Pilates Evolution

Episode 22: 

The evolution of something is often defined as distinguishable differences resulting from modifications in successive generations.  When we examine the movement and methodology of various disciplines, especially those with a long history, they no longer resemble their original forms.

Movement evolves with each retelling of the story.

Pilates and its evolution is an important topic to discuss, for many reasons, especially because of the growingly heated and contentious climate between Pilates teachers and schools of thought in the Pilates world, particularly online.

Today, we want to begin to explore the evolution of a movement form while remaining open to differences in opinion. If you want to talk to Hannah about this topic, be sure to reach out on social media or send her an email!

Join the conversation as Hannah delves into a brief history of different movement disciplines and how things change with the telling of a new story. She highlights the inevitable factors that influence the way we move and shares candidly why gatekeeping in the Pilates world makes her furious. Hannah delves further and deeper into the need for evolution in movement, including why limiting movements ultimately hinders us and how adapting movements can still honour their origin.

 

She also shares her thoughts on how the importance of focusing your training on the specific body in front of you, and why being aware of the functionality behind movements is also worth keeping in mind. For all this, and much more, join the Pilates Exchange conversation and start listening now! 

 

Key Points From This Episode:

 

  • Hannah defines what she believes evolution (and as it relates to movement) is.
  • A brief historical overview of different movement disciplines (yoga, ballet, Pilates, etc.).
  • What Hannah wishes to impress upon listeners: things change with the telling of a new story.
  • The different factors that inevitably influence our movement.
  • Hannah highlights the significance of the lack of precision in the information received from Joseph Pilates regarding movements. 
  • Why gatekeeping in the Pilates world, in both movement and education, makes her furious. 
  • Hannah touches on avoiding the limiting of movement but still honouring the origin. 
  • Improving apparatus and adapting them for the diversity of bodies. 
  • Teaching a method that has proven results for different subsets and demographics (ie. pre/postnatal women, arthritis, neuromuscular degenerative disease, etc.). 
  • Hannah’s thoughts on focusing your teaching of movements in a way that focuses on what the body in front of you needs and the functionality behind the movement.
  • Don’t be afraid to teach Pilates; do what inspires you. 

EPISODE 22

 

HT: You could be in the same room with the people, with the choreographer, and there will be interpretations of movement, slight interpretations. I mean, our job as a professional dancer is to get as close as possible to what the choreographer wants but still, there are months and months of rehearsal to try and get a room full of people to do the same thing on stage with the same timing, with the same amount of effort and dynamic and interpretation.”

 

[INTRODUCTION]

 

[0:00:38.5] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 

 

I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and Yoga for over two decades, and what I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. 

 

We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives, one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange.

 

[INTERVIEW]

 

[0:01:36.2] HT: We’re going to talk a little bit about the evolution of Pilates or the evolution of movement in general. I think it’s actually a really important topic for many different reasons. One of them is what I’m feeling in the online world, the climate between different Pilates teachers and schools of thought in the Pilates world is getting more and more heated. It’s just more and more contentious. With every different Facebook post I see, it’s catty, it’s mean, it’s gatekeeping, it’s many, many things.

 

So, I would like to just talk about the evolution, how I see it, of a movement form, and I am open for differences of opinion. So, if you would like to talk to me about this, I would love to hear from you. Reach out on social media, send me an email, I’m ready, I’m ready to go deeper on this. 

 

So, let’s just talk a little bit about what is evolution in this way. So, I’m thinking of it as like, distinguishable differences that are due to modifications in successive generations, right? So, that’s sort of like our basis. So, there’s going to be modifications in any evolution, that’s the definition of the evolution, and when we’re talking about movement, when we’re looking through generations of movement and the methodology, how does that show up? So, we could take a look at yoga, which by some accounts originated in India circa, let’s say, like 3,000 B.C., depending on who you’re talking to.

 

We can probably say that yoga looked much different then as it does right now. As far as Asana goes, as far as like the movement part of that. Even in the last 20, 30 years, it’s really, really changed in a lot of ways. It’s more flexible, more contortionist, more and more and more of everything. We could take a look at ballet. I’ll probably use a lot of references to ballet because this is what my background is, right? I have a degree, BFA and all my graduate work is in dance. So, I’m familiar with the dance history of it.

 

If we look at ballet as a movement method, that originated more in the, like Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century and then later, late 17th century King Louis XIV. He is where we really say the founder of ballet is and that’s where we get our first ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet. If we were to stop right there and we were to just look at what was going on at that point, what ballet looked like, we could deduce from the not photographic evidence, of course, but we could deduce from the paintings that were done, the drawings that were done. 

 

[0:04:20.9] What that could have looked like, very, very different from what is now on stage and what we practice as ballet dancers. Pilates was developed in the first half of the 20th century. So, it’s a much, much younger movement form, a movement methodology. So, there’s a lot of room for things to be changed and updated with time, and I think since we’re closer to Joseph Pilates’ original work, I think this is where people get more fixed on the idea that it has to be just like he did.

 

His version, his Contrology, the way he had said it was, “We don’t exactly know that as well” right? There’s a lot of gatekeeping that goes on with the pictures originally that are from that time period from Joseph Pilates. So, we can’t even really deduce what the original method was, because we are a couple of generations away from him at this point.

 

You know, there’s very few of these first-generation teachers, these Pilates elders, let’s call them, that are still alive. So then, you have your first generation, your second generation, your third generation and it goes down the line and so, what I want to impress upon us is that things change with the telling of the new story of what Pilates is.

 

And I believe, I don’t know the guy, but I believe that he was probably Mr. Pilates, looking at the body at hand, looking at the method at hand and giving people exercises that work for their body, especially in that original, crew, right? He was still creating it, it wasn’t a codified thing in the way that we’re thinking about it, this is the end of the method, right?

 

Because, if you look at some of the beginning pictures, and again, we don’t have access to all of this, but the beginning pictures to later on in his life pictures, even those movements look different. The pictures, the snapshots, they look different over time. Now, kind of what I’m thinking about is when you have a – say you’re dancing in a dance company, a choreographer comes in, and maybe you have 20 dancers in the room and the choreographer will start teaching movement and everyone then tries to copy what that movement is.

 

You’ll have 20 different versions of the movement, even though the choreographer is still there. Literally, every person will have a slightly different way of doing it because each person has their own life experience, they have their own bodies, which will, they’ll move differently, they have their own approach to movement. So, all of those 20 people, then, have a different idea of what the movement. 

 

Even though the choreographer is still there, what that movement should be, and the choreographer may turn around and say, “Okay, that version, this dancer, that’s what I want.” Okay, great, then it’s very clear but more than likely because it’s happened to me hundreds of times, the choreographer will say, “This person has it right” and it wasn’t even close to what they had done, which is, ooh, that’s intense, right? That makes us so mad.

 

[0:07:27.5] But anyways, that’s a whole different thing how choreographers approach that. The point is that you could be in the same room with the people, with the choreographer, and there will be interpretations of movement, slight interpretations. I mean, our job as a professional dancer is to get as close as possible to what the choreographer wants but still, there are months and months of rehearsal to try and get a room full of people to do the same thing on stage with the same timing, with the same amount of effort and dynamic and interpretation.

 

It will be months and months of looking, count by count of where the exact angle is, where’s the finger over here, where are your eyes looking at this moment, and that type of precision is not what Pilates had. We do not have any – as far as my knowledge, and please, correct me if I’m wrong, we do not have that type of precision in the information that we have from him.

 

We have a couple of books with some – one of them with exercises laid out. You could probably do a better description right now with ChatGPT, honestly. There’s less precision in his book. There are very few videos available. So, and even that, the video would just be showing a snapshot of time of that method. So, why am I getting so emotional about this? 

 

I’m getting emotional because there’s so much gatekeeping that goes on in this Pilates world. It really makes me furious, I’m going to be honest right? Because that’s sort of, that controlling, that it’s limiting, it’s limiting the access to this beautiful method because other teachers, there’s one part of it, the other teachers are gatekeeping each other. 

 

They’re deciding who gets to teach Pilates. Their way is the only way, this is the cue you need to use, this is what classical Pilates is, this is what the shape needs to look like and when we’re doing that, it leaves no room for interpretation for the body that’s in front of you, for the evolution of the actual method. There’s no room for the science that’s there, there’s no room for exploration. 

 

I want to hold on to what that essence is, just like in ballet. I want to hold the essence of what ballet is but gatekeeping is not going to bring us anywhere. Gatekeeping is going to stop, it’s going to stop great teachers from exploring this art form of teaching. It’s going to stop other teachers from exploring the method of wanting to do continuing education, of making a sustainable income from it when there’s so much fear surrounded of, “Well, if I post something online, then all the Pilates police are going to come to me.” 

 

[0:10:30.5] And so that, that people are cutting themselves off, they’re scared to be promoting their business online and reach the client’s potential customers because they’re afraid that they’re going to be knocked down. They’re afraid to ask a question in a Facebook group, looking for more answers because there’s some really nasty, people that are just going to be tearing them down with, “Where’d you get your training?” and “That shouldn’t be allowed” and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. 

 

Then there’s also the gatekeeping and the education part of it where, I’ve seen this also, where the teacher stops the student from – or they’re controlling the rate at which the students are allowed to progress, or do you advance exercises because I don’t know, for whatever reason, you’re supposed to be in this level for 20 lessons and then you’re allowed to go to the other level. 

 

I’m not talking about being able to safely move the apparatus, like, that’s one thing but do you – you know, if you have a professional dancer coming in, do you really need to be limiting? And does it even need to be a professional dancer it could be anyone that you know, each person has different capabilities. 

 

Some areas of that person’s physicality is going to allow them to do more advanced exercises and some other aspects will then be a little bit more limiting. Wouldn’t it be a nicer way of just having this method that’s open and instead of gatekeeping the rate of progression, we just choose the exercises that are right for that person on that day?

 

[SPONSOR MESSAGE]

 

[0:12:04.9] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers.

 

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[INTERVIEW CONTINUED]

 

[0:12:52.5] HT: I’m going to go back to this idea of even the pictures of Pilates, the pictures of the early practitioners of Pilates, where I see also in some circles were latching on to an idea of what the exercise has to be because what this picture looks like and if I were to compare that to maybe the pictures of the early ballet dancers, Anna Pavlova, Margot Fonteyn, those pictures of those amazing female artists have nothing to do of what ballet looks like today. 

 

And if we stopped the progression of what, say an Arabesque looks like, Arabesque is when your leg is in a hip extension behind you and it’s long knee, pointed foot, right? Now, if you look at those pictures, those early pictures, Arabesque was like maybe 65 degrees. Like if you had a really nice Arabesque at that point, it was 90 degrees. Now, we’re like 120. I mean, it’s just phenomenal what physicality we have from an Arabesque from what we could offer dancers. 

 

How we’ve adapted the technique in order to be able to express artistry, express physicality, that athleticism. So, if we look at the ballet pictures from early 20th century and say, “Okay, now that we got those pictures, that’s what Arabesque has to look like and it has to be this shape.” Well, we’ve just limited the movement, we’ve limited the method. Do we understand? I don’t know if I am getting my point across in the way that I just feel so passionate about it. 

 

I think that the pictures and the early videos when we have access to them and I am going to actually bring hopefully someone that feels also very passionate about this having access to all these pictures, I’m going to have them on soon, I think it is important to understand the origin. It is important to understand where we’re coming from and where we want to go towards is then left to exercise science, and understanding different bodies. 

 

It’s also how the apparatus has changed and been refined. If we had just kept the original apparatus but we would be limited. Over the years, we have different makers, different brands, different materials that the apparatus has been made from, like the feeling of the reformers have changed, right? And in general, it’s safer, they’re more durable, they’re more comfortable for different bodies. 

 

[0:15:32.5] So we can sit there and argue and say, “Well, this is the original” right? “This is the original reformer, so we got to keep everything exactly like this” or we can say, “Hey, we got some bigger, more ample bodies that need a little bit more space. How about let’s make a reformer for them?” or “We have some really tall athletes and they need a little bit longer carriage.” 

 

Or “We have a person that needs a little bit more stability in rehab, how can we support them?” or a person who is recovering from a stroke. What about having a different sprint tension, more rehab spring tension like what STOTT does, where we can say [gradiate 0:16:14.6] their experience a little bit more and work on strength building in a way that works for their bodies? So, we can’t say that the original is always the best when we’re looking at making Pilates this method that we all love accessible for more people. 

 

And truth be told, the method has changed and been updated with sports medicine and science and this is where we want to go to, right? I think everyone wants to teach a method with some proven results. I mean, the original method is fantastic but the more we learn about programming for injury prevention or rehabilitation or programming in ways that are going to help our older clientele, how are we going to help balance and prevent falls? 

 

How do we need to train in this method for stronger bones? How are we going to support our pre and post-natal women? What are we going to do for relief from back pain or reduction in osteoarthritis symptoms? More important to me, the work that’s been done for neuromuscular degenerative diseases such as MS. There’s so many interesting things that are coming out, so if we are limiting ourselves to say, “This is what it looks like and this is the only thing” and you would have had to have studied with one of the Pilates elders for it to be “real Pilates.”

 

I have that in air quotes. I think that’s sad, I think it’s limiting, a beautiful method too much. I can’t stand behind that. What I do think is we can be aware of what the original shape is, what is the movement good for, and what are we trying to achieve with that. Maybe we need to be aware of what does that body need in front of you. Not only what does the body need, but what does the person’s mind need? 

 

Do they need a challenge? Do they need supportive exercises at that point? And understand what that function is. 

 

[0:18:17.1] Let’s go back to the dance thing. So, like if we were to say an exercise called Plié, plié is a movement where the dancer bends the knees and strains them again and usually like the feet are turned out to the side, and like a demi-plié is where your heels stay on the floor and you’re making like this diamond shape in your legs because the thighs are going out towards the side, okay? 

 

So, that’s the shape of a plié. So, we could look at the shape of the plié and say, “Okay, plié needs to look like this” or we could look at the function of the plié. The function of the plié is when you’re jumping and you are coming back down to the ground, that function of plié is the absorption of that momentum. It is also, the plié, is the propelling of force to get you off of the floor. 

 

The plié is between, I would say probably 95%, I don’t know exactly but 95% of all movements, dance movements are going to go through a plié at some point if you are travelling across the ground, travelling across the floor, across the stage. You need those pliés to help with the momentum, to help transference of energy. So, if we are just looking at it as a shape and we forget the function, so a plié is just heels together, toes apart, bend your knees, make a diamond. 

 

Or, we can look at plié as like a very important foundational block for expression, for being able to use that technique, challenge the body to move through the space to do different choreographies. It is not just about making that shape, it’s about using it. I don’t know if I am getting this point across. 

 

So, when we’re doing footwork, footwork isn’t just on the reformer ends just to be pretty about it. “Well, now, we have to stop at a 90-degree, 90 degrees in the hips.” Well, when you bend your legs, you really hope you have more than 90 degrees in your hip flection. Why wouldn’t we want to go past that? It makes no sense to me. Squatting, like getting all the way down to the floor, that’s a part of our – that is a functional part of our human experience. You got to be able to get down to the floor and off the floor. 

 

So, we can take a look at it like that, what are the exercises good for? How can we translate them into real life, into function for us? When we sort of take it apart like that, then it gets – there is more freedom for us, right? There is more freedom to understand how genius this method is. It is not about creating a shape, it’s about using it to have better fuller lives where more joyful movement you know, not just in the Pilates training. 

 

[0:21:05.7] Because like yeah, it’s great to have an hour of Pilates training, even if you were if your students are lucky a day but it’s about transferring of those skills into the rest of your life. Getting something off of the top shelf of your kitchen cabinet. Me, I’m a short person so I need to reach pretty high. I let my shoulder go up. If I’m going to go grab something off it, I don’t have to press my shoulder down to make a shape to raise my arm. 

 

No, I’m going to reach up and let my shoulder go up as high as I can to reach the thing that I need, for example. So, just like that, plié is understanding the function of the plié, understanding the function of the exercises, where understanding the shape of the movement and how it’s going to look different on different bodies. What and if, there is value in distorting the shape and maybe it’s to get more stretch, more mobility, more strength and/or broader range of motion. 

 

I mean, there could be a lot of different things, as long as we are being mindful as the teacher, why we’re doing the things, if we have a strong foundation and that I personally don’t see a problem with that. I’m aware of a couple of other colleagues in the Pilates world, I don’t know them personally but I’m just going to put their names out there because I like the work that Adam McAtee is doing and Raph Bender. 

 

Also, there’s another group, The Pilates Convo, I don’t know the people that are behind it but they’re really opening conversations about this sort of thing and I think these are the conversations that are important of propelling our method forward because it’s like, this Pilates police thing. Pilates police, it’s like, it’s just an opinion, it’s someone’s opinion. The people that are trying to police, you know we got to remember it’s their opinion of things, don’t let that stop you from teaching. 

 

[0:22:53.5] Reach out to me, I’ll give you an inspiring talk because the truth of it is that we need more Pilates teachers out there who are inspiring people. We need more Pilates teachers who are helping get more movement into people’s bodies, of building them up and building the confidence that they have in their own bodies.

 

On one post of Adam McAtee’s, he wrote some versions of Pilates where he resemble Contrology more. Some versions of Pilates resemble Contrology less, which is better. Both, which one should you teach, the version that inspires you to help as many people as possible. I really like that. So, thank you Adam for that. Hopefully, one day I’ll meet you.

 

I think that’s what really, today is about, to give you the confidence that you don’t need to be worrying about what other people are thinking about you right now. There could be times that another instructor just holding on tightly onto that classical Pilates idea. There’s no room for growth and expansion to accommodate anything or just the body at hand.

 

It could be a teacher or a teacher trainer giver and they believe that their own school of teaching is the only way and they’re unwilling to see the beauty of the other schools or thought approaches. There’s always that out there but it’s not just in Pilates. It’s also in ballet, it’s also in yoga, everywhere, right?

 

So, we could either pay attention to them or not and I’m saying, the “or not” might be the better way to go about it. There is more than one way to accomplish any desired result and one size does not fit all. I mean, me, personally, the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve evolved. I’ve changed the way I do movements. 

 

I’ve added to what I teach. I break down movements differently. I teach things just for specific students, they have their own modifications that work for their body. Do I do movements that maybe Joseph Pilates didn’t do? Absolutely, and that’s fine. I personally think it’s fine. You are, again, you’re more than welcome to write me an email and talk to me about it if you’d like. 

 

So, I hope, hope that we can have more discussions about the evolution of Pilates and see what we could do with this amazing method going on in the future. I look forward to hearing from you guys. 

 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 

[0:25:31.0] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching everyone. 

 

[END] 

 

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