Joseph Pilates. Moshe Feldenkrais. Rudolph von Laban and Mabel Ellsworth Todd. Movement Pioneers. Each with their own approach and dedication to the idea of movement. How to use movement to organize and control the corporeal body in relationship to gravity, weight, and space. Each created their own methodology and movement philosophy that passed down through elders or legacies. Today their teachings are still alive but only Contrology made the cross over to mainstream fitness in its rebrand, Pilates.
Did I just reference Pilates as a brand within fitness versus an authentic system of exercises created by a movement innovator? Yeah. I did. There has and probably always will be a war of beliefs amongst Pilates professionals. Pilates is either the exact replication of Joseph’s system of exercises on his authentically modeled equipment or its not Pilates. It is not classical. The other is then referred to as Contemporary. This war of beliefs is exhausting, tired and makes no one teacher better than another. Their ability to teach sets them apart.
Speculate with me. What if Joseph knew that Kathy Grant had a different teaching style than Lolita San Miguel but both were true to his method? What if he knew Ron Fletcher was investigating breath and he supported Carola Trier’s work in physical therapy? What if Joseph knew his students would evolve and adapt his method to their teaching style, and what if he was ok with it? He was encouraging of it because he trusted his students understood the idea of Contrology. What if knew he was ahead of his time on the scientific support for functional movement and his prodigies would carry the torch?
That would lead the inquisitive mind to further speculate three things. One being that the classical repertoire that is the defining element of ‘real’ Pilates is only a blueprint. A map to harnessing movement potential and void of finite completion. The magic is the idea. The philosophy within the method. The second that Joseph comfortably granted his successors license to evolve AND simultaneously preserve his work. That he was ok with their future exploration and discoveries. Three, science would eventually catch up.
Science has caught up and is not going to stop. Contrology was not void of science. It was void of scientific documentation and research backed data. Mainly because movement science was evolving in the United States as a response to the Polio epidemic in parallel to Joseph’s thriving studio. We have knowledge and capabilities today that validate Contrology but also present contraindications. The method is not and cannot be one size fits all for every spine is unique.
The first generation of teachers did carry the torch and pass it on. They also each had their own teaching style that drew students to them. I’m not a marketing genius but that sounds exactly like what we today would call a niche. They were just doing their thing. Here we are today as teachers and business owners trying to teach Pilates and make a living. Some want to niche down to classical and uncompromising ‘authentic’ Pilates. Some niche down to the callisthenic and strength training elements. Some infuse their styles with contemporary movement science/theory and some just flat out make stuff up.
I am a classically trained instructor and I believe in the legacy of Joseph Pilates. I believe in his method of Contrology. I also believe in what I have taken from my studies of Feldenkrais, Laban, Todd and Sweigard. I seek out new ways to move myself and incorporate them into my work. I use the classical repertoire of Contrology as a blueprint for my training program and the framework for a session or class. I fill in the holes by teaching to the body not the order. My niche is knowing when the box is to small and its time to step outside. I know when its time to do my thing. I have a skillset nourished by years of movement education that allows me to do so. At the end of the day I am still a Pilates teacher with or without The Hundred.
Pilates is not a thing. He was a man with a really good idea. He created a movement methodology with exercises, equipment, and a philosophy of optimal health. Pilates is also not really a brand either. It can not be trademarked. It is legally a descriptive. Does it get bastardized in the marketing machine of the fitness industry? Absolutely. Contrology is a unique method but let us all be real. Joseph was also all about raw physicality. Return to Life is not very Zen and his description is as simplistic as it gets. Video footage from Jacob’s Pillow does not look like class finished with wind chimes and an affirmation.
Pilates as a descriptor and Contrology as a method are different things. Whether or not it will ever be accepted is a good question. Preserving the method and the repertoire is vital but so is discovery of new possibilities. Instead of looking at something and saying, “That’s not Pilates!” classicists could say “How can I sprinkle some Joe on it and use it to help my clientele?”. Contemporary teachers have more choices because the fitness industry is insane. New tools, advances in biomechanics and research evolve every day. How implemented is what will niche down a contemporary teacher.
Bottom line. If you are making money off of arguing what is or what is not Pilates then carry on. I’m not. Never have. Let us all be honest about how much our general clientele actually care. There is room for us all as teachers and even instructors that make it up. If it gets people off the couch and moving then its working! Then we are doing are jobs as movement educators.