knowing it existed. The universe sent it to me. It is called in English, I guess you would translate it to be The Woman As The Home Doctor. And it was written by a lady doctor, uh, Dr. Anna Fischer Duckelmann. And she was one of the first women to attend the University of Zurich [00:24:00] medical school um, and to go through the full program. And after she graduated as an, as a doctor, she decided to write this book, which is over a thousand pages, that is a guide for the modern woman to take better care of herself and her family.
[00:24:22] And she, you know, she has all these images. So what am I looking at now? I think that's an ovary, but she describes here what cells do and what, what different organs do what this is, uh, something on fat, but then she also goes into nutrition and pregnancy and literally everything that you could consider about health.
[00:24:51] And when I found this book, it's pretty interesting. I mean, I just opened up to the chapter on clothes, beds, [00:25:00] and home spaces. So if you've read Return to Life or Your Health, where in the Pilates community alone, we think, oh, it's so interesting. He was talking about wearing big billowy clothing when you're outside or wearing as few clothes as possible when you're training, when we have a source like this that is describing those exact reasons why you should wear a big billowing clothing from a female medical doctor decades before Return to Life or Your Health were written.
[00:25:31] The other thing too, you know, just speaking on the beds, that was one, that's kind of undeniable of similarities there because she talks a lot in this whole chapter about, you know, ideal bed positioning, sleeping positioning, issues you may have with a fabric made mattress, which, you know, we know as well that Joseph Pilates was really into designing beds. And it's like, okay, that's something interesting. [00:26:00] And again, this book was a bestseller. It was translated into 13 languages.
[00:26:04] And one thing I also find really interesting is that while we know that it's not something that has been really, as far as I've been able to find thus far well-researched, um, from an academic perspective. And so while this woman was influential in her time, um, maybe she's not being given enough credit now as, as, uh, she should for a man whose name is become very well known.
[00:26:31] I feel like the fact that this book exists and that it's very possible that Joe had read or interacted with it, or his mom had told him, you know, your mom tells you like, put a coat on, you're going to catch a cold-
[00:26:44] or his wife-
[00:26:45] or his wife. But when we look at exercises in the repertoire, things like back rowing or front rowing where we don't look at Joe and be like, oh, well he must have invented boats and also how to travel by them. Like we [00:27:00] understand that rowing exercises come from rowing a boat, which we do occasionally. And that, you know, I've, I've talked for a long time and I don't know if this has been academically researched either, but the fact that there are so many yoga poses that are very similar to Pilates and yoga has been around for thousands of years.
[00:27:20] And like, first of all, our body only moves so many ways. Like your spine can only do the things that it can do. So if two movement systems say, okay, you can move your spine and do a back bend or into a forward bend I don't think it's necessarily plagiarism because that is indeed two things that your spine can do.
[00:27:41] But where you're, I know you can talk about the exercises that she, uh, has pictured as well. But for things like the bed or the clothing ideas, even if what she is saying was commonplace thought at the time, she's just putting down what everyone knows to be true at this time. [00:28:00] Yeah. Like Joe's thoughts came from somewhere. He wasn't like in a void.
[00:28:06] Yeah. And that's that's I think what I've been really, where I'm most curious about in terms of Pilates history? I love, I love old things. Like I've always loved old photographs. I used to get in a lot of trouble when I was a kid. Cause I'd like go into boxes without asking for permission and looking at my grandparents, like wedding photos and everything. And so I love that we can, that those things exist for Joseph Pilates in the studio, and for Carola and Kathy Grant and all of those things.
[00:28:40] But what I I'm personally interested in is like what was going on in 19th century and early 20th century health trends, because that's the thing. The world had changed so much in the 19th century. That is when we have, you know, the Gran Tour, which is [00:29:00] when European men were, not always men, but wealthy people were traveling around Europe and they would go, you know, go to Rome to see, to see fall in ancient Rome. And then they would go to Switzerland to breathe our fresh mountain air and climb our mountains. And then they would go to Paris to see like the great Renaissance works of art and they would sketch.
[00:29:23] And like we owe so much to this period of time. We owe photography. You know, the camera was, as far as I know, last I checked was invented by a man who was supposed to go on the Gran Tour and he was a terrible drawer. So he, he couldn't do the drawings that you were supposed to do to document your trip. So he invented the camera. You know, it's when train lines were invented and, and there was suddenly this concept of even a middle-class existing. So you could leave, you know, the cities and go out to the countryside to have your nice luscious country euphoric day. People were climbing mountains just for fun, [00:30:00] or to conquer them, which also goes into this very 19th century, ideal of conquering nature and these things.
[00:30:07] I think it's a really fascinating mirror into like where we are right now. And so when we look at that, also things like yoga influence, it was when, you know, there was a whole Japanese as a movement in art where, where there's all these references to Japanese and Asian art in general, in European art and all these things being appropriated into European culture.
[00:30:32] And it's like, yeah, this is- these things interacted then, but we don't talk about it. I think also because World War II happened and in Europe, that destroyed a lot of cultural discourse because what happened here was so horrific and also things were just physically destroyed. And I think if we can shed light on that, we'll understand better, like [00:31:00] where we are now.
[00:31:04] Hi there. I hope you're enjoying today's chapter so far. There's great stuff coming up after the break, too. Be sure to subscribe wherever you're listening and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. There you can make a one-time donation or become a member for as little as $5 a month.
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[00:32:04] That's the thing too, with this book. One thing that Anna Fischer Duckelmann is known for is like her work on like herbalism and homeopathy, and homeopathy is still a really big deal in Germanic speaking countries. And it's been very heavily discussed politically in the era of COVID and to understand where homeopathy came from and why maybe it does have this female association to this day. Because we had for, you know, basically a celebrity female doctor, encouraging women to use homeopathy as a way to take care of their family. That's something, you know. So to explore and to help us understand so that people can evolve and that we, that we're, we're kind to them because we know where these things came from.
[00:32:57] I think what you're touching on as [00:33:00] well is every history class I've ever taken, the ones that are most valuable are the ones that take what's happening and put it into a relationship with what else is happening. Because in ancient civilizations, you're like, here's what happened in ancient Egypt. And here's what happened in ancient Indus River Valley. And here's what's happening in Mesopotamia and here's what's happening in China. And you don't realize always, even though the numbers, like you could technically do the math, my brain doesn't, I'm just like, I'm learning about Egypt. Um, but I remember in like sophomore year of high school making a timeline and it's like, oh, these things are happening at the same time.
[00:33:39] And then with things like boat, travel, train, travel, as people are able to get around like that these, these ideas were being exchanged and it makes sense that uh, we're to believe Joe's circus tour or boxing tour or whatever he was traveling around England doing that. He would also [00:34:00] be, you know, interacting with people in England, you know, or that he would be, um, wherever he is. You know, he's in New York and we know that he was a member of like the German club, that he would hang out, that he would be, you know, in some ways in touch with things that were happening outside of his studio.
[00:34:19] Yeah. And it's not even just talking about him, but someone like Carola. One thing that I've thought about a lot with her is there's kind of two things I'm fascinated by personally. Number one, the fact that she and Joseph Pilates were both German, so they can that same cultural understanding. And it makes me very curious about how that would have informed her teaching and the directions that she went with her career, and the fact that she did keep researching to make sure that she was teaching scientifically, you know, up to date methodology or not on that methodology, but just her method.
[00:34:59] [00:35:00] And then one thing too, and a totally other anecdotal way is, is I know Antibes, um, in France very well. And that's one of the places where it Carola was when she was a vaudeville dancer and, Antibes was, and is, you know, a very, it's not an opulent place, but it's an elegant place. And thinking about that. And then when she gets to New York and has this, you know, beautiful studio, that's just supposedly pristine and really seems to be the one that I've always understood to kind of bring the elegance in, in terms of the visuals to the Pilates community, the flowers and the leotard and this, that, and the other. And I just think that's just so fascinating of this woman who went from being a dancer and in this area known for wealth and creativity and art. You know, Antibes is where Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald [00:36:00] and were hanging out. That then she, she left that and was able to build her own little wealthy sanctuary, I mean, no other way to put it, but that's what it always sounds like it was.
[00:36:13] And it's like, yeah, those things all are related and it's so much more interesting. I feel like too, I mean, not, not in like, not Carola that you weren't boring, but it's just like, oh, Hi, these things, it wasn't just quirks of personality. And it helps, I think also to understand these people that we're never going to meet because time.
[00:36:37] I think, the more you dive into the history, you find sort of more richness in what you're doing, because you're teaching this exercise by this person who we'll never meet. And like, that's another question that I have is like all of the reformer exercises. Are we just guessing those from like archive footage [00:37:00] or because I know like the mat exercises are there, but the reformer exercises, I feel like we're just giving it our best go sometimes.
[00:37:07] Yeah. I mean, this is what's what's also interesting is, so we were speaking about this off, off record, but a lot of my teacher friends, they assume that I'm classically trained because I'm really interested in like that classical work. And I'm, I'm not.
[00:37:23] What I understand is that those in the more classical world visuals do exist somewhere. I'm not sure where they do exist, but they do exist. And then basically all of those people who were taught directly by Joseph Pilates, you know, the Kathy Grants, the Carolas, Ron Fletchers and the Ramona's that they all knew. They were on the same page with those exercises. And then they, I guess together, you know, not necessarily sat down together, but they were like, oh yeah, yeah. We know, we know scorpion or whatever it is, which I only learned about from the [00:38:00] internet.
[00:38:01] I think that we just get so much more like understanding and compassion, I think for these people whose work and whose legacy we're really carrying on. Whether you are, whether you're a direct lineage or not, we're all part of Joseph Pilates legacy and we're all sharing his work, our interpretation of his work, with our clients and with the world.
[00:38:28] Yeah. And I think as well, you know, it's hard. Because I understand completely why the conversation about contemporary to classical is very triggering for a lot of people and that it does create a divide amongst people. But what I will say is I know from personal experience is it's really frustrating to be told that you're doing an exercise sometimes wrong. I've had people say just flat out, you're doing it wrong. [00:39:00] Or to indicate that you're not doing it correctly when you're doing it a way that you were taught by someone else.
[00:39:06] And so to see how these exercises evolved based off of the person who was teaching it or the population that they were teaching it to, which is another really, really important thing, I think. And then to start to build some threads between all of those things and to see, oh, okay, this is why, this is why this contemporary world took it over here. And this is why this is existing over there. And then in my, in my teaching experience, it's going to come together like this. And this is how these two things are going to kind of dance together.
[00:39:48] I've done some work with BASI. And one thing I think is really interesting about BASI is like understanding that Rael came from not just like he was a dancer, [00:40:00] but he was a dance educator and that he is really teaching, or his background, and I've never met the man, but his background is teaching people who want to dance professionally. It helps me understand what I perceive to be a need to stabilize in the BASI way of doing Pilates much, much better. Because all of the professional dancers I know have told me that all of their injuries and struggles come from the fact that they don't know how to stabilize, that they're there too loose and free and that's when things go bad.
[00:40:36] It's, you know, I've met people, who've broken their leg on stage and kept dancing to finish the performance. Yeah. That's people who are in like the Paris ballet, like those people are a whole next level. But the movement skills that they need are different from the movement skills that I need. And I can respect that what someone like Rael took from that was, okay, we're going to [00:41:00] learn how to do all these big expansive movements, but truly control it and not rely on the flexibility that we have that has gotten us to this point in our career.
[00:41:10] I mean the same with something like Polestar. Totally spacing on his name, but the founder of Polestar being a physical therapist and it's like, okay. So if you're working with someone who's just had a severe, I don't know, car crash and they can only turn their head 10 degrees. I can appreciate why you would teach, teach things in that style. It's not, not that I ever thought it was bad, but okay. That makes sense. And that's, that's where that exists. And same for other people who are just like, Hey, I just teach like athletes. Like we're going to give them a sweaty class. Okay, cool. What are we going to do for someone who, who's, who's not that, and it, it helps see how these things all fit and tie together.
[00:41:53] And I think if we can communicate that better to clients as well and make the clients [00:42:00] understand that these differences exist, not because someone is a better teacher or doesn't care as much, or because they're easier, they're not hard enough, but simply because we have specializations and that we also can identify those specializations. I think that's really helpful, but we have to know what exists first.
[00:42:18] I think you've hit on something that I did not expect, but is buzzing my, I dunno, making me feel very excited. Um,
[00:42:28] I saw your eyes get really big.
[00:42:31] Nostril flare. That's like the little thing that you're like, Ooh, she's into that. But I think that that's wild and the way I had framed that idea in my own head, or when I've talked about it on the podcast, is that, you know, there's a teacher for everyone, that you're not going to be everyone's teacher. There's people who are going to vibe with you and people who are not going to vibe with you, which is fine because there's lots of teachers if they don't vibe with you, they'll love someone else.
[00:42:56] And whether you're talking about Joseph Pilates [00:43:00] as a person and as a teacher, or as you know yourself as a person or a teacher, you're bringing your experience to your teaching. So I was a yoga teacher before I was a Pilates teacher. So the very like centering start of class that I like to do, whether it's pelvic tilts, regardless of the efficacy of a pelvic tilt, but just in terms of grounding, getting into your body, like letting go of your day. Like, that's a very like yoga way to start a class. And there are people who love that. And there are people who are like, I'd rather not, and it's not that it's a good thing or a bad thing, but it comes from like, this is how I relate to movement.
[00:43:42] And coming to Pilates as a yoga teacher, I took a lot of the parallels between those two modalities 'cause they already interested me and that's what I choose to focus on or highlight. I really love how you put that.
[00:43:57] Thank you.
[00:43:59] That's great. But [00:44:00] it does, it makes sense in things or the fact that, you know, Romana was a ballerina. And so the hug a tree arms with like the soft ballet fingers in the gentle bend at the elbow, of course, that's going to make sense to her. That's whatever dance terminology is that arm move.
[00:44:20] Yeah, exactly. And, you know, Romana, another thing I've heard people say too, is she had a knee injury. And so I think what I, what I've heard through people is that's part of why she taught some of her foot work and leg work the way she did, because when she was doing Pilates, that was her focus because that was her injury. And that's something that, you know, her students are now aware of in their own teaching. And then the influence she had on, on that. But I think that's the conversation about the history that I would like us all to engage with is that you're never going to be able to devoid your [00:45:00] personal experience from how you teach.
[00:45:04] And, you know, we, we were also talking about, about this off record, um, or off, off record. But things like size, you know, I've and I've talked to some people in kind of more of the, the classical world about how accessible is it to different body sizes. And, you know, I know teachers who do not feel welcome in that space because they don't fit on the equipment. And then they've heard teachers in that space say things like, oh yeah, Going up front are mountain climbers going to get your butt. It's going to get your butt all tightened. They're like, Nope, this is not my space. I am not welcome here. And what I find really sad about that. I mean, there's many things that are really sad and frustrating and make me angry.
[00:45:57] But one thing I do find sad in this moment [00:46:00] with the conversation about our history is it means that people who would otherwise be curious to know about that world and would be curious to know, how did Joseph Pilates teach this? How did Romana teach this? How did Carola teach it? How did Ron Fletcher teach it? Feel? They instantly say, this is not a space that I am welcome in, which is their understanding to be true.
[00:46:22] And that those who are around now, aren't being aware that they need to remove their personal attachment, maybe to that person to help others understand the history in which it was created. Because, I mean, I mean, I'm not an engineer, but I don't see why a classical style reformer doesn't exist just in like a wider size because they feel completely different to me. The first time I went on, on a classical style reform, I was like, oh no, everything is different. [00:47:00] And it makes me sad that I know teachers who won't get to experience it because they can't move on that apparatus the same way that I can simply because I am a smaller human being than them.
[00:47:14] And I would love it if those of us who, who are here now would then engage in a way that everyone feels like they can access that and understand why that exists and, and, and make it possible for people.
[00:47:28] Especially if our goal in Pilates is to help our clients feel better and move better. And maybe that's not everyone's goal, but that's my goal when I'm working with people that I want to have a pleasant time and hang out.
[00:47:43] My goal too!
[00:47:44] Um, but I, I recognize we can have different goals, but if, if that's what you want, that goal, isn't limited to an age, a size and ability, and you want- like, it's this idea that you can be a beginner at one [00:48:00] exercise and advanced in another exercise. You're not truly a beginner or truly advanced that, depending on what it is, we all have strengths and super abilities and less super abilities. And like you want the equipment to support people.
[00:48:16] And like, especially for things like mat Pilates. Mat Pilates can be super limiting depending on the class. I mean, going over classical repertoire, like overhead is the third exercise. And I'm like, jack knife is not on everyone's menu, definitely not after three minutes of warmup.
[00:48:34] Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I mean, I mean, there's things that I hadn't thought of because I have my own privilege. Um, but people like Alison Skewes, you know, she worked on making sure that Balanced Body, and I'm not sure if she's gotten other manufacturers to do it as well, but to like to put weight limits on Pilates equipment.
[00:48:58] And that's something that now [00:49:00] I check for all of my equipment with, that's not all Balanced Body. I make sure that I know and understand that the equipment is not made for all bodies. And there that is a safety issue. And. You know, how humiliating would that be for someone to show up in a studio and realize that something isn't made for them. That's not acceptable.
[00:49:23] And I think, you know, that's also where this conversation gets really, to me, very black and white, as you can say, okay, well, we want to teach on the equipment that, you know, these people taught on. And it's like, okay, but is it kind to people who weigh above X. Simple as that. And if it's not, well, then we got to change it. We got to do better. It's just about doing better.
[00:49:50] I think, as we're evolving as teachers that, you know, Joseph Pilates has had his own limitations, like he only worked with the people that he [00:50:00] worked with. And, uh, very much our Elders are a survivor bias story, that people only stuck around to keep doing Pilates stuck around. And we don't see that people who tried it and were like, what the heck was that? And then never came back. You know, I would love to hear that story though.
[00:50:19] No, no, totally. And it's, it's that, and one thing that I also find why I, I feel like we do have to keep striving for more is the fact that yes, there is survivor bias and our first-generation of elders. Very diverse in an, in a highly unusual way. Um, historically, you know, we've, we've got Romana as a single mom who just returned from South America. We've got Kathy Grant, black woman who wasn't allowed to touch the ballet bar in her school. We've got Ron Fletcher, you know, a recovering alcoholic and a gay [00:51:00] man, like it's it's, um, Corolla was Jewish. Like it's just. It's not the- And then you also have Joseph Pilates is an immigrant working class, German man, not who you think is going to develop this method that everyone's going to do in, in the two thousands. And I think that is really exciting. And so then to also understand those individual frustrations and limitations and, and belief systems, and then to say, okay, they did this amazing thing. And now how can we, how can we expand on that?
[00:51:36] One thing I do want to say also to be very clear is I do have full respect for the individuals who had personal relationships with first-generation teachers. Their relationships with the conversation surrounding Pilates history is going to be different from someone like mine, someone who is just like, I don't, I've never met, you know, [00:52:00] I didn't meet Carola, Kathy Grant, or Ron Fletcher. And I think that is also something I always want to be aware of and talk to people about is that it is going to be harder- I would assume maybe I shouldn't say that- but I would understand if it was harder for people who had those personal relationships who went through the lawsuit and everything, they have a different process than for those of us who didn't directly know those people. And we should just respect that.
[00:52:29] I really appreciate all of the information that you've shared and the work that you've done, even as not an eminent Pilates scholar, but just as a super nerd and super interested hyper nerd, like what a cool thing to be nerdy about. And I love nerds because you chat with them and they're like, oh man, I've got this book from 1901 and I'm going to show you some exercises or some naked ladies doing one leg circle and it's going to blow your mind.
[00:52:59] We didn't even get [00:53:00] to Mesendieck. Cause Mesendieck was the naked lady with a bag over your face leg circles.
[00:53:06] Well, you know.
[00:53:08] We can't get through it all, but like, that's the thing is there's so, there's so much, and it's so interesting and it helps us understand that when you're in class now, and we've all had those moments where in your classroom, you're like, what am I doing with my life? What, like this, I look ridiculous. I feel like a flopping dying fish, like what is happening? To be like hi, isn't that funny? That like a hundred, 120 years ago, there was some Victorian lady during the exact same thing. Like how cool is that?
[00:53:41] It's a link to the past and it's a, another way for us, I think to get to know Joe, you know, more affectionately as, you know, a product of his time and who had his own stuff going on. Like what a wild card, that man.
[00:53:59] Yeah. [00:54:00] And how cool, how cool to come from this tiny little village and then to end up in New York walking down, what was it? Fifth avenue with like a revolver in ballet shoes. Got to get home to your Wunda chair dining room. It's just the coolest, that's just the coolest. Teaching movie stars and opera singers and rad.
[00:54:26] Living the American Dream. Honestly, making it happen. Thank you so, so much for sharing all of your insights and for the laughs and for contextualizing Pilates, and also sharing why it's important to contextualize it. I really appreciate your time and thank you so much for being on the show.
[00:54:45] Thank you so much for having me.
[00:54:56] Thanks for listening to this week's chapter of Pilates Teachers' [00:55:00] Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. Check out the podcast, Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual, and be sure to subscribe wherever you listen. For more Pilates goodness, check out my other podcast, Pilates Students' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:55:19] The adventure continues. Until next time.