Classical and Contemporary Pilates

I’m sure you’ve heard, been confused by it or felt some kind of rivalry. So what does it mean when a studio says they offer “Classical Pilates”? What really is the industry standard? Let’s push pause for a moment. If you watch footage from some of the very first ballet dancers or olympians to be filmed you witness the top athletes and artists of their time. At the same time when you compare that footage to dancers and athletes of the 21st century what you see is an extraordinary evolution. Joseph Pilates saw a need to rehabilitate people before Physical Therapy had been developed. He was a brilliant mind and created apparatuses and a series of exercises to be performed in a specific order. When you really look at the order of these, some of them make sense when dealing with for example: cramping hamstrings and feet. He understood that building inner strength was a crucial element to emotional and physical rehabilitation. So when we talk about “Classical” we are talking about his choreography, each exercise in the order he wanted it executed in. I think it goes without saying that anyone who has engaged in repetitive movement finds in it a sense of refinement and ritual. Each exercise is a place for you to either check out or check in, exploring how you fit inside the movement.

As with those dancers and athletes, progress of training has changed and we have built on our past. This is where “Contemporary” Pilates comes into play. A studio that offers “Contemporary Pilates” are looking at ways to modify and expand on the existing choreography. Because let’s face it, if you’re dealing with certain injuries you may not be able to perform some of the classical work. Contemporary instructors know the classical work on all the apparatus- Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel (as required during certification and is industry standard) and they are asked to not know more, but think differently about the body. When you start thinking differently this takes you on a quest of a deeper understanding of the body. The intrinsic stabilizers of the spine fire most easily on hands and knees, not on your back on a reformer. As a contemporary instructor working with someone healing from low back disc herniations, starting out classically may not be the most efficient way forward. This is not to discredit Classical work. Having boundaries and a framework can help you figure out where you are in space. Other times more expansion is called for. So which is the best approach for you? A good instructor will be able to teach you both and modify where it’s needed.

Whatever your way into Pilates, Classical or Contemporary-it’s valid. There is no wrong path through this work. Keeping yourself open and receptive is key to unlocking the freedom within and I think that’s what we’re all seeking.  

Annette HerwanderComment