At the end of the summer I had the pleasure of meeting with a lovely Pilates Foundation teacher, Liz Chandler. I went out to meet her at her studio, Pure Moves in Frome, Somerset.
How did you start your Pilates journey?
The first time I heard of Pilates I was 19 years old. I was dancing and was encouraged to take up Pilates to enhance my practice, but it was very expensive those days and I never did. While finishing my dancing degree at UCLA I had a teacher who would do Pilates exercises in her class, we would do spine rolls, hip rolls and all kinds of other stuff that I didn’t know was Pilates until much later on when I started practicing myself, so all this time I was doing Pilates without realizing it!
At 27 years old I was having a serious back problems, I was already living in UK and here through Swindon Dance Agency I did a workshop on Pilates for dancers. Subsequently, I sought out a Pilates teacher to do classes with and I found Suzanne Scott in Somerset. With her wonderful teaching she help to rehabilitate me and more, I was able to move my body in a new ways. Had I listened to my first dance teacher and started Pilates earlier on I would have been a much stronger dancer. Impressed by the benefits of Pilates, I decided to do the teacher training. At this point, I was teaching dance at a City College and Bath University, I’ve always been adjusting and looking at bodies, so it felt like a natural progression for me to become a Pilates teacher myself.
You have been teaching for many years now, are you thinking of becoming a teacher training provider?
No. I have been asked that in the past but this is not what I am interested in, right now. I love doing professional development workshops because I love researching new topics for my own stimulation and benefit and I enjoy sharing that with others. I am told I am really good at articulating how an exercise should feel and teach it in such a way that people get the maximum benefit from it. Those could be good reasons for becoming a teacher trainer. On the other hand I have a young son and I love to travel, I don’t want to be constricted by a long term commitment. Also, together with a friend of mine, who is a yoga teacher, I am involvedin organising and running of overseas Pilates retreats. We share a passion for movement and we both love to travel. So far we have successfully completed two Pilates/Yoga retreats and it was an amazing experience. In the beginning, the Pilates teachers want to stick to Pilates and Yogi to yoga but as time passes watching those two groups integrate and enjoy both practices, is very rewarding. I would frequently hear a very positive feedback from the yoga teachers, how Pilates helped and improved their practice.
How often do you run the retreats?
At the moment twice a year. This year we have each added a third one, separately. Mine is coming up 20-27 October in Spain. It’s a Pilates, slash walking, slash stretching with blend of yoga and tai-chi event. I am really looking forward to it.
How is the retreat structured?
The classes go on throughout the week, plus they are optional ‘talks’ on bringing Pilates into your every day life, small themed workshops. The retreats are designed to suit teachers and public so everyone can find something that interest them. I bring in my vertical and functional workshops too. However, if you don’t feel like doing anything you can hang out by the pool and soak up the sun.
Coming back to your teaching, you are know for providing vertical workshops for the elderly, what made you go in that direction?
I am very passionate about working with older people. It stems from my experience from my 20s when I spent lots of time providing movement workshops to the elderly in LA, some chair bound. It was very special and uplifting experience. At the university, I studied the Alter method, which is a lot like Pilates and those were my initial classes for older people, later I integrated it with Pilates. I have successfully run community classes for almost 18 years and received millennium grants for about 8 years, to support my project.
How do you combine it all: running a business, a home, being a mum and a wife..?
I didn’t open Pure Moves Studio until my son was 8, it took me almost 5 years to find the right place. It all happened after the release of my DVD for over 50s. In retrospect it was the right time. It would have been difficult running a large studio while raising a young child, I was already doing my training and teaching dance while he was a baby which took a lot of sacrifice. Luckily, I had a lot of support, even tough I do not have my family here I have a lot of good friends and a very supportive husband.
From a business point of view do you find your life to be more organized now that you have the studio?
No, I was always organised even when running my classes but I love to have a space to come to that is dedicated to movement, it creates its own atmosphere.. Teaching in village halls and hired spaces can be difficult, cold and dirty. On the admin side running a business is tough, now I have couple of people helping me out, so its a bit easier but I still ending up doing some admin myself, its crazy! If feel very fortunate and having the studio is worth the work.
Last year you have given a workshop at the APPI conference, can you tell me more about it and how it came to be?
Last summer (2011) I received a phone call from the APPI; they were referred to me through the Pilates Foundation, which was very flattering. They decided that they wanted their conference to be completely and totally inclusive of all the organisations. They wanted to attract teachers to attend and the best way to do that was to invite lecturers and teachers from different organisations. It was a huge honor to represent the Foundation. I was very nervous. Luckily, I had been to the Royal College of Physicians many times for the Body Control Development week. I could picture the rooms. I thought of the room I wanted to be in and I got it! It was the smaller and more cosy room.
The title of my workshop was Progressing Function and Essentials in Pilates. The reason I chose that topic was because I’d already been doing my vertical workshop, I’d done my gait workshop and I was very interested in function however I wanted to something I hadn’t done before. ‘Essentials’ is a very big title, it can meant many things but it wasn’t the principle it was the essential movement and patterns that we see in Pilates that I wanted to address. The patterns that we keep seeing recurring, whether they be to do with thoracic flexion, coming up in the C-curve, so I wanted to talk about ways to improve that, the queuing and handling, how to get that thoracic cue right or how to make sure when people know how to stabilise in sidelying work, whether that be from your sidekick series. If you teach these things from the very beginning, the very essential stuff, in the oyster, not allowing people just to cave in on their side or whatever, you’re teaching the essentials from an early stage, people will progress quicker through strength. So it was looking at those essential movement patterns that recur in Pilates and how to teach to improve them in the early stage and then show in the workshop how they progress and how it makes them easier to progress to an advanced level and then once they get it and understand it, they’ll be able to achieve the advanced exercises more readily, quickly and technically.
The workshop was full and was received very well. I received a lovely email from Glen Rivers, inviting me to come back this year again. This year I will be talking about spinal flow, about getting the spine flowing more and getting more articulation in the spine in all movements not just flexion and extension, but also in side flexion and rotation. Looking at rotation and not just rotating around the middle Ts but getting rotation around the whole spine, and looking at spirals to achieve that as opposed to just looking at seated and standing rotation. It’s just really about evolving those upper thoraces and looking at how you can create spiral throughout the whole circle and also through the pelvis. Suzanne Scott uses a term called flossing.
Last question Liz, what is your favourite Pilates exercise?
Well I have two, if I’m allowed: Swan – that extension.. I just love to help people improve with that. Extension is so important, and to see someone finally achieve a Swan and achieve the sense of opening i
s very gratifying. My favourite one to do for fun is the open leg rocker, it’s fun and challenging and brings a smile to my face!
Liz, thank you so much for taking the time to see me. You have a beautiful studio, with a garden I may add – we are actually sitting in the garden, in the lovely sunshine! Looking forward to seeing you at the APPI conference and Pilates Foundation workshops.