Men have been prime movers in Pilates throughout its history. But since the Pilates boom women in Pilates have outnumbered men. I wonder how you see men in Pilates today? What advice might you offer men, and to instructors wanting to increase their male clientele?
I'm so pleased you asked that question. It's such an important issue. What you say is absolutely true: Men have been involved in Pilates since its inception. According to Kathy Grant, Joseph Pilates intended it to be for men, not for women. You can see in early footage that if there were 30 people in a class, 29 of them were men. In most of the archival material he is teaching men (other than when he is teaching Eve Gentry, and some of the other wonderful female movers).
Women have kept the system alive. There is no doubt about that. For some reason men stopped doing it and there started to be more women involved than men. It may have been because it started to be embraced by the dance world. I don't really know. The upside is that women kept Pilates alive. The downside is that the pendulum has swung from maybe being too far in one direction to too far in the other. I think the work lost some of its masculinity, some of its athleticism - which means the work was changed.
In the early days of my teaching in London, one of the most popular workshops I was asked to teach was how do we deal with the male client? Men started coming into studios and instructors realized they are like foreign beings. To treat them as women wasn't working, but they didn't know how to work them out as men. There is a female energy and a male energy and they both should be honored. I think the crux of this is that men and women are different and we need to recognize those differences. They are different in their psyches. They are different in their needs. They are different in the cuing we as teachers use. They are different in the imagery and the touch we use. Although we are using the same system, the programs and approaches are different, and I think that is important.
I say to all the men I work with that they will find a wealth of inspiration and fitness in Pilates that is going to help everything they do. For men, that's a very important thing which they can relate to. Men typically will not do exercise for exercise sake. They will do it for a sport or athletic activity, to make it better, but they are really goal oriented. Whereas a woman will do it just because she enjoys exercising and moving.
I often say in my workshops that women are more sophisticated thinkers. Extremely intricate movements come very naturally to women. You speak about spinal articulation or the importance of moving the spine in intricate segments - a man finds it difficult to understand this. So we need to find different ways of explaining and structuring a workout.
There's got to be a really good balance between the masculine and the feminine energy. I'm delighted that more and more men are getting involved, and I'm hoping there will now be a balance - though sometimes I fear its going too far in the other direction and becoming so exercise driven. I taught at IDEA World recently and it was fantastic, but there was a little fear within me that Pilates was going to be used as just another exercise routine rather than a system unto itself. Some of my colleagues see it as exercise and that's it. That is fine, but I do not.
Kathy Grant would talk about how women have changed Pilates so much and that we need to bring back the masculine feel that Pilates had, but I think it's got to be both. Women have injected a tremendous amount of finesse, grace, and sophistication into the work that I don't think comes easily to men. Men can bring to it the athleticism and intensity that is sometimes lacking in the work.
The first step is for instructors to recognize that the gender difference is a very big difference, and one that should be respected and embraced. The next step is learning how to deal with the differences.