Joseph Pilates Quote of the Week:

Joseph Pilates Quote of the Week:

"The art of contrology proves that the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you THINK you feel but as you ACTUALLY are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life." ~Return to Life Through Contrology

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Music and Movement

I have the most creative group of clients. I really do! For being in a small community, I have been blessed with clients who are gifted in so many areas and music is one of them. I have found it particularly interesting that as I have given them corrections, one will say "I hear that all the time from my [instrument] teacher " or "That is something I focus on a lot as I play my [instrument]".

So, what is this correlation of music and movement? Most of us are aware that ballet and Pilates go hand in hand, but music and Pilates? Well, for one thing, musicians, like dancers, have to be very aware of technique, posture, and placement to prolong their careers. And if these things are not in place, there will be consequences, often life-altering ones. I was acquainted with a young 20-something pianist who had to retrain, starting back from the very beginning, due to tendonitis in his wrists and forearm strain due to poor alignment while playing.

The other thing is breath. Musicians are very aware of their breathing patterns, even if they don't play a wind instrument. It helps with phrasing, posture, relaxation and coordination. The difference is the type of breath. Dancers are used to holding their abs in and breathing through the expanse of the ribcage, expanding the intercostal muscles in a thoracic breathing method. Most musicians use the diaphragmatic breath associated with the belly breathing technique more utilized in yoga. But, nonetheless, breath is so very important for movement! So, as I instruct my clients to breathe in the "Pilates way" during our Pilates sessions, I also stress the importance of simply breathing and not getting stressed about it so much as to impede our exercises.

Let me introduce you to three of these awesome musicians:

Mary, my fabulous flautist, flutist, flute player, whichever term you prefer, who never stops moving:

Barry, my amazing pianist, who, by the way, has equally amazing feet, from a ballet dancer's point of view:

Lucy, a world-traveling violinist with the most gorgeous British accent you could ever imagine:
When I told Lucy to keep her shoulders out of a certain exercise, she said her violin teacher tells her that all the time, which led to our conversation about the similarities between the practice of music and Pilates. This is what first sparked my interest in writing this blog post. So, thank you to these wonderful people for sharing a bit of themselves with the rest of us!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Four Lengthening Exercises

I have a really fun client, Pat, and she is helping me demonstrate these four lengthening exercises. We are starting with a warm-up exercise that stretches the body, then we move on to Single Straight Leg Stretch, Roll Over, and Balance Control. Before you say anything about not being able to do one or more of these, please take note that Pat is a septuagenarian. (I really hope she doesn't mind me saying that!)

For our warm-up exercise, we are starting lying on our backs in neutral spine, with the knees bent, feet in line with hips.

From here, on an inhale we extend our right leg and left arm, keeping the foot flexed and on the floor, and the arm just hovering above of the ear. (Taking the arm to the floor tends to pop the ribs upward.) This should feel (I try not to say that since we all "feel" things differently, but I'm saying it anyway *wink*) very lengthening, with the energy flowing out the fingertips overhead and the extended heel. The oppositional stretch is elongating the middle of the body.

We return to the original position on the exhale by floating the arm down and dragging the heel back into place.
Then, we do the same thing on with the right arm and left leg...
... holding for the stretch, then returning it back to the starting position.

 After repeating this 2-3 times per side, we will transition into moving both arms and legs at the same time, being careful not to take the lower back out of neutral position as we do so. Repeat 2-3 times.

The second exercise Pat is demonstrating for us is the Single Straight Leg Stretch. Starting on our backs, we raise the left leg up toward the sky with the right leg pressing into the floor. On an exhale, we lift our head, neck and shoulders off the mat, inhaling to grab hold of the shin or ankle, making sure the lower back is imprinting into the mat. On the exhale, we are gently drawing the leg closer towards our bodies for a soft double-pulse.
Inhaling to switch legs, we exhale to do a double-pulse on the right leg with the left leg securely pressing into the floor. Note that the body does not change position as the legs switch.
Notice that Pat's feet are reaching through the arches without pointing the toes, which makes for less foot cramping. This also feels great with flexed feet for even more stretch in the hamstrings!
**The next two exercises should not be done if there are shoulder or neck injuries.**
The third exercise is Roll Over. This is one of those exercises that requires a good deal of lower back flexibility. Make sure to stay off the neck at all times, and allow the triceps to help out a good deal when learning this exercise. With these inverted exercises, the focus isn't necessarily how far back the legs are going, but how much the spine is being supported in flexion. So, keep pulling the abdominals toward the spine at all times! We are not simply folding the body!
Starting with both feet aiming toward the sky, we lower the legs down just below 90 degrees, then pressing the sits bones (or sitz bones, if you prefer) up towards the sky as the legs swing overhead, feet reaching toward the back wall on the inhale.
We need to remember in this position (I repeat) to stay off the neck and stay on the shoulder blades. We can either keep the legs parallel to the floor, or as Pat is showing, touching the toes to the floor behind our head.  *wow*
On the exhale, we roll through the spine, articulating so that we feel each vertebra coming down, increasing the mobility of the spine. Here too, the triceps can engage to keep the roll down from speeding up and the hips from crashing to the mat. The tricep work will decrease as this exercise becomes easier over time. This exercise can be repeated 3-6 times.
The last exercise begins the same as the Roll Over. To transition into the Balance Control, as our feet are behind our heads, the arms swim around to the sides and reach back to the feet.
Holding on to one of the ankles, the other foot floats up as high as we can make it go as we complete an exhale. The tendency here is to roll back down onto the hips. One hint to making this exercise fly is to extend the arms away from the top of the head, reaching the held ankle as far away from the head as possible.
Inhaling to switch legs (reaching the arms overhead along the floor)...
And exhaling to switch legs.  Repeat 4-6 times, or 2-3 sets total.
Finishing with both legs back, we roll through the spine, just like in the Roll Over.
So there we have it! These exercises are all great for making the spine feel more mobile and elongated. Thanks so much to Pat for letting me photograph her (Check out her awesome hand-knit socks!) and for demonstrating these wonderful exercises. I want to be like Pat in 30 years: young at heart and young in spine!
"The art of contrology proves that the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you THINK you feel but as you ACTUALLY are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life."
~ Joseph Pilates in Return to Life Through Contrology
Happy Thanksgiving!



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Deeper Roots - Not So Pilates Related

     OK, so this doesn't really have much to do with Pilates, but it is certainly noteworthy. Emma and I went to the ballet tonight, the pas de deux evening, at the amphitheater in Chautauqua, NY. I had heard from a new acquaintance that Cynthia Gregory, a famous ballerina from American Ballet Theatre in the '70's and '80's was going to be visiting a friend in Chautauqua today. I carried my camera to the ballet studios where the kids took classes this afternoon in hopes of seeing her there, but she was nowhere to be found. After that I sort of forgot about the whole thing... A lost cause. Then, during intermission at the ballet performance tonight, I spot her. No doubt it's her. None. This is a woman who was one of THE ABT ballerinas of my formative years. What an icon. And here she was, in view. I prodded Emma to go get her autograph, then promptly kicked myself for not going and getting a grainy picture of her with Emma with my cell phone camera. I then texted Mark, he sent Charlie down to the amp with my real camera, and we moved our seats a few rows behind hers to catch her at the end of the show. I was so giddy and nervous my plan wouldn't work. All the little Workshop II girls streamed by her as everyone exited, not knowing who they were passing, and I was swimming against the flow, desperately trying to get to her without looking like I was stalking her. I was star struck, to say the least, and a couple hours later as I am writing this, I am still a bit jumpy. But she was so lovely, so beautiful, so sweet, and was happy to take a picture with us. I look like a deer in headlights because I just couldn't believe my eyes. There she was. And we were with her. It was a moment I won't forget.

The lovely Cynthia Gregory with Emma and me in Chautauqua, NY.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Yesterday I returned to my roots and took my annual ballet class, ballet being the thing that led me to Pilates. The special thing about it was that I took class standing at the barre next to my lovely 11 year-old daughter, Emma. This was the first time we've taken class together as students, not as teacher and student. It was fun cheering each other on silently as we executed the combinations in different groups. As Emma is trying so hard to create the muscle memory needed for ballet technique, my muscle memory kicked in, in overdrive, while the muscles didn't really have the capacity to follow through. Thankfully, I had enough of it left because of all my Pilates and Booty Barre work to get through most of class. I even surprised myself with some things, like the height of my arabesque which I am certain came from keeping my spinal muscles strong and healthy with Pilates. It is truly amazing how the body remembers movement when you have had enough repetition. It just hit home to me that even when we don't have as much time to practice Pilates as we would like, there are always benefits that we are receiving, and the body is slowly but surely filing the information for us, either in our brains or muscles. Let's not psych ourselves out by saying we are not in good enough shape to take a Pilates class, but come as you are, be smart, use modifications where necessary, and accept where you are today, making it a stepping stone for what's to come tomorrow!

Emma, with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride. Emma just completed her first summer ballet workshop at the Chautauqua Ballet School. JP and Patty are the directors of the Chautauqua Ballet School and Company in the summers, North Carolina Dance Theatre during the year, as well as former stars of the New York City Ballet.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Booty Barre!

I just got word this morning that I am now officially a certified Booty Barre instructor! I'm really excited to be adding this to my repertoire. Check out the website ( for more information on this full-body workout that is so intense, one of my clients has said it is tougher than P90X! And this particular (female) client flies Black Hawks! So there!

Booty Barre incorporates Pilates, yoga, and a bit of dance to make for a great hour where you don't waste a second. And this workout is not limited to females. Men are fully welcome to join in the fun. I will be teaching the Plus class as well as the Flex N Flow class at Evangelical Fitness Center at 210 JPM Rd, Lewisburg, PA starting the last week of August. (I'm teaching Pilates in Chautauqua, NY until then.) The Fitness Center's phone number is 570.524.2600 and the website is

Monday, June 25, 2012

Second Generation

I just went to orientation with my daughter for her first summer ballet "camp." I felt like a teenager again looking with anxiety at all the other future ballerinas and remember wondering if I was going to match up. Being on the mother/teacher end of it is even worse, in my opinion. Any others who have experienced this? Any advice?

On the good side of this, it is exciting to see all the bright-eyed, unjaded young ladies as they are already so determined in life. I remember being there, in that state of mind. So much to look forward to. So much ahead. What an exciting time! Somehow I feel it was appropriate to be doing this on my 40th birthday. Milestones all around! I'm still young. I still have lots to look forward to. That's what I tell my clients in Pilates and I believe it for them. Why should I think any differently for myself?

School of American Ballet, 1989

Happy to Share! 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sad Goodbyes...

     This is a photo of me from about 23 years ago at the beautiful school where I studied ballet with amazing teachers and dancers. This is the Orcutt-Botsford School of Dance (otherwise known as the Enid Knapp Botsford School of  Dance) in East Rochester, NY. After Mr. Orcutt's death, the school was purchased by St. John Fisher College, which you can see on the right side of this photo. Sadly, the college chose to dismiss Enid Knapp Botsford's wishes of keeping this amazing spot in the world for world-class ballet training. Instead, the college is moments away from demolishing it to create space for a new school of business.  My heart breaks every time I think of this happening. How fortunate I was to be one of the last generations to learn the art of ballet here from esteemed teachers such as Luba Gulyaeva, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jurgen Schneider. At the time, I took the facility for granted, not realizing that most young aspiring dancers do not get to set foot in a place like this. After having a career as a professional ballet dancer as well as a ballet teacher, I now know how special, rare, and irreplaceable this place is. I am saddened that art is once again disregarded. Two others who have graduated from the school have written this lovely article:
Many memories go along with this school, and those can't be demolished so easily.