A Whole New Generation of Students

It seems like only yesterday that I was listening to my parents lament about how the world was changing too fast. I never put much thought into what they were saying and went on with my daydreaming. Perhaps my parents were medieval thinkers or simply old-fashioned? Well, times have indeed changed, and we are at a critical juncture presenting two choices: be left behind, or dive headfirst into the modern world.

It can be challenging to update our way of thinking and learn to embrace change. There are two integral components necessary in making the leap to modern thinking. First, make time to deepen your personal practice. Challenge your mind and body, step out of your current comfort zone, and learn new approaches to the Pilates method. This not only helps to keep your teaching fresh, but also reminds you of how hard your students work every day. Second, develop your teaching skills and be inspiring. When you are inspired to learn, your students pick up on your enthusiasm and, in turn, are encouraged to follow suit! Sharing our experiences and listening to our students is the key to success.

I ask this important question: What is more important, our agenda or the students? The answer is apparent. However, with much of our teacher training programs having been developed in the ’50s, we struggle to adapt and give our students what they truly need.

Understanding what today’s student want is far more important than trying to fit them into an outdated mold. Times change, and if we want to attract new students, we need to constantly grow and adapt to meet that ever-evolving world.

The Pilates industry has undergone a huge transformation as relates to what new students need and want. Our industry has become polarized with this growing demand for a more robust and well-rounded Pilates class. Sadly, this only hurts our students and industry. It’s now the right time to shift from a slow-to-embrace-change attitude and look toward new opportunities.

As a studio owner who routinely embraces progress, I am blessed with a thriving business. Luckily, the word “Pilates” is more recognizable now than ever before. Collectively, men and women are reading about the practice’s benefits, giving it a try, and deciding whether it’s the right choice for them. I’ve also witnessed a whole new generation of students looking for an alternative to the gym.

The challenge we face as teachers is that new students can be turned off by a strict teaching approach. I’ve heard firsthand complaints about there being too much emphasis on learning the choreography, rather than on offering a solid workout. This is where listening, adapting, and meeting the students’ needs are integral to mutual success. We need to dial back our teaching without compromising class integrity. We will benefit when we learn to merge our teaching of the Pilates method with offering our students a great workout.

Another challenge is staving off tunnel vision after having taught the same Pilates style for any length of time. Over the past 15 years, I have personally experienced hundreds of classes where it has felt more like a dance audition and less like an exercise class. Once, I was instructed to leave when I asked for injury modifications. Another time, I was told this method wasn’t right for my body type. Believe it or not, I was even told that Pilates was not appropriate for a bodybuilder.

It is believed that if we don’t teach Classical Pilates exercises in their original set order, then we are no longer teaching Pilates. This is false. If you follow the principles set by Joe, you are teaching Pilates, albeit in another form. Much of the Classical exercises are contraindicated for many individuals, and can do more harm than good. The bitter truth is that I have been made to feel unwelcome during Classical Pilates classes. Countless men and women have told me almost the identical story. Just because Classical Pilates works for some, it doesn’t mean it works for everyone! Not all of us want a rigid routine. In fact, it has been said that Joe never stuck to a structure, and wanted his students to explore movement.

It’s interesting that so many teachers have opinions on what is and is not Pilates. They are quick to judge when it’s not familiar or comfortable for them. Their frustration stems from lack of knowledge and a misunderstanding of today’s student. When we embrace the possibilities and look to exploration and creativity, our industry will benefit and flourish further.

Let’s open dialogue with both new and seasoned Pilates teachers. Let’s get out of the polarization that has hit our industry. I believe it’s valuable to reach just one person. Our goal is not to change their mind instantly, but to make them think. Then, perhaps over time, they will see the need to adapt their practice. When we can step beyond the Classical Pilates repertoire, we will find ourselves becoming more well-rounded teachers.

Joseph would be so proud of the continued expansion of his work. He was a true innovator. I am almost certain that if he were around today, he would still be creating. To all Pilates innovators, keep growing, creating, and inspiring us all.

1 thought on “A Whole New Generation of Students”

  1. Well said Sean. I have almost 15 years of pilates experience, the first 8 in the classical method. I take classes in Sean’s studio for 4 months each winter and I can say with certainty that every class is unique and different from every other class I’ve taken in his studio. I love the variety and appreciate the challenge. He & his instructors know their student’s limitations and automatically help us with needed adaptations. They are always learning new movements and incorporating them into our classes. Students in his studio love the variety and appreciate their devotion to the discipline.

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