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Heritage of a Lifetime

by Jillian Hessel

If you’re a teacher or avid student of Pilates, you can trace your roots back to a mentor or formative teacher. Since Pilates is life-changing,many of us decide to become teachers ourselves. This is how the living chain of Pilates lineage works: Our mentors change our lives, and we teach the next genera-tion of students, inspiring them with the transformative magic of Pilates.

I initially studied with two Pilates elders simultaneously: Kathy Grant and Carola Trier. In 1981, I was dancing professionally in New York City, but years of ballet training had taken their toll on my body. A fellow dancer told me about her teacher, Kathy Grant, who had helped her with a chronically painful back condition, so I decided to give it a try.

My first impression of Kathy’s studio was intimidating. It was very small, and filled with all sorts of strange-looking apparatus. But oh, the beautiful movements her clients performed on that equipment! To my untrained eye, it looked like a combination of gymnastics, yoga and underwater ballet. I longed to do it immediately; after all, I was a professional dancer, so why not? All too soon, I learned why not.
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All Roads Lead to Joe


A road with many twists and turns: Cheerleader, Gymnast, Modern Dancer, Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Communication and Wellness Consultant and last but not least Pilates Aficionado. While teaching Pilates and managing a studio is where I am now, the various paths that led to here are most definitely connected. Let’s start with the Cliff Notes version of Midwest Girl goes to New York City then on to The Netherlands and ends up in sunny California.

I grew up Quincy, Illinois, daughter of a successful basketball coach, Mom of many talents and brother extraordinaire.Took my first dance class at age three and was hooked from that moment on. At that same time, I became the mascot for our father’s team, the Quincy Blue Devils. This passion for dance, cheerleading and gymnastics all morphed into one huge dream of life = movement. (little did I know that would later be Pilates)

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Journey to Classical Pilates: Building a Successful Classical Pilates Studio

My name is Lili Viola and I am a Pilates teacher and studio owner in Toronto, Canada. My original training in Pilates dates back to 2002 through Stott Pilates in Toronto. I went through all of their training in modules, beginning with the mat and Reformer and gradually adding in the Cadillac, Chairs and Barrels modules, and working through their certification process to the advanced levels. I started my work experience teaching primarily mat group classes at gyms, and eventually ended up teaching out of a fitness club that had Stott equipment and the ability to offer me private clients.

In 2013, I was hired by Equinox to be the Coordinator for the Pilates studio in their newly opened location on Bay Street in Toronto. This studio was outfitted with Gratz apparatus, and this is where my conversion story begins.

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My Pilates Journey by Jennifer Ruggiero

My name is Jennifer Ruggiero and own The Pilates Movement in NYC. My journey with Pilates began as a dance major at SUNY Purchase in 1994. It was built into an Anatomy class we were required to take. My first impression at 18 years old was not a good one. It pointed out all of my muscular imbalances that my body had from years of ballet and my ego didn’t like that very much. In truth, I hated it.

In 1995 I had developed a stress fracture in my second metatarsal of my left foot which meant I could not take my dance courses for about 6 months. The dance department at Purchase during those years had a Pilates studio downstairs. I was allowed to take Pilates private sessions in place of my dance technique classes. I was 19 years old and not dancing while all of my friends were upstairs dancing, was torture, not to mention I was in a lot of pain. 6 months later I was allowed back into my dance classes and to my amazement my body was stronger than it was before. When I think back to those sessions, they were very interesting as I was not able to put any weight on my foot. My teachers did not follow any specific order with me and it was a very different experience from what I was used to. Continue reading “My Pilates Journey by Jennifer Ruggiero”

Pilates Fire That Keeps on Burning – Going More Joe with Carrie Pfenning

carrie pfenningIn 1995 I was a performing arts major in my junior year at The Boston Conservatory. I spent one hour a week in Jessica Sayre’s ‘floor barre’ class. In this class we quickly executed the same exercises every week, following Jessica’s enthusiastic voice while we moved to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. And while I was having fun, those same exercises got a little boring after a while. During that year, I had been at my strongest in the studio and on stage, and looking back on it, I now attribute that to the “floor barre” that I had been doing. So, really, my “Going More Joe” experience happened over a period of 17 years. Some of us learn quickly, while some of us…well, you get the idea.

By 2001 I had finished my brief stint in the performing arts world and had become an early childhood educator. My youngest son had just been born, and as a Mother’s Day gift I received a gift certificate for 10 mat classes and 2 private lessons at a local Pilates studio. (To this day my husband marvels over the fire that gift certificate sparked.) My college roommate was getting certified to teach Pilates and had been telling me how much I would love it. Well, I did love it. It’s precision and principles spoke to my inner dancer, and it was suggested I get certified. Why not? I had a degree in Performing Arts and one in Education- it made sense as a next step even though I already had a plan to work towards a job in the school system (for the benefits and vacations). Benefits and vacations had no chance in my mind anymore – I was in love with Pilates.

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Going More Joe Story by Susannah Cotrone

Susannah Cotrone
My first introduction to Pilates was as a 14-year-old ballerina at the Houston Ballet summer intensive. They had a studio on site and it was a required activity for our level. I was very annoyed that I had to wake up early and take an exercise class before my ballet class and tried many different ways to get out of it. Eventually, I was rounded up and shipped off to my first Pilates class. And wouldn’t you know it, I loved it! I had never taken a class that was so balanced, specific and useful for what I wanted to do with my body. That summer I went from trying to avoid Pilates to trying to sneak on the bus whenever there was an extra spot.

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Classically Contemporary

By Tracy Belcher

My journey to Pilates started where so many of life’s great turning points occur… in my therapist’s office.
My name is Tracy Belcher, and I am a Pilates teacher in Miami, FL, and a classical convert. I also run Pilatay.com, a blog for and by Pilates teachers.

I found Pilates as a busy public relations professional at a top PR firm, about 14 years ago. Late nights and long days left me little time to workout. I had tried everything from kickboxing to capoeira, but nothing really stuck… until I met my first reformer. The tight deadlines, coupled with managing 7-10 accounts, client expectations, and the staff team on each account, left me ridden with insomnia and anxiety. Pilates calmed my mind and centered me in a way nothing had before. I was hooked.

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The Magic Pilates Foot

Joe Pilates believed our feet were so valuable that he made two pieces of apparatus specifically for them – in addition to the hundreds of exercises he created with or without equipment that made use of, increased the flexibility and strength of, and re-united our feet with the rest of our body. He believed our feet were under-used, abused and unsupportive of the rest of us. They have only gotten more so.

When the well-aligned foot tones, engages, neurologically connects to the rest of our body, it provides a wealth of important ramifications up the link system of our body, releasing gripped/tense areas, toning weak or illusive places, as close as the ankle or knee and as far away as the occiput.

We Pilates teachers can make immediate and far-reaching use of observing the foot, whether while doing a foot exercise such as Foot Corrector or adjusting the relationship of the foot to Reformer straps. In all cases, we can assume and look for other results besides foot alignment, tone, or balanced usage. We can see consequent support for any and all axial joints from ankle to pelvic floor and diaphragm to occiput, decompressing and activating to do their inherent job. We can “turn on” hamstrings or psoas and “turn off” hip flexors or spinal erectors simply by gaining access to parts of the foot that have not been working.
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My Pilates Story by Connie Borho

My journey to Pilates started, as many do, with an injury. Or more specifically, through a civil war my body conducted with itself named Adrenal Fatigue. It was the early ‘90s and I was managing a fitness facility in New York’s Westchester County, which is about 40 minutes north of NYC. I had worked in fitness in a variety of roles, mostly group fitness but also personal training for many years, and thought I had reached the pinnacle of a successful career when I landed a management job. As anyone who has managed a fitness program or center knows, if an instructor calls in sick, YOU THE MANAGER have to cover the class, cuz the show must go on — especially in Westchester. So in addition to teaching my own classes (which I wouldn’t give up even though I was Manager), I often ended up teaching 4-5 classes per day — mostly high energy classes like Step, Spinning, and Sculpting. I kept to that schedule for almost 2 years and then my body’s revolt started. At that time, Adrenal Fatigue wasn’t recognized as a chronic, real, condition as it is today. I thought I was tired. I thought I didn’t work out enough because I was gaining weight. I thought my depression was because of anything else (and there were many many things that I could blame that on) not the fact that I was slowly killing myself by doing too much of EVERYTHING. Continue reading “My Pilates Story by Connie Borho”

The Journey to a Pilates Video Pioneer – by Ana Cabán

A shy dancer…
As a young child I used to twirl to the sound of music. (Well, that’s what my mother has told me, anyway.) Due to a shy nature, and a fascination with twirling, my mother put me in dance class at the age of 3 ½. What started as a fun distraction and way to overcome my shyness, (yes, I was shy as a child), turned out to be a love affair with movement, one that would eventually lead me to teach Pilates.

Like many young dancers, I had visions of performing professionally. So, immediately after graduating from college I headed to the Big Apple, and Steps Studios on W 74th St. (Little did I know that a few years later I would be toggling between that very same building and W 57th St to train with Bob Liekens at The Pilates Studio of NY and Romana Kryzanowska, at Drago’s Gym, respectively.)

How it all began…
I was rehearsing for an off-Broadway show when suddenly a simple move had me lying flat on my back. My low back was in spasm! The pain was excruciating and I had no idea how I was going to ever get up off of the floor. With help I was able to get up and onto a subway train, back to my apartment. There I lay in bed for 3 or 4 days, waiting for the pain to subside. Once I could stand up straight, again, I was on a mission to find relief. In an effort to heal, I moved back into my parents’ house in Western Massachusetts and tried sports medicine, massage, shiatsu, acupuncture and finally chiropractic. Thank God for my chiropractor! Not only did he relieve me of my pain, he suggested that I begin taking Pilates lessons, so that I could maintain what he was doing for me. I took one session a week at “Your Own Gym”, a Pilates studio housed in the top floor of a shopping marketplace. I found the gym rather odd, with barn-like wood floors and strange looking “exercise” equipment. Nonetheless, I gave it a go, and it turned out that my Pilates session became the highlight of my week. My homework was matwork. Only back then, there were no books, or videos to follow. (How funny for me to realize, years later, that I had been training at Mary Bowen’s Pilates studio and that I would actually become a Pilates video/DVD pioneer!)

Although my back did get a lot better, my dance career was short-lived. I decided to go back to UMass, where I did my undergrad degree, to complete my teaching credential and become a Spanish teacher. I taught Spanish for a few years, in both NYC and Miami, but was never passionate about it. However one day, while lying on South Beach, I had an epiphany about my true calling. It occurred to me that if I had been trained as a dancer to move my body, as well as licensed to teach, why not teach people how to better their care for their bodies? … Enter Pilates.

I began researching where to learn to teach Pilates and all signs led me to The Pilates Studio of NY, to train directly with Romana, (Sari Mejia-Pace and Bob Liekens). My daily routine was to arrive at Drago’s Gym at 7:00AM and stay until 1:00PM, (Romana’s hours), then head over to The Pilates Studio of NY to observe Bob, (as well as amazing instructors like Michael Fritze and Ton Voogt), in the afternoons. For 10 months I slept on a twin mattress, on the floor of my brother’s bachelor pad, and I juggled a couple of jobs for spending money. It was a busy time, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. (I lived on a cocktail of adrenaline and caffeine.)

Photo with Romana, 1998 (She would remember your injury, but not your name. In my case I was “Miss South Beach”.)

After completing my Pilates certification I headed back down to sunny Miami, to open up my first Pilates studio. There were only 3 other people teaching Pilates, in the entire city, so it was a great time to be launching my new career. Shortly after I opened my studio I was invited by a company called Living Arts, (now Gaiam), to help them segue from offering only yoga video programming into including Pilates. Before I knew it I had I moved to Los Angeles, started producing Pilates videos and helping spread the word about Pilates around the world. It was an exciting time.

I opened my second Pilates studio, in the heart of LA’s Miracle Mile district, and partnered with Peak Pilates® to offer Pilates teacher education programs, as a Master Instructor on their team. For nearly 15 years I taught and traveled for the Peak Pilates education department, helping to certify instructors around the world.

Today my time is spent as Brand Ambassador for Balanced Body, creating online Pilates programs and teaching my weekly mat class at Equinox in Glendale, CA.

I feel so fortunate to have stumbled upon Pilates, so many years ago. I am honored to have had the opportunity to train closely with Romana and carry on the Pilates Method as she shared it with me.

Bio
International presenter on fitness, wellness and inspiration, Ana Cabán is best known for her award-winning bilingual Pilates DVDs, produced by Gaiam, (which to date have sold nearly 5 Million copies). She is certified by the PMA, The Pilates Studio of New York ®, Peak Pilates®, (for whom she was a Master Instructor for 15 years), and ACE® (the American Council on Exercise). Additionally, she is a Certified Speaker Trainer and Coach on the John Maxell Team.
After two decades of inspiring health and wellness, Ana was recently brought on to champion the new Contrology classical equipment line for Balanced Body. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, with her son Vincent and their rescue pup, Casper. She is honored to share her Pilates journey on Going More Joe. Follow Ana at www.anacaban.com, on facebook and instagram.