February 2017 (web article)
A Hybrid of Many Masters
Our guest author today is Jillian Hessel — a highly worthwhile person to listen to and learn from. Jillian gifts us today with the story of the beginning of her Pilates career.
If you are a teacher, or even an avid student of Pilates, you can trace your lineage back through a special mentor or formative teacher. We each discovered Pilates traveling our own unique path, and this is how the living chain of lineage continues — our mentors change our lives in a significant way, and we teach the next generation of students, inspiring them with the transformative magic of Pilates.
I have been extremely fortunate in my personal teaching heritage. I initially studied with two Pilates elders, Kathy Grant and Carola Trier. Then, when I moved to California from the East Coast of the USA, I added a third, Ron Fletcher. Over the years, I also had the good fortune to take weekend workshops and lessons with both Eve Gentry and Romana Kryzanowska. Combine these fantastic teachers with my dance experience (I met both George Balanchine and Martha Graham), and you have a "Hybrid of Many Masters"!
In 1981, years of ballet training and the old performer's motto ("The show must go on!") had taken their toll on my body. A fellow dancer told me about Kathy Grant, and how Kathy had helped her with a chronically painful back condition. I decided to check out the "Gym."
Kathy Grant's Studio was located in a somewhat surprising, hidden place — the top floor of the exclusive Henri Bendel boutique department store on West 57th Street, in midtown Manhattan. The clientele was a hodgepodge mix of "ladies who lunch," modern dancers, Ailey dancers, and ballet dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
No matter their background, every client at Kathy's had memorized their personal workout program, and they all worked hard at improving! We definitely wanted to please Kathy, who was an exacting, extremely detailed teacher. She created a "Rainbow Studio" where everyone, regardless of their background or athleticism, worked hard or shipped out.
My first impression of Kathy's Studio was intimidating. It was very small and filled with all sorts of strange-looking exercise equipment. Kathy took one look at my back (a double s-curve scoliosis, made more lopsided by years of professional ballet dancing), and immediately banned me from all the resistance equipment. She had me lie down on a mat and practice breathing evenly into both sides of my ribcage. This turned out to be quite a frustrating challenge, since the muscles in my back were so imbalanced. "You can't even breathe correctly without throwing your spine out of alignment," she said accusingly. "What do you think is happening to you when you dance? We'll have to rebalance your entire structure if you want to dance pain-free."
I spent three months that summer studying intensely with Kathy three times a week. I realized I had stumbled upon a truly gifted teacher, and a unique method of exercise. Pilates, as taught to me by Kathy, was so restorative that I gained hope I could soon resume my dance career. Alas, autumn arrived, and there was no dance job on the horizon. Kathy had an idea — she knew Carola Trier needed a new teaching apprentice. I trotted cross-town four blocks to meet with Carola, proud that Kathy thought enough of me after only a few months of training to recommend me.
Carola Trier's Studio was quite a contrast to Kathy's Rainbow Gym. Her Studio for Body Contrology was built into her home, a spacious apartment in midtown Manhattan. Carola was the first person to open a studio with Joe Pilates' blessing, and she started her business in a day when few women ran their own companies. Pilates himself supervised the construction of her apparatus, and today I'm the proud owner of an original Cadillac built for Carola.
Carola greeted me graciously at her door, in her Old World European style. She spoke fluent English in a thick but charming German accent, despite all her years living in America. I was feeling scared and shy, but after our initial interview, she gifted me with ten sessions as her client to "try me out." This was to demonstrate first-hand how the clients were handled in her Studio and to observe my facility with the Method.
My introductory workout was taught by Carola herself, and she began with her signature Posture Analysis, and then moved me directly onto the Universal Reformer. The session moved along at a much brisker pace than I had been accustomed to at Kathy's, and I was grateful for the careful foundation of warm-ups she had built for me. To this day, I like to say Kathy got me into alignment, and Carola got me strong!
Carola's clientele was an interesting mix of professional and aspiring dancers from the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, plus a sprinkling of the rich and powerful elite of New York society. Businessmen and other male professionals came to work out with her, a true phenomenon in the early 1980s, when practically no one had ever heard of Pilates, and the few men who practiced Pilates in other studios were dancers.
Carola was as precise and exact as a Swiss watch in how she ran all aspects of her business, as well as how she taught. We all (teachers and clients alike) lived in absolute dread of her explosive temper, and of course we did all we could (and more!) to please her as she barked out her commands. Carola could definitely have had a career as a drill sergeant in another life, but we are lucky she chose to teach Body Contrology instead.
At Carola's Gym, I not only learned how to teach Pilates to others; I learned the ABCs of running a studio. She was a very accomplished business owner, and she handled clients in an elegant manner with the utmost respect. Using her "magic touch," Carola employed far more "hands-on" guidance of the exercises with her clientele than is currently in use today. She called the extras "candy," and the clients had to earn these rewards by working hard during their session. However, she also had an instinctive nurturing and gentle side that prompted her to dole out extra attention when someone was emotionally upset or injured.
And so began a very interesting and transformative time in my life. I worked at Carola's Studio four mornings a week, and three days a week I went to study with Kathy. Although each woman was unique in her personal teaching style and in the way she ran her Studio, there was one common root: like myself, both of my mentors were retired performing artists, and both had originally been sent to study with Joseph Pilates after sustaining a dancing injury.
Kathy and Carola were so different in their approach to Pilates, and they each taught me new ways to look at and transmit the body of exercises passed down to us from Joe. There was no way I could become a rigid teacher, insisting on only one way an exercise must be performed or taught. Rather, I was encouraged to find my own interpretation of the work as I developed as a teacher. Even today, every new Pilates teacher needs to search out their own path to discover their own teaching style and voice.
About the Author
Originally from Tarrytown, New York, Jillian Hessel is an internationally renowned Master Pilates teacher based in Los Angeles, California, and a second-generation Pilates teacher in direct succession from Joseph Pilates.
Jillian first discovered the benefits of Pilates when her professional dancing career was sidelined by a back injury in 1981. She began to study with Kathy Grant, a New York-based movement coach specializing in the technique of corrective exercise and body conditioning developed by Joseph Pilates.
Jillian recognized at once that the goals of this therapeutic conditioning system are full body control, an extremely high degree of abdominal strength, greater range of motion and, most significantly, the combined power of the body and mind.
Within a few months, Jillian was apprenticing at the Carola Trier Studio, where she studied to teach Pilates' method of exercises. "I began to develop my own teaching style," she says. "It was a synthesis of my knowledge from years of dance training, yoga classes, and my work with Kathy and Carola."
In 1986, Jillian moved to Los Angeles, where she continued teaching the work of Pilates at the Ron Fletcher Studio. Two years later, she founded her own training practice, and since then she has tutored countless students in the finer nuances of Pilates exercise. She has also taught workshops and classes at Balanced Body: Pilates on Tour and Balanced Body: Passing the Torch. Throughout this time she has developed and constantly honed her own unique approach to teaching Pilates, which she calls the B.E.A.M. Technique™.
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