Pilates and Dance: What is influencing what?

Chris Hunt Pilates Pilates and Dance blog

Pilates and Dance: Have we gone too far?

I do not go looking for controversy, but I am not afraid to speak my mind either, and after all that is what a blog should be for. I certainly do not write articles to create animosity or bad feeling, so please understand that before you read this article or comment upon it. I write from my own opinion, so obviously you might think me right or wrong depending on your own opinion, but we all have the right to our opinion. I respect yours, so please respect mine.

With that said I want to talk about Pilates and dance. We all know that Joseph Pilates was not a dancer, and that in his early days he did not work to any great extent with dancers. It was opening his studio next door to the New York City Ballet that really began the love affair between Pilates and dance, and that affair is still going strong today.

We also all know exactly why Pilates is so suited to dancers so it is not my intention to discuss that here today. What I want to talk about is not so much how much Pilates has influenced dance and dancers, but how much dance and dancers are influencing Pilates.

I know many wonderful Pilates teachers who are former dancers, some of who were integral in my first Pilates experiences and my decision to become a Pilates professional. What concerns me are presenters who are turning Pilates into dance choreography. This means that I come across Pilates teachers who have only ever trained with certain presenters so their idea of Pilates is clearly and fundamentally influenced by dance.

So how should the Pilates method be taught to new teachers?

Everybody has their own individual take on our beloved system, me included (see Pilates EVO: From the Heart). I respect everyone’s ideas, and many of those individual “takes” are wonderful and enhance the experience.  But for me the basic principles are sacrosanct and so is a more classical grounding. I only teach Pilates EVO to teachers who are already fully qualified. I see it as an add-on to people’s fundamental knowledge, not the starting point.

I do not think it is good that people do not experience fundamental training and then different types of Pilates, so they can understand that different presenters do sometimes have very different interpretations of the method. I see conventions year after year that feature the same list of presenters, and whilst I am not questioning the value of anyone’s integrity, ability, knowledge or professionalism, in my opinion that can continue to perpetuate the insular beliefs and experiences in some teacher’s minds about what Pilates is.

So what is your opinion about Pilates and dance? Do you agree that there is some truth in what I say, or is your opinion different? I would love to know, so please share.

Chris is an international Pilates and functional training presenter and educator based in London and Barcelona, Spain. He is the creator of Pilates EVO©, bodyFUNC©, and CEO of Pilates Rehab Limited and Sport Core Strength.  He also organises Pilates Carnival and Fitness Carnival, conventions where all profits go to local children’s charities. He organises fitness holidays and sports holidays in Barcelona, as well as retreats. For more information about training with Chris in Barcelona, please click on Barcelona Bienestar. To learn more about Chris, please read Just who is Chris Hunt anyway? You can also subscribe by completing the form on the this BLOG to receive articles and special offers straight to your inbox.

Chris pays all profits made from this BLOG to his charity partners. More details can be found by clicking on www.chrishuntwellness.com and selecting the “charity partners” tab.


12 thoughts on “Pilates and Dance: What is influencing what?”

  1. I was just thinking about this issue the other day. Specifically, how much I love the “order” of classical Pilates. It makes sense to me as Pilates is a layering experience and your client has the ability to improve by strength, coordination, and balance. I like the “dancey” choreography of Pilates. What I don’t like, however, is to see a dancer teach Pilates for beauty in form which I see a lot. Dancers can be your worst client because they have a mind set of how an exercise should look as opposed to the benefit of the correct way of doing the exercise.

  2. Very interesting. I was teaching this evening at Columbia University in NYC and explaining to my students at the fitness center, that Joseph Pilates was not a dancer. The students were surprised…I personally was introduced to the Pilates program by Carola Trier, a Pilates elder, when I was an injured dancer in the 1970’s. I do not try to turn my students into dancers, but I certainly do try to ingrain in them the Pilates principles of strong core and long lean muscles. If teachers teach Pilates from a “dance perspective” I am afraid we would lose a lot of students.

    1. Thanks for that Peggy, and I think your post shows that the influence of dance does mean many people think of dance and pilates as very similar which is not always a good thing. As i said I know many wonderful Pilates teachers who are former dancers but they do not try to turn Pilates into a dance. but i know other teachers who do… Thanks again, and I hope we keep in touch. Best wishes.

  3. As a former RAD ballet teacher,(old school style classical) A Sarling Technique Educational Exercise Teacher and a MCSP HCPC reg physiotherapist, I find that the Three modalities :
    a)Pilates: b)Physiotherapy : and c) Ballet/Dance- are indeed starting to ‘overlap’! It does concern me that so many Pilates teachers are advising people regarding injuries/pathologies. Also that PHYSIOTHERAPISTS are relying on Pilates for exercise knowledge!

  4. As a former dancer and dance teacher, I found this article interesting, but confusing. I think there is a mistaken premise that dance training somehow biases how a person approaches Pilates. This is a generalization and not always true. The thing that dance taught me is discipline, attention to form and technique, patience, and, most of all, quality of movement. I find all of these to be equally important in teaching and learning Pilates. Pilates, like dance, is a discipline, and Joseph Pilates speaks in his book about how his exercises have to be practiced regularly to be effective. The art of practice is very much how he believed we should better ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. This dedication to not only performing the exercises over and over, like in ballet class, but to “how” you perform them is the essence of what I call “qualitative movement”. Paying attention to good form and technique, ideal alignment and efficient movement with a minimum of unnecessary tension, are equally important in good dance and in Pilates. There are of course those with perfunctory dance background who may only teach the choreography of Pilates, but that may be done by anyone who doesn’t receive a proper education in Pilates. The fault is not in their dance background, but in their Pilates education not being thorough enough with regards to the purpose of Pilates and the teaching methodology.
    Best Regards,
    Jonathan Urla

    1. Thank you Jonathan for such a thoughtful comment. I was not suggesting that all former dancers who now teach Pilates have a bias, but I was suggesting that some do, and some of those are very experienced educators with many years of Pilates training. I have no doubt that being a former dancer gives a Pilates teacher another level of understanding how Pilates works and should be taught, and that the vast majority respect the Pilates method and teach it very well. Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment unpon my article. I hope we can keep in touch. Best wishes. Chris

  5. Great article, Chris! I was just discussing this with a few of my peers the other day after taking a Pilates workout that was geared towards dancers. I came out feeling very dirty and like I had defiled my Pilates equipment and session. It was definitely cued (“releve”, “plie”, “ronde jambe”, etc.) and taught as a ballet barre class on a Reformer. I felt that Mr. Pilates would have rolled over in his grave, as this was not what he designed and created his equipment for. While I believe Pilates is great for everybody, dancers included, I do not deem it necessary to change the work to appeal to a particular type of mover. Just as dancers learn the methodology and terminology of different types of dance (ballet, jazz, modern, tap), they should also learn the Pilates method’s methodology and terminology as Mr. Pilates intended. Thank you for opening up this topic.

    1. Hi Laurel, thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂 I am glad you like this debate, we need to keep Pilates “real” in the face of many “here today gone tomorrow” systems and variations. Whenever I teach, either classical or my system Pilates EVO, I NEVER compromise on the principles and Joseph’s intentions. I am glad you agree 🙂 Have a great Sunday evening and let’s keep in touch!

  6. Chris- Love the article. I believe in direct speak too! Way too many Pilates people hung up on “Classical” and have too many direct ties to ballet and professional dancers. How many times do you have to hear the old dancer- studio owner referencing their direct heritage to an “elder” of Joe Pilates? He was a man’s man, smoked cigars and ran around NYC in a speedo, and challenged his clients lick the trainer Mick in the Rocky Movie, sometimes with very aggressive movements, that are yes, not safe for a compromised body. That said, some of his movements have been improved with modern understanding of physiology and science he didn’t have available then. The best of his original methods should be preserved and packaged into a safe, bodyweight driven, functional movement exercise brand for all, yes especially the overweight. Never see one of them in the Pilates studio….

    1. Stephen, I am so sorry to have missed your comments! Apologies my friend. It’s great to see that we think the same way. Where in the world are you based? It would be great to meet up sometime and chat more. Have a great day!

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