Journal

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An Inside Look at Springboard Pilates

It’s Friday morning at Springboard Pilates, and there’s a happy vibe in the air. The door beep-beeps over and over as clients crowd in for their weekly fix of Dave Reese, P.T.’s mat class. The small entryway is a polite chaos of bodies. Coats and hats come off; boots and shoes are shucked. Clients say their hellos and share quick embraces. Laughter and chatter rise and carry across the floor to the cushy mats, where folks stake out their space for the next 50 minutes. Foam rollers, TheraBands, short lengths of stiff bamboo, and tennis balls come out of the props closet and are employed to help stretch and warm muscles before class starts. The water cooler gurgles as bottles are topped up and glasses are filled. A client stands sideways and gracefully kicks forward and back, revealing the ballet training that still shows in her turned-out legs and pointed feet. There are decades of lives lived here – the collective age may add up to well over 300 years. Each unique body, whatever its perceived limitations, has been brought into the studio with an eager mind and spirit at the helm. These long-time regulars are about to willingly submit to Dave’s special blend of “fusion” exercises, which incorporate elements of yoga, Pilates, martial arts, and plain old boot camp. Dave, a spry and fit somewhere-past-middle-age, will soon be punctuating his gut-busting sets with silly jokes, warm encouragement, and sly asides.

It’s not just Dave’s unique class that brings clients to the studio; today and every day of the week, there are also private or semi-private lessons going on in our space. Some clients have a standing weekly appointment to work individually with one of Springboard’s well-trained and dedicated teachers. Other clients are happy learning in a group class setting most of the time, but may have decided they’d like to tackle outside of class an exercise that seems particularly difficult. Maybe they have never used the machines and don’t know that many exercises also have versions performed on the Chair, Reformer, and Cadillac. Maybe they have noticed something about their own movement patterns that just seems “off.” These are great reasons to book a one-time (or once a month?) “tune up” private! Yes, private instruction is less budget-friendly than a group class, but a private lesson can be a hugely rewarding and enriching experience for both teacher and client.

Consider the far-reaching effects that even one 50-minute lesson can have: that difficult exercise can be broken down into parts so that it seems less daunting, and the client now has the confidence to work on the movement skills required for the exercise (and may also start to see how those same movement skills show up in other exercises). A mat class-only client may get the opportunity to deepen her understanding of the feel and form of an exercise on the Reformer, and then bring that new understanding with her the next time she comes to mat class. Exploring together, a curious and attentive teacher and client can examine that “off” movement pattern. . .and maybe something softens, feels strengthened, or feels connected to for the first time through the use of creative cues, a prop, or the resistance of springs.

Pilates teachers are not doctors and cannot (and are expressly forbidden to) diagnose physical conditions, but we are very good at noticing where movement seems (among other things) stuck, not sequential, or not bilateral, and we go right to work with the tools in our toolbox – all afforded to us through the genius of the classical Pilates method. And when our clients experience the excitement of an “Aha!” moment in a lesson – when the sun breaks through the clouds and movement feels different or better, we teachers are just as excited.

Returning to the lively scene that is Friday mornings at Springboard, every week at the ten o’clock hour, most or all of our teachers gather for “Teacher Time” – a wide-ranging, round table discussion about some aspect of our work as movement teachers. You may see us settling in around a Reformer or two, mugs of tea warming our hands, as we turn our attention to the topic for that week. These rap sessions are led by Meredith Coffin, Springboard’s owner, and the topics cover anything from breaking down how we approach teaching a particular exercise from basic to advanced skill levels (Teaser, anyone?), to comparing the same exercise taught on three different pieces of equipment, to brushing up on anatomy, to revisiting Joe Pilates’ seminal work Return to Life Through Contrology. Getting on the equipment or the mat to explore an exercise we’ve just discussed is sometimes part of the hour. The reward for carving out this time for ourselves is that we often make new, in the moment connections about some aspect of the Pilates method. Our hope is that this leads to our clients always being on the receiving end of intelligent, well-informed, adaptable teaching. . .which sometimes sounds like a teacher having the confidence to say, “Hmm! Good question! I don’t know the answer right now. Let’s explore this!”

By early afternoon on Fridays at Springboard, the last few private lessons are winding down. The studio’s warm red walls and gleaming polished concrete floor have absorbed the energy, inspiration, and joy of approximately 75 hours of collective teaching over the last week. The cushy mats are in a neat row along the baseboard underneath the burlap-covered wall, and the Reformers recline in the sunshine streaming through the windows that look out on Pine Street. Our hope is that, over the weekend, the clients who have passed through Springboard’s doors will think back to their lessons as they go about their activities. Maybe they’ll think of us as they bend deeply at their hips to sit down on the floor and scoop a grandchild close – and then easily rise up from the floor once playtime is over. Or maybe they’ll think of us as they effortlessly lift a grocery bag to the counter and unload its contents into cupboards and the refrigerator, smoothly bending and twisting. Or maybe – just maybe – they’ll think of us as they cartwheel across the lawn with strong, straight arms, an engaged core, and softly-pointed feet. We have a feeling that Mr. Pilates would be proud.