Whether 17 years old or 62 years old; initially trained with a classical orientation or contemporary, the experience as an apprentice in the Pilates method is an exhilarating and challenging, yet life-changing experience.
My colleague and I spent a few hours getting to know five teacher-trainees a little better, asking what made them decide to become Pilates instructors. What drew them in? What were their goals when finished? Who inspired them? Whether West Coast or East Coast trainees, their stories are relatable to all of us. While their varying answers might seem predictable, “helping others love pilates and wanting to make a difference,” there is another theme that can be found in all their stories. The desire and ability to have the flexibility of creating their own business doing something that they love, ie., teaching Pilates.
Follow along. We dug deep to extract a few pithy, take-away points from the commitments each of them gave to the rigor of the training program and challenge of building a business with Pilates.
On the East Coast, Gina Jackson, teacher/studio owner, Pilates4Fitness, spoke briefly with three teachers-in-training about their personal observations. On the West Coast, Lesley Logan, teacher/teacher-trainer, Profitable Pilates, spoke with with two stay-at-home moms that made the transition to Pilates teachers. Not surprisingly, from the eldest to the youngest, a classical training program was the intended goal of each; ultimately operating a business as an independent and continuing to learn from the industry and their respective mentors and support teachers.
Initially certified by Polestar Pilates, with a Mat and Reformer group class certification only, Angela Paul-Gaito, 38 yr old mother two, says she felt she was
“Missing the comprehensiveness of the teaching system, and ultimately sought out a Balanced Body full apparatus certification. However, she knew in her heart of hearts, she wasn’t feeling as confident and felt she was missing a link.
Angela trained in dance with Master Teacher, Matt Mattox, and as a certified student with the Alvin Ailey school, she performed around the world in the french musical “Notre Dame de Paris”. I was part of the creation team of “A New Day”, Celine Dion’s show in Belgium and Las Vegas and worked as a free-lance dancer for various companies, theater and TV projects. She was introduced to Pilates thru dance with the Alvin Ailey company as a 19-year old, she says, however, the benefit of the work didn’t connect until 10 years later when she needed to “reform” her body after her first child was borne. “I became very aware of all the great benefits as a dancer, a teacher but most importantly as a woman. Time of maturity was the right time.”
Angela states, the biggest challenge to her as a Classical teacher-trainee was “forgetting or letting go” of all the previous contemporary training references. She owns/operates her own studio in Newburgh, NY since 2012, and counts as her mentor influencers Ann Toran, Fabrice Lamego and Jennifer Kries.
In fact, it was Jennifer Kries that convinced her of the importance of the classical system, and in 2015 she started a bridging program with Juliet Harvey, Beacon Pilates, to improve my practice and knowledge on the classical form of the Pilates method.
Consistently, students are greatly influenced to find or follow the path to teaching by their exposures and mentors. Whether drawn to the Pilates teaching path by either health or physical injury, or following the lead of friend, colleague or relative, the recognition of the depth of the method and specifically, the classical approach to teaching is a profound awakening.
“The Pilates apprentice experience is an incredible learning journey, no matter what programme is selected. Everyone starts off in a group at the same time. Then life happens. It’s windy trails intersect with the apprentice journey and don’t stope even when you become an instructor.” Lesley Logan, Profitable Pilates
Jen Hilton of Encino, CA, a “stay-at-home” mom, who was seeking a part-time Pilates teaching career. She chose the Equinox Pilates teacher training program after much research.
Key to her success in the experience, she says was having amazing support from her family, as she balanced being a wife and a mother of three, while traveling all over Los Angeles to complete her required apprenticeship hours. During her time as an apprentice she found the instructors she calls her mentors, Carrie Samper, Susannah Todd and Ashley Hoffman.
Her best day as an apprentice, she states “when I finally got it and felt like teaching was starting to glow.” Always a positive spirit she cannot think of one “worst day,” however, as all instructors can relate, there were a “few days of exhaustion and feeling completely overwhelmed.”
Jen’s selection of the Equinox Training program, coupled with her personal goals for completion, helped her prepare for the business side of teaching. Before she completed the program, she had a targeted dream studio in mind and an interview set up. She utilized her time observing in the training studio with the specific intention of noting great examples of what works and doesn’t work when developing a Pilates teaching business. Her 10-year goal, “I’m hoping to still be teaching part-time but as a fabulous experienced teacher.”
Another Equinox Pilates Teacher Trainee, Jenny Latham of West Hollywood, CA, is a 40-year old mother, interior designer and fit model. She chose the program based on her experience as a member of the studio/gym. She states that the teacher/client relationship drew her in and and mentor/teacher trainer relationship with Carrie Samper, helped pull her through the program.
When asked to describe a dream client, she said, “one who is open and willing to change their body.” Further, “in 10 years I’ll be 50, so I don’t want to think about that, but, I would love to be more confident in my body and my teaching, so I can work with women/men like myself who are adapting to their changing bodies.”
“When I finished my program I was elated and a little tired. Six hundred hours in nine months while working 50-hours a week across running back and forth across town. I left with a certificate and immediately signed up for the upcoming PMA conference. I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” states Logan, who teaches workshops on How to Sell Pilates. While the start or initial driver that brings one into becoming a Pilates instructor differed for everyone, the end takeaway is the same. There is so much more learning in the process. To be a Pilates instructor is to be a student of the method for life.
Daniel Alvarado, 19 years old, was the youngest apprentice in Alycea Ungaro’s New York Real Pilates Teacher Training program, and the only male in the group we interviewed. Danny, is the nephew of Real Pilates NYC, Senior Teacher Trainer, Juan Estrada and as a result, has a high bar to surpass with all the mentors he has in his corner; Alycea Ungaro, Bob Leikens, Carrie Campbell Clark, Stephanie West, Anna Clark, and Bethannie Redinger.
He describes his best day as one filled with teaching moments, where he mistakenly thought he had a “rest day” and suddenly found out he was scheduled to teach
“Four classes in a row and take a private session for myself afterwards. On this same day I taught my first duet and then a trio session following it. The closest thing to the worst day was having to deal with 3 fully- energized teenager girls.”
Daniel is already teaching at Real Pilates in both the Tribeca and SOHO studio locations as well as two gym studios in Manhattan and Long Island City and has the freedom and time to hone and refine his skills with an active teaching and personal practice schedule. However, building a client base, he recognizes will come over time.
“I am not ashamed to say, I recognise the ‘student-apprentice’ in myself at every session I have with a senior or master teacher” Gina Jackson, Pilates4fitness.
While experience is the best teacher, being a good teacher, or having access to the highest quality training programs, may not create the requisite experience, exposure or training for building a successful business as an instructor or a business owner. It’s really the next layer of the apprentice programming that we see is noticeably absent and true of the entrepreneurial experience as a business owner.
Jennifer Cayenne, was first introduced to Pilates following an injury of her spine. She states she fell in love with the system after three sessions at a Montclair, NJ studio.
As a 62-year old IT Project Manager, she researched and found the United States Pilates Association teacher training program and specifically began a trainee-mentee relationship with Brett Howard and Pamela Dejohn.
With a long-term goal of operating a boutique Pilates Studio in her native home of Trinidad & Tobago, Jennifer’s short term plans are to seek teaching positions at various local studios to explore different teaching techniques and styles and build client/business experience and relationships.
Mentoring relationships and small-business training and programming would greatly serve teacher-trainees. Small business planning, marketing, promotion and new business development are acknowledged as key elements crucial to running a successful studio or independent instructor business. However these are generally well beyond the scope of most highly regarded teacher-training programs.
When asked what you wish you knew about the Pilates business side of teaching, Jennifer stated,
“I wish I knew how to find my own niche in the Pilates business since I’ve never run a business before. My expectations upon completion are to teach one-on-one at multiple locations to expand my clientele, and to further progress to teaching group classes.”
Angela, who runs a successful studio already in Newburg, NY, observed that she had to learn the hard way,
“Being too nice, too timid with goal of “wooing” clients and building relationships may actually make it harder for yourself in the long run. I realized that I needed to keep focus on my own limits in the relationship and transaction. I need to stop trying to be a friend and work toward being their teacher.”
Like Jennifer, Jackson states she transitioned from a corporate life very foreign to the typical dancer-apprentice. “As a former general manager and corporate business leader, I made the transition from selling or managing “widgets” in corporate America to teaching and selling the goodness and benefits of life with Pilates.”
Further, Jackson states, “I was lucky, that my former experiences gave me a foundation and the confidence to step out to operate an independent, small business that in some ways to most new teachers, may feel as daunting as the apprentice test-out itself. “
Learning never ends. To be a Pilates instructor is to be a student of the method for life. Contemporary systems training leads one to classical refinements. Intermediate work leads to advanced transitions. Bowen did it different than Grimes; and we all seek to deliver the best quality instruction with each client/student relationship.
The business of teaching Pilates, however, requires another set of ABCs, tools, workshops and learning experiences. The importance and value of establishing business policies, building business relationships, acquiring clients, retaining them, communicating with them via a website, newsletter and social media and being the floor and mat cleaner – all at the same time – have equal weight with being the principal teacher, independent contractor or Pilates studio owner.
Stay tuned for Part II of the apprentice story – The business side of teaching Pilates.
Co-Authors & Collaborators Gina and Lesley found each other via social media and their common love of connection, Pilates and blogging.
Lesley Logan, a PMA Certified Master Pilates Instructor and has been
studying and teaching Joseph Pilates Classical Method since 2005 and 2008 respectively. She has also been featured in Pilates Style Magazine and recently was admitted into “The Work,” a masters program taught by one of Joseph Pilates elders, Jay Grimes. Maintaining that Pilates is a unique practice that is good for every body, Lesley tailors the method for each individual client. Connect with Lesley via http://www.profitablepilates.com.
Gina Jackson, Director/Owner, Pilates4Fitness Movement Space, West New York, NJ, has been teaching, coaching and training for more than fifteen years and loves the challenge of helping others find their center with Pilates. Certified by Power Pilates, New York, NY, connect with Gina via http://www.pilates4fitness.com.