Ron Fletcher is one of a special group of Pilates people known as the Pilates Elders. That means that Ron studied with Joseph Pilates himself, and then helped to spread Joseph Pilates method through teaching it and training other instructors. But that is really a minimalist way of describing the Pilates Elders. Each one is a vivid individual who has not only kept Joseph Pilates' work going but infused it with their own character, insights, and personal experience of his method. Ron Fletcher stands out as one of the Elders who, while staying true to an inner understanding of Joseph Pilates method, developed a particularly unique expression of the work.
Ron Fletcher said of Kyria Sabin, the current director of Fletcher Pilates, that "she is the ideal protege and the best person to carry my work forward." On a fall afternoon in 2011 -- a day when Ron, who is in his 90s, was actually resting up in the hospital -- I got together with the Kyria to talk about Fletcher Pilates. As we discussed how Ron developed his work and what makes Fletcher Pilates unique, Kyria made the comment that it seemed for a while people didn't know how to fit Ron in [to the Pilates scene], but that now his work is being understood and appreciated. I think as you read on, you will see a fit between Ron's approach to movement and the rejuvenated interest in the full body/mind/spirit aspect of Pilates we are seeing in Pilates today.
When Kyria starts talking about Fletcher Pilates, she doesn't talk about new exercises, or Percussive Breathing(TM), or the Fletcher Towelwork(R) -- all of which are interesting parts of Fletcher Pilates. She talks about joy -- Ron's commitment to joy in movement and even in the stillness before we move. It makes me think of videos of Ron teaching and moving where he is so clearly passionate about not just choreography, but also lines of energy and breath. So I am not surprised to hear Kyria say that finding the joy in movement is more important than gaining strength and flexibility.
A natural extension of finding joy in movement is to learn to fully embody movement, and as we talk about that connection in Fletcher Pilates, Kyria shares a Ron Fletcher phrase that I just love. She says the intention is to fully embody "the divine mechanism." Which leads Kyria to point out a fundamental distinction in Fletcher Pilates between functional movement and movement potential. Functional fitness is a buzz word these days, but I sense that from a Fletcher Pilates perspective, it misses a kind of creative potential (the divine part of "divine mechanism"?) in our bodies. Ron's approach, Kyria says, is to ask, what movement can I pull out of this person?, rather than looking at what they can't do or what needs to be modified. Yet there is structure -- plenty of choreography and precision. The question in Fletcher Pilates, she says, is: "what are people capable of within a system of structured movement." It's a more open perspective than what needs to be fixed?
Of course, that sense of joy in movement harkens back to Ron's background as a dancer and member of the Martha Graham dance company. It was actually dance injury that took Ron to Joseph Pilates' studio in 1949, a move that Martha disapproved of despite the similarities Ron saw in Joe's and Martha's approach to movement -- think of a Graham contraction and stomach massage on the reformer, Kyria says. Another dance influence on Ron's approach to movement was the Japanese choreographer Yeichi Nimura. In Nimura's work, Ron found the cat-like, animal movement that Joseph Pilates said his work was inspired by. But when it comes to the Pilates method, it was Clara Pilates that Ron was closest to.