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The Growth of Pilates Collectives

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By Nicole Rogers

It’s been a little more than a year since Pilates-Pro.com reported on a Pilates collective forming in the San Francisco Bay Area in August 2008, but in that short span, something seems to have taken hold. Other regional collectives have surfaced across the country, and the Bay Area group—which quickly ballooned to the state level—is now taking its program national. These collectives were inspired by a desire to build Pilates community spirit or a local Pilates network, and some, on a more pragmatic level, organized for a shared business advantage. For all, the rewards of sharing information, comparing notes and pooling resources are only beginning. There is, after all, strength in numbers.

We were able to catch up with a few of these groups to bring you this update on grassroots-style Pilates organizing. Read on to find out what the various Pilates collectives are up to now. 

Support for the Business of Pilates
The Bay Area Pilates Collective, now known as the United Pilates Collective, was one of the first to materialize. It started in 2008 when Tracey Sylvester and Nancy Myers, owners of EHS Pilates in San Francisco, thought to hold a mixer for Pilates studios in the Bay Area. “We invited trainers and studio owners within a 25 mile radius to chat about business, and it was immediately obvious that there was a need in the community for this kind of support network,” Sylvester says. She and Myers, as business owners, saw a need for studio owners and independent contractors to share information, such as where to find a lawyer who understood the Pilates business or where to get good liability insurance.

First Bay Area meeting, Aug. 9, 2008The organization quickly grew into a statewide California Pilates collective. As word of the meetings spread, Sylvester said, they began to receive calls from interested studios and trainers all over the country. Now, as the United Pilates Collective, they’re establishing a national organization focused on helping Pilates professionals thrive as business people. “Although similar groups have existed in the past and continue today, we were looking to provide a platform for both business and practice discussion and to create collective bargaining power for a group that had mostly worked alone,” Sylvester said. They’re hard at work on creating an umbrella organization for local and regional collectives that emerge across the U.S.

The UPC is now offering group health insurance plans on a national basis. In California, they’re offering  several types of business insurance. They’ve organized liability, property insurance, and worker’s comp insurance for California members and are even offering a four-tiered liability plan for independent contractors that is specifically tailored to Pilates. They’re now finishing up negotiations for similar group rate structures in New York State, and plan to continue on a state-by-state basis.

The UPC offers two levels of membership: a free membership and pro membership. The pro membership costs $165 per year and allows access to group insurance rates and credit card processing rates, as well as different vendor discounts. Sylvester says they’d like to be able to offer discounts on goods and services from MindBody Online to Zipcar rentals to office supplies. They’ve recently updated their website to offer the free membership, which is for anyone involved in the Pilates community who wishes to join.

The UPC is still in a “soft launch” phase at the national level, according to Sylvester. They’re working on building up a chapter in the Midwest, and eyeballing late January 2010 “to really get everything going.” Currently, there are 300 people nationwide on the collective’s e-mail list who have been to at least one meeting. By mandate, each chapter holds a meeting every two months. “We need to help keep the [studio] doors open instead of just thinking of each other as competition…. We need to be good solid business owners,” Sylvester says. Visit www.unitedpilatescollective.com to learn more. (Much of the information on the site is still not available until one becomes a member.)

New York City
In New York, studio owner Michelle Fama brought a group together after reading Pilates-Pro’s post about the Bay Area collective. With the cooperation of Alycea Ungaro of Real Pilates, Fama and Kim Villanueva, her Core Pilates NYC business partner, sent out an e-mail for their first meeting in October of 2008. Since then they have joined the United Pilates Collective as the New York branch.

The New York collective has met steadily every other month over the course of the past year, and each meeting has focused on a central theme, with a relevant guest speaker. Themes have included the economy, the payoff (or lack thereof) of in-studio retail, and marketing and public relations. They held a session on utilizing technology, featuring MindBody Online executives. In addition, Nancy Myers from the San Francisco organization flew in for one meeting, to talk about the collective movement and how to organize on a local level. “We all felt there was nothing dealing with local/regional issues of entrepreneurship, and that there was a need for it,” Fama says. “We need to have the freedom to call each other on questions of software, or pay rates, for instance.”

Fama says that some issues are very specific to the New York community. “New York is a unique market and requires a unique dialogue on marketing, clientele, personalities, real estate, the effect of the financial downturn, new business opportunities, etc.,” she wrote in an e-mail. “As a result of the collective, we’ve been able to share ideas, ask questions…inform and innovate—all with a friendly eye toward our respective successes.”

Like the other collectives, Fama and Villanueva assert the need for a harmonious community, free of “exclusivity and division.” The New York City group has a policy of holding meetings at different studios, so they can all become familiar with their fellow colleagues’ establishments. They’ve even discussed creating a “passport package” that would allow clients to use sessions at various studios throughout the city, which would allow for business and profit share in tough times.

“These ideas and more would have never been possible before with the negativity that existed. It’s a new market, a new economy and we are so pleased that the collective is fostering a new way of thinking and growing ideas together,” says Fama. For more information on the New York collective, contact Fama at Core Pilates NYC, at (212) 260-5464 or info@corepilatesnyc.com.

Arizona Pilates Alliance meeting No. 3 Meanwhile, in Arizona, studio owners Kyria Sabin of Body Works, and Katrina Foe of Personalized Pilates, were seeking a sense of professional community, and launched the Arizona Pilates Alliance in 2007, along with a few other Pilates notables in the region. The founders felt that the Pilates environment at the time held an undercurrent of fear and unspoken competition. Thus the mandate of the Arizona Pilates Alliance is a non-competitive environment for networking and learning. They are very conscious, Sabin says, of “keeping the politics out of it.” Each meeting is held at a neutral location, such as a conference center, to avoid favoring a particular studio, or style of Pilates.

Meetings are annual, and each has a theme. The first theme was BYOB (Bring Your Own Barrel), and the second meeting paired teachers with different training backgrounds (for example a Fletcher person and a Kryzanowska person) to teach the same exercise at various stations around the room. The focus of the Arizona Pilates Alliance is unity and learning, but naturally, Sabin says, “business opportunities come out of simply putting people together.” The Alliance has laid a strong foundation for such opportunities with 50 to 60 people from all over Arizona attending each meeting over the course of the last three years. The next meeting is May 8, 2010. Visit the Arizona Pilates Alliance’s Facebook page for updates and further information.

Monterey Bay
Jennifer Balboni, owner of Joy of Movement Pilates and Gyrotonic Studio, was lucky enough to have a working model to begin with. She brought the collective idea home to her own community, when she set up the Monterey Bay Pilates Collective in December of 2008 after attending a Bay Area collective meeting. Monterey Bay’s goal, she says, is “to create community, learn from each other, share information and marketing ideas and generally create a supportive network of like-minded business professionals.” 

Balboni says the benefits of the collective have already been significant—a sense of community has been fostered, and her business has gotten a boost. Balboni has given and received several referrals as a direct result of the collective; now that instructors from different studios know one another, they can refer clients. She has also found new teachers for her studio through the collective. The MBPC’s next meeting will be Saturday, January 16th, 2010, 3 to 4:30pm at Joy of Movement Pilates and Gyrotonic Studio, 8035 Soquel Drive #31 in Aptos. Please RSVP by e-mail to jenniferbalboni@yahoo.com or phone (831) 688-8077.

Know of a collective we didn’t cover? Post a comment below and share! Wish there were a collective in your area? Start one of your own or e-mail members@unitedpilatescollective.com to find out more about working with the United Pilates Collective.

Nicole Rogers is a Pilates instructor and writer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Reader Comments (9)

UPC, chapters across the usa...just got a email from PMA stating they are starting regional chapters as well...merely a coincidence?

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah McKeever Watson

We've started a similar free network Feb '09 here in Massachusetts. Welcoming to teachers of all levels and lineage. Promoting community, support and making teachers aware of educational opportunities. www.pilatescircle.net

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaurette Ryan

Support for individual teachers has been sorely needed in the greater pilates community for years. Nancy Myers and Tracey Sylvester (EHS, SF) have diligently answered that call and have done an amazing job of creating a space for an inclusive community, in an incredibly short period of time. The benefits package is awesome. I am in full support of their organization, which is a true association as opposed to a credentialing organization, thus allowing for open communication, growth, and development across styles and perspectives. I haven't missed a single United Pilates Collective meeting yet. :)

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

How terrific that there's so much interest from around the country (and the world) in creating regional groups for Pilates professionals to gather, network and share ideas. It's hard to imagine that not long ago fear permeated our community about using the "P" word in public! I very much look forward to finding out more about the PMA Chapters as this sounds like a wonderful opportunity for regional groups to work independently towards common national & professional goals. I wish this possibility had existed when we initiated the Arizona Pilates Alliance in 2007. We're staying tuned!

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKyria Sabin

Hello. I am not sure I understand the position of this column. Is it the overview of collectives, or a speical UPC promotion? I saw it was from a journalist but it ends with a question to contact UPC, not Pilates Pro, and also not the Arizona grup. It seems to be a UPC column. Yes? I feel confused at the end of reading.

I am in the south of Germany in Freiburg. In Germany here we have the Verband. I am a bad person becuase I did not join yet ;-) But I know from friends it is good and was made because before there wasn't a chance for PMA chapters. This makes me think if the group can be part of the PMA. I believe in unity for Pilates.

I have been to the PMA conference a few times, and it was very good. (The travel is expensive from here, it is a problem.) Very friendly peopel. the last times I have gone there is a discussion in the International meeting about PMA chapters. I have seen people asking for PMA chapters for years. This is not a new idea from 2008. Is UPC becoming a new PMA? Why make a new national company for the USA? I think we must try to unify all together. I think it is not good to make a new PMA style company to compete.

I am happy that now PMA can do chapters. We need it! Maybe Pilates Pro can do a column for PMA chapters also to show more opportunities? And talk about internationals grups too.

The United Pilates Collective is the first of its kind within the Pilates community. Upon the realization that most Pilates trainers are mainly independent contractors and consequently do not qualify for traditional employee benefits—either resulting in high monthly insurance premiums or, nothing at all—the UPC founders sought to provide a comprehensive membership benefits package, which includes access to competitive health insurance as well as studio and IC (independent contractor) insurance . . . whether a Pilates instructor is a studio owner or individual trainer, the basic needs are the same. The UPC was formed in order to revolutionize the landscape of the “business of Pilates”, succeeding in providing resources for better business practices and overall welfare.

Originally called the Bay Area Pilates Collective (BAPC), the United Pilates Collective (UPC) started as a grassroots movement whose initial intent was to get together to see what we could accomplish as a community and to be a gathering place for Bay Area Pilates professionals. However, after the first meeting, it was clear that there was a need for something more representative of our growing needs—an organized and official group to address pertinent issues within the industry. The UPC helps to unite Pilates professionals in their quest to enhance business practices as well as advance the profession.

The PMA has different goals. That being said the UPC has members who are also PMA members. The UPC is fully inclusive and does not discriminate against any training or studio affiliation, philosophy or group affiliation.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTracey Sylvester

Thank you Tracey I have a definite idea of what the UPC is about. I would welcome PMA to describe to ELKE what their goal is with regional chapters? As I understand, it would only represent people whom have taken the exam? Where UPC is a representation of all Pilates teachers.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah McKeever Watson

I'd just like to correct a misunderstanding in Deborah's post above. Doing the PMA Pilates Certification Exam will not be a requirement to be a PMA Chapter Member. The requirement for Chapter membership will be to be a current PMA member. Also, Chapters will decide for themselves on how many times a non-member can visit Chapter events/meetings before they would be required to join.

Lots of information about PMA Chapters will be coming soon. If you'd like to express an interest in starting or joining a PMA Chapter, please email our Membership Manager, Denise Dixon at denised@pilatesmethodalliance.org At the moment we are just gathering the names of interested parties, while we launch our first pilot Chapter in the Gulf Coast and refine our policies and procedures.

We look forward to working much more closely with our members on this exciting project!

Elizabeth Anderson
Executive Director
Pilates Method Alliance

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Anderson

So, PMA chapters will be represented by current PMA members and they will decide how many times a non-member can "visit" chapter meetings/events before they would be required to join. Thanks for the clarification.

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah McKeever Watson

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