A trip around the original Joseph Pilates studio
I’ve been teaching Pilates for 13 years and part of the Future Fit Pilates team for 6 years. I’ve had every imaginable job in the fitness industry, but it’s Pilates that’s held my attention by gaining results.
I can’t tell you who invented step or zumba, but ‘Joe’ (as he was known) is a man I wanted to know more about, so my honeymoon (which happened to be in New York) seemed the ideal opportunity to do just that!
So there I was, newly married, googling the address of the original Pilates studio (939 8th Avenue) and wondering what it would be like. Would it be like a museum dedicated to the life of Joseph Pilates with pictures of him on the walls? Would it still be used as a Pilates studio? My husband was secretly pleased I would be busy for a few hours so he could spend some time in the gym and have a good workout - phew!
I realised from the website that it is still used as a Pilates studio and they pride themselves on keeping the original method alive. They mainly offer one to one sessions and I thought “why not give it a go?” It’s not often I have the chance for my technique to be corrected by other instructors, and I love to learn ways to improve my teaching, so off I went. I booked a session with a lady called Rolata who owns the studio now.
When I arrived, the building was an understatement of the many years of magic that occurred within it. There was a tiny white sign swinging with writing so small you could barely read it, saying “Original Joseph Pilates Studio Est 1928”. On the ground floor there was a Cuban restaurant and next door was a café. On the first floor was what I imagined to be the mecca for Pilates.
I met Rolata in reception and completed the necessary health questionnaires. I explained I was an instructor from England and I was excited to see where it all began. She seemed interested in how we teach mat Pilates in the UK, which I was happy to share, and she in turn gave me a quick tour before we started our session. She explained that Joseph and Clara lived and worked at the studio but their apartment space had since been sold and converted into offices. The studio space was the same although pictures from the past showed the layout has changed slightly. On the walls were photos of Joseph performing various exercises on pieces of equipment (similar to the photos in the Return To Life Through Contrology book – you know the ones - black and white and wearing briefs)!
What struck me most was the number of different pieces of equipment. I had previously been on a Pilates Reformer at a fitness convention but other than that I didn’t even know some of this equipment existed! I asked what they all were (Pilates chair, barrel, tower and Cadillac to name a few) and was given a brief introduction to each. Until this point, standing in this room, I hadn’t realised why Joseph Pilates didn’t have lower options of his 34 mat Pilates moves, but now it all made sense. He had equipment to help you understand the move and strengthen the required muscles to be able to achieve it with no equipment. The equipment was the easier option and only when you could perform it really well would Joseph allow you to perform it on the floor independently. This was a lightbulb moment (and the birth of Future Fit’s small equipment course - but more about that later).
Rolata explained to me that although she never met Joseph, she was taught by one of his students. She follows the method as closely as she can but also adapts to modern times by using small balls, bands and rollers to help people understand the stability required to perform these moves on the floor. She is clearly passionate about what she does and aims to achieve the best from her clients. She explained that the studio runs small reformer classes (4-6 people) and prior to this you have to have a one to one assessment. Joseph ran his classes in a similar way with Clara teaching the more injured and less able clients. Rolata has members who have been with her for years, much the same as we have here. She was interested to learn that the majority of our classes in the UK are taught by breaking down the moves to learn the stability and focus while strengthening enough to perform the next level, as well as how we layer and progress people.
My actual Pilates session was interesting. I was instructed on a variety of equipment doing moves I have done many times on the floor, but allowing me to concentrate and focus on what shouldn’t be moving. Rolata had no hesitation in correcting me, which I both respected and appreciated. We moved from one piece of equipment to the next and I began to appreciate the lengths Joseph had gone to in order to enable people to perform his moves. He needed a piece of equipment that did this – so he made one. He needed something for that – and he made it. How amazing is that? He was a genius beyond his time.
Suddenly I really understood. From very early on I had taught classes on half foam rollers and used small balls, but now I realised where my focus should be. The equipment isn’t to make it harder in fact the floor is the hard option. The equipment is sometimes there to create instability causing the client to have to stabilise, sometimes there to provide kinaesthetic awareness to accomplish correct technique and sometimes there to aid the movement and make the impossible possible. If I didn’t know this with over 10 years’ experience, then how could we expect our students learn this? We needed to introduce a one-day small equipment workshop.
That workshop is now available to you as Pilates instructors. Expand your knowledge and make sure you have the tools in your toolbox to keep your clients interested while they progress.
While I was on my honeymoon I had 2 more sessions with Rolata and came away with bags of knowledge which I have been sharing with you all over the last few years. Never stop learning.
Written by Heather Oakes