Updated: Oct 30, 2020
The last blog post I shared the news that our lovely Pilates industry hid some dark and dirty secrets and that maybe it’s time for a revolution, an uprising if you will. The old dogmas and entrenched establishments are being challenged by a growing number of teachers and practitioners. Many of the students who attend our little studio were somewhat perplexed, shocked, or saddened to hear about the toxic culture that is going on behind the scenes. (I think that’s a good sign that they haven’t seen or experienced it in our studio – it means I’m doing my job).
Well now I’ve told you about all of the discrimination, racism, sexism, antisemitism, body-shaming, magical-thinking and bullying going on the problem is solved right? Right?!? Sadly not. Until there is real change in the whole system that trains, supports and educates Pilates Teachers the environment that enables and nurtures this toxic culture will continue. It starts with the ‘professional’ bodies such as the PMA (Pilates Method Alliance) in the US, the PAA (Pilates Alliance Australasia) and APMA (Australian Pilates Method Association) in Australia. These bodies are supposed to represent their members. Advocate for them. Advance the public perception. Become trusted bodies in codifying and ratifying training courses. So, when members of these bodies raise concerns and provide examples of bullying and threats of violence or worse still, actual violence, they should expect action. Instead these bodies can offer no real meaningful support. Just social media niceties and discounts off the next Pilates conference. There is no interest in change here.
Ok what next?
The next level in this toxic mess are the training bodies, which are ratified by the professional associations – these are the schools where teachers go to learn the Pilates method. It’s in these institutions that various schools of Pilates get established. Where the thoughts of tribalism start to fester. Where the idea of true, ‘proper’ Pilates starts to seep in. Where other schools of Pilates get frowned upon or flat out dismissed. Where human bodies are examined and criticised. Where abuse occurs and is covered up with gas-lighting. Where magical thinking gets presented as scientific facts and the poor trainee teacher needs to regurgitate it all to pass some sort of exam. Is it any wonder then, after years and years of teachers being churned out by this system that these deep-seated animosities between other teachers exist – the training schools practically profit from it existing in the first place. Why would they want to change that?
Who’s in charge here?
If the professional associations have very little oversight and choose to be of no help, and the training bodies actually thrive in this environment, where do neophyte teachers turn for help, guidance and advice? Surely the experienced teachers who have navigated this Pilates world for years can help, right? These teachers have built long careers and would have so much experience and advice to offer. However with outstanding resumes and long lists of accomplishments, many are treated almost like gurus. This deification of teachers is a borderline cult. They are the gatekeepers. These people influence the training schools, the professional associations, and the wider Pilates community with followers in the tens of thousands. And if you think about it, why on earth would they want to challenge the status quo? They have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. The ‘gatekeepers’ don’t want their ideas to be challenged or tested preferring to refer to the ideas on posture, breathing and health from a guy who died over 50 years ago but because Joseph said so is not a valid defence or reason. What such gurus or gatekeepers don’t want the public to realise is that the practise of Pilates is actually really simple and safe. They want to wrap it up in notions of alignment, posture and correct this and bad that. But really it is choreography of basic human movement. Bend over. See if you can touch the ground. If you can’t that’s ok. Stand up. Do it a few more times. And then do it sitting down a few times. Next bend in a different direction a few times. And now do it with this spring resisting you. Congratulations you’ve just Pilates-ed.
But why bother challenging the status quo?
Because its important. We know the words we choose to use matter. Pilates Teachers need to do better and demand more from those in positions of influence and power. Or they need to get out of the way. I know I’ll make mistakes but I’m trying and I’m learning. I also understand that I’m in the least discriminated group in the world – white, male, cis gendered and so I am not here to share any stories of my own experiences. But I can use my platform, as small as it is, to help turn up the volume on these issues. Silence in these matters is a vote for the status quo. It is complicity. We’re told that Pilates is for every body but the evidence is there that the professional Pilates industry as a whole, is not invested in making that a real thing. They are hollow, hypocritical words. Do better.
Pilates is not a performative sport. There is no panel of judges watching on the sidelines to give you a score out of 10. You’re not seeking acceptance from a wise coach on the sidelines. There are no Pilates Police going to burst in through the windows clad in lululemon and arrest you for crimes against Pilates. You are totally awesome and worthy to move in a Pilates studio. Pilates is for you. I can’t wait to see what you can do.