To become a Pilates instructor is no small task. To become a teacher of Pilates instructors is an even greater challenge. Sisters, Amy Alpers and Rachel Segel, are experts on the subject. Since founding The Pilates Center of Boulder in 1990, they have directed the growth of both a successful Pilates studio and one of the most rigorous and highly respected Pilates teacher training programs.
On the eve of their twenty year anniversary of starting The Pilates Center, I sat down with Amy and Rachel to talk about what it has been like to grow a Pilates school over twenty years. I asked them to reflect on their process in developing their business, as well as what they could share about their trainees experience as they go through the instructor training program (see pg. 2).
What does the twenty year anniversary mean to you, personally?Amy: Endurance. Perseverance. Commitment. And the ability to stay on your path and not get buffeted about by the industry or the market.
Rachel and I felt strongly from the start that this wasn't a short term thing. It's not really our mission to run a business, but we are definitely committed to healing the world through Pilates, so business needs to occur. Being able to keep the business alive for twenty years - that's amazing, a celebration. I think the reason it has endured is that we have a very strong passion and commitment to our mission. The business rides that.
Rachel: One of the things that amazes me is that people who have been powerful in their careers, experts, come to some decision that they want to change their lives and they put themselves in our hands. They have to become a brand new beginner. It's awe inspiring to have people willing to do that; and to watch how their life changes such that they come out the other end having changed their body, their emotions, their life's vision... Amy and I are always very proud that we've been entrusted with such important personal aspects of human beings. That has kept us going even in times that have been tough.
Amy: We are constantly pushed to a new level by the hunger and caliber of our trainees. We have to figure out how to take them to where they need to get without losing the person - so they don't become an automaton.
What were some of the highlights as the Pilates instructor program developed?
Amy: We started the program with Steve Giordanno. He had also been a student of our teacher, Romana Kryzanowska. Steve taught the program for the first couple of years and then Romana came and helped us. During the time of the trademark litigation, Romana could no longer come so we had to step up. It was still relatively small then.
Rachel: The size of the program has shifted over the years. The first years we started we had about 12 people a year. Then it built to 24 people a year. It crested at 65 or 70 (that was a bit much) and settled to about 30 or 35 a year.
Amy: Every year we've had more paperwork and more structure - many times suggested by our trainees - which we resisted because we were trained apprentice style. When we started it was like you sit, you listen, you do, and you write. But it's literally been the producing of more written material to maintain consistency. When we became a state licensed vocational school, that required a tremendous amount of red tape and a lot of material. Another huge phase was when we licensed the program out. We had to make sure the program was codified and all in writing so that it would be consistent around the world. It's just within the last year that we've produced manuals -- 18 years later.
Rachel: We have sort of a fear of writing stuff down, because it becomes deadened. Unless something is written exactly right, you can lose what is important to the exercise. The exercise is not about writing words down, and what Joseph Pilates wanted out of the body is not about the written word encasing or restricting it forever. So we were loath to write. And the more you write, the more they want written down. Then, if you haven't written something down it becomes important that you haven't written it.
In the workbooks we give what is key - just the facts and the things we knew from experience people would need to know. There are schools that write down what you are supposed to say and make the students memorize that. But that is inconceivable to me - all of the art of teaching Pilates gets lost.
Marguerite's note: Speaking of writing things down, Amy and Rachel are also the authors of The Everything Pilates Book
Next: Amy and Rachel share insights into the process of the Pilates instructor trainee.