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Eve Gentry and The Dancers Workshop: Pilates for Teenagers

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By Michele Larsson

Pilates instructor Michele Larsson has practiced the Pilates technique for 37 years, learning much of the work in sessions with first-generation instructor Eve Gentry. Larsson has spent much of her career preserving Gentry’s rehabilitative style of Pilates: She founded Core Dynamics Pilates and operates a teacher training program in Santa Fe and many other satellite locations. Larsson also teaches workshops internationally and at conferences. In this article she recalls her work with Gentry, as well as the first-generation instructor’s interest in working with young students.

Eve Gentry teaching PilatesEve Gentry, 1909-1994, is often remembered as a Pilates instructor who taught at Joe Pilates’s New York City studio and New York University School of the Arts before retiring to Santa Fe, New Mexico. But Eve, a trained dancer, also taught dance In New York at the YM/YWHA, The High School of Performing Arts, and at The New Dance Group and performed with Hanya Holm and her own Eve Gentry Dance Company until 1968. Like many of her peers, this first-generation was strongly influenced by both dance and Pilates.

After moving to Santa Fe in 1969, Eve opened a dance studio and a Pilates studio, the latter located underneath her garage. She began teaching teen dance classes and formed The Dancers Workshop with her most serious students. These students were also invited into her home studio, where she taught them Pilates on the equipment: Reformer, Wunda Chair, Mat, Spine Corrector, Ped-O-Pull and Magic Circle. This group of students was younger than most contemporary Pilates practitioners, but Eve felt that these years were pivotal for instilling good movement habits.

In the summer of 1970, I began studying with Eve, who first introduced me to Pilates. I was dancing in San Francisco during the rest of the year, so Eve concentrated on teaching me the mat work. In 1973 she asked me to run her dance studio for the summer. As part of her dance curriculum Eve included Pilates exercises to strengthen and discipline the body. I taught Eve’s classes according to her instruction, Pilates floor exercises, standing dance barre, traveling combinations and improvisation. Unfortunately, my main memory of the summer is that one of her students came down with bubonic plague, or Black Death. The shock of that overshadowed the classes I taught. However, a couple our students do remember the experience.

The students had three dance classes a week. Each class began with Pilates mat work; Pelvic tilts, the Hundred, Single and Double Leg Stretch, Leg Circles, Swan and Side Kick. The students taught at the studio beneath her garage were treated to a circuit class—mat, Chair, ring, and Reformer. In her oral history, recorded in “EVE GENTRY: A Kaleidoscopic History” as part of the Legacy Oral History Project, Eve said, “Well, I always used Pilates. It just was something I always used in teaching. But I brought my more serious students, the high school students and those who were really serious, I brought them here to my house, to my studio here and taught them the Pilates here on the equipment. It was my favorite age, the teenagers. I thought they were so ready to do things and full of excitement and wonderment and eagerness and interest.”

Jeannette Scott, one of Eve’s former students, says: “I remember Eve’s discipline, her obvious joy and belief in what sheEve Gentry teaches Pilates to Dancers did, and what Joe and Clara Pilates had created. I remember the simplicity, clarity, and physical benefits of the work.  Eve was clear as to who she was and what she did; that it was vital and important to dance, see dance and explore movement.  At a time, as a teenage girl, when my body could have been held quite differently, I enjoyed my strength and the integrity of my ‘instrument’ of expression.  She conveyed the integration of movement, expression, strength, and life purpose.”

Elizabeth Pearlman, another former student, came to Pilates at age 13 because of all the minor injuries she was getting. Of her experience she says, “I became more educated about the mechanics of my body which I could apply to dance. I now teach a modern dance class for children and use Pilates mat as a warm up. I feel lucky to have found Pilates at such a young age. It became part of my awareness and my technique.”    

Eve believed that a person needs to move in order be healthy. She thought that a movement habit learned at a young age will be retained for life, and I believe this idea is maintained by many contemporary instructors today, too. A young body has the freedom to execute the Pilates vocabulary well, and can be an inspiring student to work with. Just look at how childlike many of the mat exercises are—rolling, rolling up, rolling over, and walking on your hands and feet, for example. Take a lesson from Eve and open your studio to young students, too. Children can often do Pilates better than any adult, so why should we restrict the method to older clients?

Posted on Monday, March 19, 2007 at 04:09PM by Registered CommenterJessica Cassity in , | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Jessica,
Thanks for the small insight into Eve Gentry. I would like to have a better idea of her work. Can you recommend any books,
videos, etc?

Hi Deborah,
There is a new documentary called "Eve Gentry: The Power of Pilates," which is available from Michele Larsson by calling 505-988-5076.

July 30, 2008 | Registered CommenterPilates-Pro

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