The Art Of Teaching Pilates | by noam gagnon

The Art of Teaching Pilates
by Noam Gagnon
(first published on Profitable Pilates blog)

You know you are a real Pilates nerd when you own more Pilates t-shirts than regular ones. My favourite t-shirt was recently given to me by my amazing Pilates family at Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles. On it, it saysWe don’t change the work, the work changes us”.

I was first introduced to that concept back in 2000 during my teacher training at The Pilates Centre in Boulder Colorado. It’s through their instruction that I realized teaching is an art. My perception is perhaps a little askew due to being a dance artist most of my adult life. I first encountered Pilates in 1987 during my first professional dance job with a company in which we took Pilates three times a week. I immediately fell in love with Pilates so I practiced every day religiously, so much so that over time I gradually stopped taking dance classes and trained only with Pilates.

A few years later, I asked my teacher about getting certified but her advice to me at the time was to wait and focus on my dance career and its intense touring demands. I waited, keeping my practice while I danced and toured the world. Despite the ferocious physicality of our dance repertoire and the intense touring demands for close to two decades, I am still dancing today. Joseph Pilates’ work kept me dancing and I can say proudly that I am aging gracefully in both my body and my mind. 

After 30 years of personal practice, teaching others, performing, choreographing, training teachers and being a Franklin Method movement educator I find myself continually asking myself the same question: What is teaching? How do I further deepen my teaching while continuing to enhance the experience for my clients?

Teaching and being taught for decades all ultimately led me to meet Jay Grimes. For those of you who are not aware of who Jay Grimes is, Jay began his studies with Joseph Pilates in the mid-1960’s, and after Joe’s death continued studying with Joe’s wife Clara for another 10 years until her death. Jay began teaching in their original 8th Avenue studio in New York City and has since taught all over the world. Jay now teaches and directs The Work, an intense graduate program for certified teachers at Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles. The first day of the program Jay told us something to the effect of sorry guys, bad news, I can't teach you Pilates: Pilates must be felt, with time assisting the process. I found Jay to be a man of few words, observing and then asking a question or commenting with pinpoint accuracy, with maximum effect.

Gaining Pilates knowledge is easy, wisdom is harder to acquire. My practice and teaching have undergone many different incarnations over the years but what has stayed constant is my desire to always go deeper into understanding and embodying the principles of the incredible system that Joe created. It's been about accumulation, over time. My favourite Pilates t-shirt is dead on correct: doing the work changes me.

As teachers and practitioners of Pilates, be it Classical or contemporary, we are all learning and growing. I personally chose Classical Pilates because it was ultimately a better fit for my character and personality. Creating a practicing and teaching community and embracing others into our pool of information to share and grow together is crucial to our industry. We can learn and grow faster, getting deeper and deeper into the work, together.

Many years of dancing, choreographing and teaching has simultaneously sharpened my instructor tools and given me my super power: an eagle eye. Seeing what is going on in someone’s body is easy. What has been humbling and challenging is learning to wait, to be able to choose the right timing, the right word, the ideal image, the right touch, that can create indelible change. For me, after decades of accumulating information and skills, the art of teaching Pilates comes down to simply this: Observing clients while teaching them is easy. It’s what we do with what we observe that is the true art of teaching Pilates: being able to choose the right words to create the right experience at the right moment to effect positive change in the client’s body and practice.

Grace Li