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Why We Need Pilates Mentors

 

By Nicole Rogers

Mentorship is extremely important to the Pilates community, as Pilates elder Mary Bowen so eloquently demonstrated here. If Joseph Pilates hadn’t passed his knowledge on to the first generation of teachers, and if they, the Pilates elders, had not passed their knowledge on to the next generation, Pilates simply would not exist. The tradition of mentorship is part of our foundation and our history.

Over the years, Pilates mentor/mentee relationships were rarely formal, yet were profound and long-lasting. The glue of these relationships has always been passion: for the work, for movement, for health, and for improving the lives of others with Pilates. This passion doesn’t fade, rather it’s the fuel that drives Pilates masters to explore throughout their lifetimes and to build on each other’s work. We all learned from someone, and hopefully we all continue to learn every day. Mentorship is important all the way through our careers, not just at the beginning.

When I asked some prominent Pilates personalities about their own mentors, past and present, I was not surprised to hear that their answers were as diverse as the Pilates world itself. (From what they’ve said, it appears that everyone who was taught by Mr. Pilates received a different workout, so it makes sense that no two teachers are the same to this day.) Each mentor/mentee relationship is unique. Nonetheless, a few general themes about the value of mentorship emerged from these conversations.

Mary Bowen on Pilates Mentorship

Pilates Elder Mary BowenMary BowenYou’d think someone like Mary Bowen, a Pilates elder who is in demand to teach teachers around the world, would be done with the “learning” part of her 50-plus-year Pilates career by now. It’s just the opposite—one of the most inspiring things about her, and many others at the top of the field, is her never-ending thirst for more learning. Here she explains the importance of the many personal mentors she’s had over the years and why she’ll never stop being a mentee. Stay tuned for more on mentorship this month.

I have had many mentors in my 51 years in Pilates. For me, it all began in 1959 with visits to Joe and Clara Pilates twice a week for six and a half years. Joe and Clara have always remained alive in me. I came out of back pain with them, rapidly, and ate up the whole experience of being close in with their life commitment to total health, breath and their method of exercise. What Joe and Clara gave me was more than a mentorship. They gave me “a way of life” that freed my body, making it strong, flexible and enduring enough for any exploration and development I needed to undertake. Not knowing it at the time, it was turning me into a Pilates teacher myself, by 1975.

From there, I spent 7 years with Bob Seed, which underlined the experience of Joe and Clara, and then 7 years with Romana Kryzanowska, which expanded the movement repertoire for my body and cemented the importance of Pilates in my life, then 7 years with Kathy Grant, which instilled a kind of toughness into the work and yet a freedom to be creative in it at the same time, then 5 years with Bruce King, until he died, which was the closest to what is called “classical Pilates” and a great teacher of the value and lack of boredom in repetition.

With Bruce it was always the same way, the same forms in the same order. I was 50 when I started with him. I had the patience by then for his kind of quest for perfection through repetition. I could always find newness in it. Concurrent with Bruce and beyond his life span were 7 years with Jean Claude West, who had learned Pilates at my studio, Your Own Gym, in Northampton, Mass., and had gone on to study biomechanics and kinesiology at universities in New York City. Jean Claude was on the cutting edge of integrating Pilates with physical therapy techniques and knowledge. This expansion has continued deepening the experience of Pilates and the knowledge that one can attain as a teacher of Pilates. It has advanced the practice of Pilates for oneself and for the teaching of others. From 1995 and continuing into the present, my mentor is Christine Wright, a former professional dancer, student and gifted teacher of the body and how we can better live in it using Pilates as a fundamental grid. With my weekly lessons and my mentors I am just short of 80 and still coming into my body.