How did you first come across Pilates?
I was in dance training at Urdang in the early 1980’s and Leonie Urdang, who originally set up the school, had invited Gordon Thompson to come and set up a studio in the basement for a reasonable rent if he taught the Urdang students. (Gordon had trained with Alan Herdman in his studio at The Place, Gordon’s studio was the second in a dance school in the UK.) So my first experience of Pilates was Matwork with Gordon. Leonie suggested I should do more Pilates because I had a bit of a problem with turnout and it would really help. As the physicality and the actual technique from class began to really help me Leonie asked if I could come into the studio a bit more because the dance students didn’t have that many Pilates classes. I then asked Gordon if I could come down to his studio and work for him. So I became an assistant after school and at the weekends. Hana Jones was also working there full time. Then Gordon suggested I train with him. So my first training was with him.
After dancing I moved back to Belgium where I taught Cecchetti Ballet and Pilates. Myself and a teacher called Teresa Kelsey (also a PF member) were the first teachers to bring Pilates into children's ballet training in Belgium. I got very interested in building a Pilates syllabus for children before they have developed lots of technique (whether they do dance or sports) because it helps them understand and develop in a more integrated way. In 1987 I started my own Pilates studio doing a lot of general Pilates teaching as well as working with children generally and mentoring ballet students.
I became a member of the International Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, they have had a significant impact on dance training and I went to America in 1992 to study with the Institute for the Pilates Method (IPM). I qualified to teach and to train teachers. I was the first in Europe to be certified with an American certification. Back then the IPM board were Pilates Elders; Romana Kryzanowska, Carola Trier, Eve Gentry, Ron Fletcher, and Kathy Grant.
Eve Gentry knew Joe and Clara Pilates. She could see the genius of Joe but she could also see the teaching skills of Clara. Clara wasn’t the inventor but she was the teacher. The Pilates Foundation feels reflective of Eve Gentry. When I first learnt the footwork with Gordon it was working slowly. I think the subtle work of the Pilates Teachers from the Pilates Foundation is a legacy of Alan Herdman and Eve Gentry. Rather then the more ‘classical’ Pilates of Romana. In 1996 Hana Jones and the other Pilates Foundation Founders asked if I would like to be a Founding Member and I have been a member ever since.
So developing Pilates for Children was driven by need? You are looking at children’s physical balance and seeing they need more integration.
Exactly. They didn’t have the core, the centre, knowledge of where to work from, to know where the movement really came from. Ballet students are always being told to lengthen but If you work with the understanding of how the bones and the muscles are you will get the length in the spine and it will look much better. It helps if you know the muscles, if you know the structure of the bones, and if you accept how your own body works.
You are very inventive with how you explain and break down movements. Presumably that has been key when you are working with children?
When working with children you have to channel modern life, to engage with how they see the world. You have to communicate with the children in ways that are familiar. When teaching you would use a word like ‘Swipe’ to make a brushing movement clear. When teaching children Pilates you need to be flexible in how you explain movements so they can understand.
Teachers might be intimidated about working with children because they think a child isn’t going to have the same coordination or concentration. How do you think the Pilates for Children Workshop will help teachers.
With children you have to go to them. I work with some old ladies who can’t do this and the other. So you have to make it fit. Not just with children, with any Pilates. That is what is so wonderful about the Pilates Method, using the Pilates principles you can work with anyone. In some ways the Pilates principles are getting a bit lost because there is too much of an emphasis on results. It is not about being an instructor, who just counts repetitions and tells you to turn one way or another. I offer a foundation of what the issues are in growing bodies, it is helpful to have a structure to start from, especially if you are a younger teacher. Then you can develop that with the Pilates principles. For example sometimes people say that ‘Classical’ Pilates is too heavy for people with back conditions but if you adjust the repertoire using the Pilates principles it is possible to work with anyone.