What is Pilates? How can three little words be so divisive?
Ding! Ding! Fight!
There is this thing that happens every now and then in the wider Pilates community which has become really quite tiresome but doesn’t seem to resolve itself in any sort of lasting manner.
I find it curious and frustrating in equal parts. There is this view that there is some sort of battle going on between the various schools of Pilates — like there is some sort of prize to claim at the end of it all. A medal to be awarded to the thing that is the most best-est form of the Pilates Method.
Like how do you even measure that?!? It is total and utter crap.
These days, it’s amplified with the prevalence of social media where making off-hand comments on posts can lead to untold consequences. I’ve seen discussions of form and technique in various Pilates forums rapidly spiral into spiteful name calling and horrible comments. Innocent queries get attacked, discussions get hijacked and lines are drawn in the sand. Pistols at dawn sort of thing. The question for me is why would I want to be involved in an industry that would do that to others within it? Or for that matter, to others outside of it?
It’s like pistols at dawn…
I am shocked to see loving, honest and open Pilates teachers get attacked, vilified and shamed simply for asking a question or presenting a different view. A wonderful fearless Australian teacher, Cloe Bunter (my unofficial Pilates Science Nerd Twin here in Australia), courageously opened up recently about her almost daily thoughts about quitting the industry – her growing sense of frustration with sections of the industry that isn’t receptive to different views or critical thinking. This shuts down thoughtful discussion and conversation. ‘…the fear mongering and lack of critical thinking flows on to the public and the thought viruses continue’.
Anula Maiberg — Pilates rockstar and all round legend — wrote an article last year (if you haven’t read it already check it out here) about Imposter Syndrome that had many heads (including mine) nodding in agreement. Yet is vilified for daring to speak up about it and is trolled on a daily basis. I know of several instructors locally that have either been hounded out of the industry or been forced to change the way they work due to bullying and harassment. These are just a few examples, I’m sure there are hundreds more.
How much knowledge, technique and skill have been lost? How many have quit or walked away from the industry because of this? Where is all this spice coming from?
When is Pilates not Pilates? Who polices this? Really – who gets to say what is and isn’t Pilates?
In actuality no-one. There are organisations and associations in many countries that ratify qualifications and approve Pilates courses. For some reason this is not enough for some. It’s not enough to be qualified in an industry-approved course. To be a true Pilates teacher you need to have done a certain course and teach certain exercises in a certain way or in a certain order, and if you dare deviate from that then you must be exiled.
Off with your head!
And shock, gasp if you actually have fun or have a successful business or heaven forbid — make a mistake! No, in truth, there is no control over what Pilates teachers do in their own studios once they have these qualifications. No Lululemon clad SWAT teams are going to burst in through a door and place a teacher under arrest for crimes against Pilates. And that is a good thing. It means teachers can try different things, experiment, come up with different cues, variations of The Work. Evolve.
Joseph’s original ideas evolved. Did Joseph perfect his method or was he continually improving it? There is no doubt Joseph had some genius about him. You can’t possibly develop a whole method of moving the body, complete with a dazzling array of hand-made equipment designed to guide and challenge without having a spark of genius about you. But did those ideas come complete and whole to him like a bolt from the blue? I don’t think so.
They would have developed over time as he refined his ideas and methods. It was his life’s work not the result of a brainstorm in the bathroom. Evolving the work doesn’t mean devaluing the origins – if anything it’s holding them up to be something greater. How complete and wonderful is the original Mat-work series? Pretty damn awesome in my view. Can you rock out with that sequence for the rest of your life and perfect it and master it to the best of your abilities? Yes. Absolutely yes. Would that experience be devalued if for one of the movements you used a variation of tempo, limb position or breath? I doubt it. How about for three movements? 10? In fact, I would still think you’ve done a good session of Pilates even if everything was not from a course or repertoire handbook.
Could anything be Pilates? Well, maybe. Readers of previous blog posts will know that I’m a bit of a fan of the idea that moving the body is definitely a good thing, that it’s ok to ‘go with it’ and the idea of perfect posture is actually not a real thing. Does that mean if someone bounces up and down on a reformer for an hour they have done a Pilates work-out? Put like that, I’d say ‘No’.
Has your hour been spent exploring and challenging your body’s movement potential, connecting to and thinking about how it feels, seeking balance and control? Then yes, you’ve probably done an hour of Pilates. Just because it doesn’t look like what Joseph did doesn’t make it any less vital, any less connected to his method. The way things were done in his studio started to change not long after his death. They evolved. This is natural and shows the care and effort teachers over the last 50 years have undertaken to better the method, to evolve the message and to keep it relevant.
So what to do about all the spice?
Everything is better if you move.