Classical or Contemporary Confusion?

pilates-joe-teaser[1]A while ago we had a lengthy debate on the forum about Classical versus Contemporary Pilates and there was much confusion about the definition of Classical or "real" Pilates and Contemporary. So how do we define them? Classical Pilates is the actual exercises created by Joseph Pilates, executed in the exact order on the Mat and Reformer with no deviations. The only variations are those created by Joseph Pilates although a classical teacher may omit an exercise dependent on the ability level of the client. Joseph Pilates states,

" The benefits of Contrology depend solely upon your performing the exercises exactly according to instructions- and not otherwise."

Verification of the order and exercises are through the Pilates Elders, photographs, film footage and of course " Return to Life through Contrology"

This is a very clear definition so where lies the confusion? In looking further at the different training schools it becomes apparent that there are slight variations in the method depending on the Elder as each has brought their own interpretations. For example, teaching "turn out" or external hip rotation in the majority of the exercises. This is apparently a dance influenced interpretation (Joseph Pilates once said "Dancers ruined my method"!)  and unless offered as a modification or in exercises such as "Frog"  the legs should be worked in parallel to create balance, as stated by Shari Berkowitz in her article "Classical Confusion"

Yet in spite of these nuances in teaching Joseph Pilates' method creates stamina, strength,stability and flexibility. His order warms up, challenges then cools down the body. There are hundreds of exercises with many variations so why would you choose to change or meddle with this fantastic, time proven system?

The answer may lie in the definition of Contemporary Pilates. In 2000 a court ruled that Pilates could not be trademarked. This allows instructors the freedom to adapt the original teaching. Using scientific research and the influence of physical therapy and kinesiology instructors modify the exercises to allow for injury rehabilitation and different needs and goals of the client. For example, Joseph Pilates states that in supine exercises " to keep your back full length always pressed firmly against the mat or floor" whereas research has shown the benefit of working with neutral pelvis and the natural curves of the spine.

Contemporary Pilates allows for greater creativity and is accessible to a much wider audience. But here lies the danger as some would argue it gives too much freedom leading to some Pilates classes being adapted beyond recognition into something more like a toning or relaxation class.

Mary Bowen, one of the Elders, comments  how she has evolved her own creative style of teaching Pilates,

" I believe that Joe and Clara would have no problem with this. Joe always supported my creative ideas and moves even in the early years of learning his method-" That's good. Just be sure you always use your WHOLE body" he would say to me if I went original."

My response to the validity of Contemporary Pilates is that instructors should always be very clear and state when teaching an exercise which is not an actual Pilates move and this requires a knowledge of the original teachings. This may mean further research and ongoing study but fully understanding what and why you are teaching the exercises, modifications and the order is of paramount importance.

I would love to hear your thoughts!


The Vertical Workshop- Classical Confusion:Clarifying the Definition of Classical Pilates