“Blink and I missed it!” We’re now into the fifth year of what this thing called Pilates with Dan is. And although this is not my first studio it is certainly the most personal one and represents me as a teacher the most. So what is it all about? It is a question that I probably would struggle a lot with, even six months ago.
To understand what makes Pilates with Dan tick, I want to share two things that motivate me to teach the way I do today.
Part 1 | Music
This may seem a strange place to start but music has always been around me for as long as I can remember. I’m not blessed with any great musical talent or skill but I enjoy it.
I’ve always been a little bit fascinated with music’s ability to mark time in your life. All those events, both happy and sad, form your life’s soundtrack. We all have those songs that resonate with us for one reason or another, with many of the most favourite ones coming about during our teenage/early adult years.
I was always drawn to songs that said something or had lyrics that spoke to me in some way, or bands that seemed to stand for something other than just writing a catchy tune. These are the troubadours – the travelling minstrels and poets that can teach, as well as entertain.
I love uncovering the poetry of the lyrics woven into the song, seemingly so carefully. My teenage years were mainly spent with U2 – perfect to explain some of the weird things going on in the world. My angry youth was spent with Faith No More, Rage Against the Machine and TOOL – a heavy trifecta incorporating powerful lyrics, intense musicianship and a general F.U. attitude.
Faced with my impending mortality The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance was almost a constant soundtrack to my days of chemotherapy and struggling to just be alive. Music has been the one thing that was constant.
When I think about what Pilates with Dan is all about now, there are two artists/bands that have come to represent who I am today.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
For me, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are pure happiness and joy. Beautiful music with amazing heart behind it. How does this relate to my Pilates life? A few years ago before I started this new venture we call Pilates with Dan, I was struggling to find a voice, a reason for being and I came across this piece — a preamble to the music video of a song Man on Fire. In it the lead singer, Alex Ebert phrases something that simply resonated with me on so many levels:
“I’m ready to fail. That’s the sign of an ultimate dreamer, someone who is not afraid to fail. I think failing is wonderful. I think dreaming is everything… …And being willing to fail and then succeeding is the most precious feeling. It is the most precious feeling because you took that step and you could have fallen but you took it.”
After struggling with where I was at as a Pilates teacher, what I would do or bring to the world — this quote picked me up. It still does. It’s so apt in almost anything we do. It’s okay to fail. Courage is not in completing the task or completing the movement. True courage is actually in attempting to DO the Thing. Go on. DO the Thing. And when you succeed, embrace that feeling.
For many, he will be on the ‘too heavy’ side of music but hey, that’s where I like to live. I think it’s been an interesting and remarkable transformation in his career and his life that has taken him to a new level.
In his earlier work, you could probably dismiss him as a bit of a meathead/frat boy type riding on the coattails of early adulthood drinking culture. Fairly simple songs and lyrics about partying and getting drunk. But something happened to him in between two records — suffering from depression and self-doubt —he has since been reborn as a champion of mental health, (American Association of Suicidology, which is a US suicide prevention association recently awarded him Person of the Year for his work), and his “party, party, party” attitude has been transformed into a life philosophy that emphasises enjoying whatever it is that makes you feel happy. A philosophy that he identifies as Partying. You like music? Then you enjoying music is Partying. You like knitting? Then you enjoying knitting is Partying. You like Pilates? Then you enjoying Pilates is Partying! Anything can be Partying! The important point is to Party and Party Hard!
His latest album embodies this thought and expands upon it to the point where he also has some spoken word tracks to emphasise this idea.
“If you ever feel like something is very, very wrong. Wrong with life. Wrong with yourself. I understand. I have that feeling too. But in actuality, that feeling isn’t wrong. That feeling is just being human. That intense feeling inside, is the feeling of existing. Of being alive, of being a person. It’s a mountain to climb. It’s a test to pass. It’s a challenge we are ultimately worthy of. And rather than dread or resent this challenge we can embrace it. We can learn from it and we can celebrate it. Life is very intense, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Understanding this is what partying’s all about.
For a truly over the top experience check out Music is Worth Living For (Play it loud!)
How does that relate to the Pilates with Dan experience?
For me, the philosophy to Party and Party Hard in your Pilates practice means three things:
Enjoy your time with your Pilates movement.Try as hard as you can for the time you do it.If you feel you’ve messed up or can’t get it ‘right’ that’s ok. That is part of the process. You have still Pilates-ed.
Music has the power to change us, to inform and educate, to energise us and also make us incredibly happy or incredibly sad, (Oh Danny Boy still brings a tear to my eye). So when teaching Pilates I have always had music playing. It’s just something that I reach for as part of my day. The songs chosen for a class fit a theme, a story, a soundtrack for your lesson. They may bring some joy, reflection, encouragement, distraction or humour (Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire is the perfect accompaniment to Magic Circle this term!).
Part 2 | Pilates people
As a general rule, there is something really nice about finding others in your profession that share similar goals, standards or ideals. However, the struggle to find a ‘tribe’ can be quite hard in the relatively small profession of Pilates Teachers – at least it has been for me. First off, and I am loathe to play this card, the whole male teacher thing. There are just not that many blokes teaching Pilates. The ones that are all seem to be super amazing movers and freakishly accomplished communicators of the Pilates Method.
I feel like an imposter next to those guys! Coupled with that, a basic standard shyness and an underlying tendency to be an introvert – I find it extremely difficult to approach people at workshops or conferences (or even turn up to them!). That is absolutely my thing – I understand it and I own it. I’m just bringing it up to give context.
You see the funny thing is, as a general rule, the thousands of other Pilates Teachers around the world are some of the most giving, loving encouraging human beings out there. It’s kind of a pre-requisite for the job. I want to take a chance to highlight a couple of Pilates teachers who I think have helped inspire me, develop and progress as a teacher.
The first time I really experienced that maybe I ‘belonged’ was when I met Julian Littleford. He was the first ever ‘internationally well known’ male instructor I had the chance to spend some time with. He had a teaching style that was tough, left no prisoners, made you work (HARD!), but at the same time, it was fun.
He had this way of zeroing in on an area you were struggling with and getting the best out of you – it’s hard to describe. He made you a better student. Apart from being an amazing teacher we also had some shared experiences, (he first had cancer around the age of 26 – I was 26 when I was diagnosed with cancer), and he had a wicked sense of humour, perhaps because of his British background.
There is not a day that goes past where I don’t use at least one of the movements he taught me. He was a massive fan of getting what YOU could out of everything – it didn’t matter if the movement needed to be modified he would get you there. He was the embodiment of empowering your students to move. Sadly, he passed away nearly 5 years ago after cancer came back.
I haven’t actually met Anula (yet!) so it might be a bit weird to press-gang her into the Pilates with Dan tribe but there are a couple of reasons why I think she fits in here. First of all, she is an amazing teacher. Although I haven’t met her, through the wonders of technology and social media I have been able to follow her travels around the world passing on her knowledge and wisdom. I first came across Anula on social media via Instagram followed quickly by Facebook. I think I was drawn to her because here was this person standing up and saying:
“No, sister, you’ve got it twisted. Literally no one cares what your Teaser looks like. Literally not one person. You know why? Because Pilates isn’t a performance. There’s no recital at the end of the semester to which to invite your loved ones.”
That blew my tiny little mind.
I mean could you actually say that as a Pilates Teacher?!?
I know it’s something I had been thinking about but here is this other teacher saying out loud what I couldn’t. Her passion to liberate her students’ bodies, to create freedom of movement, to create joy has resonated. This shift in thought is the rock that has caused ripples in the Pilates pond. I’m looking forward to riding the wave when she comes back to Australia next year (fingers crossed!).
The next teacher to be recognised is another I have only ‘met’ online. As I said previously as a general rule Pilates Teachers are some of the most giving and encouraging people out there. Cloe lives this more than most. She’s also a true Pilates Nerd, and knows how to ask the right question, to think critically and not just accept pseudo-science ‘facts’. She’s helped introduce me to a large number of critical thinkers, researchers and industry leaders.
A teacher’s teacher, she strives for fearlessness and courage in herself and her students. Believe it or not, there are some Pilates movements that are seen as dangerous or risky – so much so that some teachers are reluctant or even scared to teach them, fearing injury in their clients. Cloe is helping break that down:
“We’re not here to fix anyone – no one’s broken. We’re facilitators of a powerful experience.”
Bam! That’s just it right there isn’t it?
When you put all this together what do we get, what has all this been leading to? The ‘tribe’ that influences me. The music that resonates with me. I hope from this you get a little window into my world, an insight into my approach. An approach that has changed, and evolved over the years that I’ve taught so far. Fearless, empowering, enjoyable movement where it’s ok to fail or have a laugh. And I hope to keep it growing and changing too. Who knows where the next 5 years will take me?
After all is said and done, there ain’t no party like a Pilates party!