On Friday 28th October I attended the Classical Pilates Convention for a Mat session with the first generation teacher Jay Grimes. What an amazing experience and I thought I would share some of the highlights and my thoughts.
"Mat was never taught but was given as homework "
Jay began by explaining that Mat was actually given to students as homework. Joe ( I was told never to call him Joseph!) never taught the Mat repertoire, irrespective of the famous footage of him teaching dancers at Jacob's Pillow. He would check you on your homework and would know if you had not done it!
Jay spoke of how in Joe's studio you did not have pre-booked sessions but rather you would just arrive and begin to exercise on whatever piece of equipment was free at the time. Jay explained that Joe never had music playing in the studio, that the external rhythm would interfere with your body's own rhythm as you performed the exercises.
" The order of the moves is of absolute importance, it is a lifetime's work of trial and error"
We began to work through the Mat repertoire with Jay teaching each move in detail and performing the exercises with strength and conviction I was told to "stop dusting my knees and PULL IN my heel to my butt" in Single Leg Pull ( Stretch). The next exercises were Single Leg Straight Stretch, Double Leg Straight Stretch and Criss Cross which took me completely by surprise. They were created by Romana Kryzanowska, another first generation teacher. Classical Pilates is defined clearly as "Joseph Pilates actual exercises executed in the order he created with his intentions" by Shari Berkowitz and after a few comments by Jay about "those who changed the exercises and equipment" , it seemed contradictory to add exercises which were not created by Joe himself especially as later Jay said that Romana never taught her own creations in front of Joe.
" Let people be bad....we're all bad when we start...it's part of the process"
As we performed the Mat repertoire there were hardly any teaching cues given except for "squeeze your butt" and "suck in your gut". When asked about this, Jay responded by asking "how can bodies change if they do not move? If instructors constantly adjust, correct and restrict movement how will the client ever learn?" I agree that clients need to move as holding fixed positions throughout the day is the main cause of many issues and so we need to encourage freedom of movement and address imbalances through movement wherever possible. Yet I also believe that cueing is fundamental to a deeper understanding of the correct movement patterns necessary to effectively perform the exercises.
There was minimal reference to breathing. Jay explained that breathing is only cued when it is important, for example on Double Leg Pull (Stretch) and that otherwise it is a normal breath as if you were walking down the street talking to a friend.
The only modifications taught were in Swan Dive and Corkscrew otherwise clients should attempt to perform each move until they eventually understand and "feel" the exercises. "Stop babying people" was a comment repeated. In a fully equipped studio you would use the machines to aid the Matwork movements- this is why Joe invented them. For example, performing Teaser on the Cadillac with the push through bar would allow the client to build the strength and mobility to perform the Teaser on the Mat. But for many of us, Mat is all we teach and so modifications and adaptations are crucial to create a safe and effective pathway to the original repertoire.
"You can't teach Pilates. You can guide people to find it in their own body"
Jay spoke of how he did not receive his first correction from Joe until he had been training for three months. He stated that you should never correct a client during Footwork on the Reformer but rather use that time to observe the imbalances and plan the rest of your session.
It was a fantastic afternoon, deepening my understanding of the Classical Pilates but also strengthening my conviction in my own style of teaching. I strongly believe in adapting the moves to allow clients to build a balanced foundation of strength, stability and flexibility prior to teaching them the original form. Yet as Pilates instructors we should never lose sight of our final goal- to allow our clients the opportunity to fully experience and practice the 34 Mat moves.
Many thanks to Amy Kellows for a great Convention and I am looking forwards to attending next year.