Pilates principles are important in setting the atmosphere, with flow helping to determine the pace and overall intensity of the class. When we devise a class or sequence the aim should be to create a seamless flow where participants are guided to move with grace and ease.
Initiating this experience will allow practitioners to experience the benefits of increased circulation, muscle control and mental clarity. The connection of mind to body through these improvements should also release a sense of flowing energy, stimulating the muscles from a dormant lethargy whilst igniting the subconscious and conscious stamina.
Visually and in theory Pilates appears balletic in style, strong in the application of strength and flexibility, effortless in appearance and fundamentally functional in movement approach. A dancer, just like a Pilates practitioner, moves with elegant fluidity, guiding the body through a controlled journey that is precise and focused on intrinsic kinetics to design a movement formula of composed cadence.
As instructors we follow a standard set of advice, such as not flipping straight from supine to prone or vice versa, nor should we go from a seated to a standing exercise in a general mixed ability class. The reasoning behind this lies in our aim to conserve energy that can then be used during exercise performance rather than in the transitional process. This decreased allowance in rest period also gives us the opportunity to incorporate more exercises to create an increase in the total amount of exercise time. The intention here is for the exercises to intertwine in such a dynamic and logical manner that intensity and concentration is ultimately heightened, thereby increasing stamina. This then starts to look more like a choreographed sequence where the body flows naturally into the next fitting movement.
Romana Kryzanowska, a former dancer and student of Joseph Pilates, explained that to glide through the movements as intended is to move naturally, in the same controlled way that animals move. Our bodies should move with ease through patterns and rarely contorting in opposing directions. Just as a contemporary dancer weaves from position to position so must we finish the exercise or release stretch then look for the next natural transition, ultimately folding and opening the body into a biomechanically instinctive pattern rather than inconveniencing the body and practitioner.
This cannot be achieved without the instructor reiterating that robotic, staccato, forced or uncontrolled movements should be avoided and slow controlled movements emphasised. Minimal effort to transition is key with a balanced approach essential to avoid overuse and maintain an intensity that is efficiently controlled.
Dance follows the beat of the music, whereas in Pilates we can follow the sound of the breath, serving as a metronome for the simultaneous actions of mind and body movement to create a performance piece of fitness choreography.
Muscle control, co-ordination and synchronised movement (with the breath) is an art form that the body must be trained to achieve. A ballerina’s training relies on muscular control, effectively using the centrally initiated movement to flow in an exemplary way. In comparison, Pilates also trains the core and muscular control alongside natural joint actions that should then designate a natural movement sequence and safe effective practice. This can be hard to plan when first starting out as a Pilates instructor or practitioner and understanding ‘transition’ can take some time to get used to. That’s where the idea to dance the workout can be a beneficial analogy to follow.
Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara worked with dancers and choreographers in his New York studio and designed the movements to flow in a dance-like manner.
He described numerous times how Pilates was initially designed to promote suppleness, skill and grace that would be both functional and transferable to everyday life.
Ballet movements even mimic some Pilates exercises and objectives. For example, Round de Jambe is performed by making a semi-circular motion with the working foot on the floor in order to maximise turnout and increase the flexibility in the hips. This familiarity to One Leg Circle can be recognised as a theoretically transferable adaptation.
A Battement Tendu is also a ballet exercise in which the working leg opens and closes with the foot stretched along the floor. Relying heavily on core control, this helps to open the hips and strengthen the legs. These can be performed to the front, to the side or to the back and resembles Pilates exercises such as scissors, single leg stretch and swimming. The fusion and connection between these comparative arts, especially swimming, can help provide transitional accomplishments. In dance, Laban’s theory of counter-tension can also be adopted by creating an energetic tension and connection through the body, reinforcing strength and lengthening. Paired with a steady flow and fluid composition, a movement rotisserie can keep the flow intensely challenging.
The application of principles from these ballet exercises to Pilates would therefore not be unfounded and should be performed with the same poetically refined movement and natural mammalian flow.
Sequencing style might include a transition from one exercise to another after completing all of the repetition range. In comparison, a shorter repetition range moving from one to another in a more dance style flow could be adopted, completing all exercises as one set and then repeating the flowing set in repetition.
Emphasis should be placed on the concentric and eccentric phases. Thread the exercises together so that the body remains in constant motion with the muscles constantly utilised even during transition. These transitions and release stretches become movements themselves, dancing with a transcendent and effortless prowess. Turn on the music, glide from one exercise to the other, imagining a ballet recital with all its fluidity whilst maintaining an elegant illusion of ease, even under intense muscular duress.
Written by Katie Farnden