Weekend 7 & more: metamorphosis

It’s springtime and true-to-form, the trainees are metamorphosing into teachers. Even the ones who came later to Pilates have surpassed all expectations (and me) – so there really must be something in the adage that to learn something, you should teach it.

Even though these trainees are varied in their teaching styles, they are all uniformly passionate in absorbing and sharing knowledge. Proof came last week in another round of evaluations. Their nervousness experienced earlier in the year was hardly evident, and the prescribed slate of exercises explained and demonstrated with confidence. The gentle coaching (occasionally in the form of a hint or exaggerated posture) and candid feedback from the evaluator was welcomed with plenty of laughter, and will be more easily remembered a result. Just observing, I learned many things about the flow of lessons, setting up an exercise to reinforce the exercise itself and noting one’s favourite phrases. Meta-cognition or meta-teaching (being intentional about how you teach) is one of Corinne’s many invaluable contributions to the C&E way.

Much credit to the master trainer Tanis, who along with her disciples/TT supervisors Corinne and Amy, have modelled and infected us all with the enthusiasm for, as well as understanding of, classical Pilates. We regularly critique the teacher manuals, and generally conclude no texts or photos can provide the in-person resource and experience of a guru. The benefits of 3-dimensional and 360-degree views plus the opportunity to try out, modify exercises, ask questions and consider a variety of scenarios/issues are invaluable. This weekend, Tanis gets to demonstrate and cue our attempts at some exercises on camera so that C&E will soon be able to share a glimpse of the master in her natural habitat.

As in every weekend (and the studio sessions in between) the questions and discussions are wide-ranging, covering topics such as the dangers of pulses vs the purpose of beats, spiralling spines, identifying where knee dysfunction might originate, and best leg positions for “hipper-grippers.”

We start off Friday and Saturday gratefully with releases and exercises on the barrel family: the familiar ladder barrel and baby arc, then formally meet the step barrel, the arc’s big brother,. In addition to its own repertoire, this one appropriately known as the spine corrector, offers familiar but deeper work for the spine and joints in range and gravity. The step facilitates hip and leg work but is not for every body, except maybe as a prop. As we work in new planes and new movements such as side and back extensions, Tanis tells us that the brain can more easily get lost. Oh yes: a couple of helicopter legs experience a midair collision.

Later, on the Reformer and Cadillac, the expectations of our brain increase as we tackle ever more difficult moves. We rediscover dysfunctions! The ugliest of my exercise portfolio so far — the beginner Tree, a preview of back bends to come — will need much more practice. One of Tanis’s favourites for assessment, the Saw, involves even more choreography, multi-dimensional planes of movement, and really challenges both my body and brain. Tanis can use me as an example when she reminds TTs to “look out for deviant behaviours” i.e., when my chin, elbows, hips try to replace spinal movements.

Just as we felt we were mastering its basics, the complex art of cueing seems to require even more subtlety and specificity: twist like a jar lid? anchor back of heel to pole? lengthen to twist? Tanis promises we’ll get better at recognizing what works for each body as we get to practice more on teaching the exercises to each other –with our supervisors watching like hawks and sharing helpful tips.

The lunchtime discussions now often revolve around equipment, its variety and potential modifications, and lose me in their depth and specificity: the TTs have (extracurricularly) visiting other studios. In two months, as apprentices, they expect to be more than ready to take on their own clients, despite one TT’s wise observation: “The course has been like being pregnant; you think it will be over at the end of the nine months. But the adventure will have just begun!”