Pilates Students' Manual

Classical and Contemporary Pilates

January 21, 2021 Olivia Bioni Season 3 Episode 2
Pilates Students' Manual
Classical and Contemporary Pilates
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Tune in to hear more about different styles of Pilates! Learning about different styles will help you when you're looking at studios or classes. One style might resonate with you, and that's great. Happy moving! 

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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.

Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. I hope you had a chance to listen to the second part of the interview with Sonja R. Price Herbert, in which we discussed a lot of amazing [00:01:00] facets of Pilates teaching and Pilates taking. A lot of what I was able to talk with her about really inspired this episode. And I wanted to dive in a little bit deeper into this idea of classical Pilates and contemporary Pilates. 

And I just want to say right up front that if you are looking for a definitive, you know, this one is better. That's not what you're going to get here. Instead, I really want to discuss what each style of Pilates is going to offer you. And what might be something I would consider a pro might be something that doesn't really vibe well with you, but I do want to just give a little bit of a greater discussion of what classical Pilates is and what contemporary Pilates is. 

The disclaimer that I'll put on here is that I am a contemporary trained teacher. That was my school of Pilates that I received my [00:02:00] certification in, but I'm also familiar with the classical work. You know, I've read Return to Life. While that isn't what I studied and received my certification in, I am really familiar with it. 

So the biggest thing I want you to get from this discussion about classical and contemporary is that really, these are just two ways of approaching Pilates, or I would even go beyond the binary that there's lots of different ways of approaching Pilates, and depending on what your looking for and what you enjoy doing, one of the styles may speak more to you. But they both offer some really incredible benefits. And so that when you're looking at a studio of a studio says, you know, this is a classical Pilates studio, then you know, a little bit what you're getting into and you can go from there. 

So looking at classical Pilates, as Sonja mentioned in her interview, [00:03:00] it's, in the loosest of terms, you're teaching the way that Joe taught. And we might actually make it a little bit bigger than that you're teaching the way that Romana taught. And Romana is of course, the person who carried on the Pilates teaching in the formalest of senses once Joseph Pilates passed. And she kind of continued the gym. 

All of the elders, when they left Joseph Pilates and started teaching Pilates their own way, sharing Pilates and the way that it had worked for them, but Romana is the person who had the teacher training program and certification program set up. So when we think about classical, we usually think of that as coming from Romana's Pilates. 

On the surface, you're going to see the exercises from Joe's pictures, like in Return to Life, you're going to do those exercises, [00:04:00] and pretty strictly those exercises. There's a classical mat repertoire. There's a classical reformer repertoire. The classical work is actually done on a specific type of reformer, a Gratz reformer, which has a foot bar that doesn't lock into place. So there's some foot choreography that accompanies some of the exercise transitions. The straps are the leather straps with the wooden handles instead of the kind of black cords and the padded foot or hand straps. 

Because Romana was the main teacher of this style, it's heavily influenced by dance because she was a dancer. So the same way when I teach Pilates, I also have a yoga background. Some of those thoughts and movement ideas are going to cross over because that's what my movement history is. Romana was a ballerina, and so a [00:05:00] lot of her cues and the way that she led exercises is of course going to be dance focused. 

The classical order is not, I would say, set in stone, that people have added exercises. Just off the top of my head, things like the ab series. If you just look at Return to Life and the exercises that Joe listed, his ab series only includes the single leg stretch and the double leg stretch, both scissors or single straight leg stretch, lower lift, and crisscross are not part of Joe's ab series. It was just those two ab exercises actually. So we've built, and I'm not saying that that's a bad thing. I'm just saying that the order and the exercises themselves have changed over time, but I would say less so than in contemporary. 

And now here is my kind of take on it, just knowing [00:06:00] what I know about Pilates and about teaching Pilates. There are some things that I absolutely love about the classical work, and I have deep respect for people who teach the classical Pilates. Some of my favorite teachers are classically trained. I love that the emphasis is on the method and the order of the exercises is important. I like that there's this way of looking at the movements and the body shapes and really seeing the parallels and the repetitions within the classical work as either like scaffolding or a spiral staircase that it builds on itself in really beautiful ways.

The exercises are repetitive, not only within the work, but also every time you go to take a classical mat class, the exercises are going to be the same exercises taught in the same [00:07:00] order. That can be really comforting because you know what you're getting into. If you go to a classical Pilates mat class in New York city or in Oklahoma, it's going to be the same exercises.

It's great for students in terms of building autonomy, because you know what exercise is coming next. You have the sort of foresight, you know what's coming. And so you can really internalize the work. I don't want to say you don't have to pay attention to the teacher, but you know what the next exercise is, your body knows what the next exercise is, and so you can begin to do some of that work unconsciously. So you can go a little bit faster. 

You know, I appreciate that. I pretty much practice the classical Pilates of yoga, which is Ashtanga where, you know, same poses, same order, every time you step on the mat, you know what's happening. It's really beautiful for growth as well, [00:08:00] because you're constantly coming up against those same movements, those same exercises, and you can really see where you're stuck, see where things aren't connecting and then really grow from there.

Things I don't personally like about classical Pilates, and it's just my personal opinion, is less about classical Pilates itself, but sometimes it can lend to this sense of elitism. You know, that this is better, that it's more authentic. It can be really dogmatic in ways that Sonja was expressing when I spoke with her that, as a teacher, you think, well, I have to teach it this way. Or as a student, you think, you know, I have to look this way when I'm doing the exercise. And we know that that's not true. The way Pilates looks is going to be different on every person's body. And there isn't really a better way of doing it as an absolute. [00:09:00] It's just what's better for your body.

There can be a resistance or unwillingness to change because of this emphasis on lineage and you know, who you learned from and where it came from. And I do think that lineage and history can be a beautiful component, but I don't think it's the only thing that makes a class a good class or a teacher a good teacher is, you know, who they learned from. I think we can be a little bit bigger than that. 

Sometimes times the repetition can be boring and I don't want to be written off as blasphemous, but if you're someone who really craves a new thing every time you're on the mat, or every time you're on the reformer, you may not feel like you're getting that. Can you 100% recognize that every day is different and you're going to do this exercise, even though it's the same exercise, it's going to feel different. Yes, of [00:10:00] course. 

But if you're someone who wants something new and different than maybe a classical Pilates, might be good on occasion, but that may not be the predominant way that you want to exercise. And that's of course, just looking at what fits you better and not necessarily that classical is good or bad. It's just whether or not it clicks and connects with you.

Coming up after the break, I'm going to look at contemporary Pilates and how that fits into this conversation as well as looking at some fusion Pilates exercises, just so that when you see those things, when you're looking at a studio or you're looking at a class you know what to expect. That's coming up next.

Hi there. Enjoying the podcast? Me too. Make sure you subscribe wherever you're listening so you get notified about new episodes [00:11:00] and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. There, you can make a one-time donation or become a member with a donation of as little as $5 a month.

Members get some awesome perks, including a shout out in the next episode, a monthly newsletter, a monthly zoom call with me and more. You can also visit links.OliviaBioni.com/affiliates and check out some sweet deals on products I use and love. Now, back to the show

Before the break, we talked about classical Pilates and what that entails. Now, we're going to talk about contemporary, which, in my opinion, in a lot of [00:12:00] ways as a very natural extension of classical Pilates because there are so many variations and Joseph Pilates taught so many variations of his exercise, of course, based on what the body he was working with needed and what that person needed to grow, expand, heal, whatever they're doing.

So contemporary Pilates takes the classical exercises and in a contemporary training, you will definitely learn the classical exercises, and it gives you a bit more space to experiment,play, use the equipment in ways other than Joseph Pilates' original exercises. I'd say while you are aware of the classical order and classical exercises, there's not as much emphasis on following that order or doing them in the specific way that Joe or Romana has enumerated. 

[00:13:00] In my Pilates teacher training, which was contemporary, I was also at a studio that had a lot of older clientele and more fragile bodies that we were working with. Traditional classical Pilates and order, in a lot of ways, emphasizes spinal flexion. You're doing a lot of chest lifting. You're doing a lot of rolling up, rolling down, rolling over. And that wasn't a good choice of exercise for the bodies that we were working with, where it was older people who, whether it was a matter of strength or having osteoporosis, spinal flexion is like not on that list of things that we want to do. So classical wouldn't have fit in its most rigid sense with the clientele that I was working with. 

My teacher training, while contemporary, was really focusing on finding options and [00:14:00] variations to support the bodies that I was working with. Also a really big thing was emphasizing fewer transitions in terms of body position, in terms of equipment, that if you were going to be supine on the reformer where you're lying on your back, we were going to do a bunch of exercises, lying down on the reformer. And then when we got up to either seated on the reformer or standing or heading over to the tower or the Cadillac, then we would be there for a fair amount of time. It wasn't about okay, get off, get the box, put the box back on the reformer, and now we're going to do these two exercises, take the box off, like that kind of thing.

Contemporary Pilates uses the same Joseph Pilates equipment. We're using the reformer, the Cadillac, the springboard, the tower, the chair, the mat, the ladder barrel, cadillac, all of those things. We're using those things with the option to add in other pieces of [00:15:00] equipment, like the TRX or the barre, or either like the really big Swiss exercise balls or smaller stability balls, adding in weights, things like that. There's more room to explore those movements that are central and those principles that are central to Pilates, but using these new toys in addition to what's considered more traditional Pilates equipment. I love contemporary Pilates because of that room for creativity. 

I love that there's some flexibility within the structure of Pilates that you can really play with. There's, in my experience, a really broad movement conversation that can happen. Things that I don't always love about contemporary Pilates is it can be difficult to create autonomy as a student or to find autonomy as a student because you [00:16:00] don't know what you're going to get. And while there is still structure in contemporary Pilates, it's usually structured like you're going to do a warm up, you're going to do arms, legs, front body, back body, full body, and cool down something like that. But because there's so much that you could do and so many different things that you can do as a student, I'm not saying that you won't grow, but you may not see the same exercise two days in a row. So it can be harder to know what's coming next and to not be as reliant on the teacher to tell you what's going on because like, honestly, you don't know what's going on. 

When you're teaching it, you do have to plan your classes a bit more when it's classical, you know what the order's going to be and what comes next, what set up you're going to need. If you're teaching contemporary classes, you are going to need to decide what props you're going to use, if [00:17:00] any, what exercises, what order. So there's a little bit more work, I'd say, for you in terms of planning. 

As a student measuring progress, you know, I talked about that in season two. It's more difficult because you're not holding yourself up to the same exercise every time. Cause you know, you might be doing arms lying on your back. You might be doing arms at the spring board. You might be doing arms kneeling. You might be doing arms, you know, with free weights. So you will be progressing, but it won't be necessarily as obvious that, Oh, I've gotten stronger, I've gotten better because the exercises may be different. 

That may not bother you. You might be like, that's totally fine. I would prefer to do something like that. And that's really what it comes down to is your preference, that your teacher is going to be amazing whether they're teaching classical or contemporary. You might find a contemporary class that you love, [00:18:00] even though you really enjoy classical Pilates, just because you really love the teacher. Like that happens too. And there's nothing wrong with that. 

Last thing, I just want to touch on are fusion classes, which are sort of Pilates inspired movement that is usually fused with another type of exercise. So I'm thinking things like Yogilates or Lagree or Pilates Barre fusion. 

I don't hate those things. I don't think that those things are Pilates, but I do recognize that Pilates really compliments all types of movement and all types of exercise. So I see the desire to bring those things together and really draw those things together. If you are looking for a Pilates workout or a Pilates class, those fusion classes may not be what you're looking for in that case, because they're going to be drawing in multiple movement modalities, [00:19:00] which if that's okay with you, that's fine with me.

But just so that you know that for something like Yogilates, you may not be on the reformer at all. It might just be mat stuff. If you're doing Pilates and Barre, you know, I teach a fusion class at Club Pilates called control. That is on the reformer and then at the barre. So you're getting some Barre exercises, some reformer exercises. If you enjoy both of those modalities, you may really enjoy that class. 

Most importantly, I'm just glad that you're looking at Pilates and Pilates inspired classes, because the goal is to help you move better, perform better, and enjoy your life more. Whether you choose to do that taking classical Pilates, taking contemporary Pilates, taking fusion classes, movement heals. 

One Joseph Pilates quote that gets thrown around a lot is "Change happens through movement and movement heals." It does. And that's all different types of movement. So I hope that helps you [00:20:00] differentiate and get the lay of the land when it comes to classical and contemporary Pilates and then those fusion classes.

Thank you as always to my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee, I appreciate your donations and your contributions to keep this project going. Thank you so much. I hope you have a great week and I'll talk to you again soon.

Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening.  Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.

I hope to see you next episode. Until next time. [00:21:00]

Classical Pilates
Contemporary Pilates
Fusion Classes