Inviting You to the Party
By Jennifer Kries, PMA-CPT, Founder of True Mind Media
Let me make something perfectly clear: I am not a joiner. I have never been a Girl Scout. I never really played a team sport, with the exception of boy’s soccer when I was 10 years old. I’ve never been in a book club, or part of a sorority. I’ve not been tempted to join a specific niche “group” per se, unless it was to protect animal rights and preserve the environment.
For years, I felt that egos ruled the Pilates community, speaking in diametric opposition to what the work was meant to inspire: transformation and elevation of the human spirit. In the late 90’s, after creating the first ever Pilates videos under “The Method” series, largely responsible for catalyzing the explosive wave of Pilates and mind-body fitness to the tune of over 15 million units and counting, rather than being congratulated and commended, I was rejected by my own “home” community at Drago’s, where Romana’s training program was held. Add to this, that like so many peers at the time, I had been sufficiently tormented by the trademark lawsuit, and felt that the last thing I needed was yet another group or community that could disappoint, or add more strife and stress to my life, ironically surrounding the very thing that I felt so passionate about and which had changed my life and through me, the lives of so many others.
So Why Did I Join the PMA?
After feeling burned and deeply hurt by the “communities” I had grown up in, I was understandably reticent. For years I watched and studied the PMA from afar, curious, but simultaneously resolved in my disagreement with certain policies, and disapproving of what I considered to be a standardized test that in no way could appropriately assess a Pilates instructor’s true acumen and ability. After speaking with like-minded people over the past several years, and hearing positive commentaries about the conferences and personally watching the PMA evolve, most especially in the domain of inclusion, making people from every lineage feel welcome, I decided that the time was right. Not only did I want to introduce myself to this new community, I felt especially motivated to participate in revising and improving the testing system, but just as importantly, I wanted to be that Classically trained teacher with a rich heritage, and a uniquely broad world view who could bring the energy of love to a group of people that sorely needed it. I joined the PMA because I saw it as a road to harmony, a path I feel will lead to the kind of open hearted spirit that Pilates is meant to communicate to the world. I believe that our generation today has an obligation to rise above the past and together create a peaceful, productive, transformative present and bright future, and I see the PMA as one of the more formidable conduits through which we can all accomplish this mission.
The Gift of Exile
After spending years studying diligently with Romana, working tirelessly and reverently in her midst, and given the fact that I had invested myself in a project that would help to disseminate the system she had dedicated her life to and generously shared with me, I hoped she would be pleased to see me go out into the world and share that miraculous system with others. I thought I had said goodbye to the merciless climate of professional ballet, having survived its oft punishing negativity throughout my young career. I never thought I would experience again the shocking sting of rejection by the very people who helped to raise me and bring me to this place of shining technical and performing brilliance; once more, I found myself on the receiving end of the very confusing and begrudging treatment young dancers like myself often suffered under the tutelage of their very own ballet masters and mistresses when they landed a choice role, or rose to the occasion of perhaps exceeding the excellence that their own teachers had achieved. I never could have imagined that one day I would be the recipient of such treatment at the Pilates studio, ignored by the very teachers who had helped me to rehabilitate and rise to a new level of unimaginable personal strength and prowess, in order to get back on stage and do what I loved.
Drago’s was like my special home away from home. It was a refuge from the outside world, a passionate playground where I could escape from the pressures of my dance career and the rest of my life. It was a place where I felt included, where I was “invited to the party,” ushered in to enjoy the treasures of the body, mind and spirit that were made available to me. And of course, “the party” also meant the 1 p.m. champagne toast that happened daily, for every plausible excuse, from someone successfully executing a crazy exercise like the “Star,” to a birthday, or simply because Romana was in the mood. It was just one more reason why life sparkled a little brighter, enhancing what was already an almost unmatchable endorphin high from the work alone, taught by this titan, this ineffably effervescent presence.
After returning to New York City in 1997 from the publicity tour to promote “The Method,” I came “home” to be told in no uncertain terms that I no longer had a home and that I was no longer welcome. Where would I take this big love I had, for the work, for the woman, and the people who had lit the fire? Where would I go? How I would be able to continue to immerse myself in something that had become such a central part of my life, something I passionately loved and that had made me feel alive in ways that nothing else, except for dance ever had. It was this very rejection, while devastating at the time, that ultimately became my greatest gift, inspiring me to rally, to focus on my dance career and expand my own growing studio. I began to explore and study with other teachers in New York City and beyond, and became aware that the world of Pilates was much bigger than anything I had been exposed to, or imagined. My desire to explore other paths was forever ignited. While for me, Romana had no equal, and the Classical work was what I found myself returning to again and again, through my exploration I came to see that there were many talented instructors out in the world, and for the next several years I took it upon myself to travel far and wide and experience as many of them as I could. Thus began a love affair with something that has always been a part of my nature—embracing diversity, and what I have come to discover and appreciate about the PMA.
The best way I can describe my “reintroduction,” my return to the Pilates community, is a homecoming that began in July of 2012. Upon moving to the West Coast, I connected with Moses Urbano, one of Romana’s star students, one of her most dearly loved and trusted protégées. It had been a long time since I’d felt the comfort and safety of being welcomed, accepted and invited to freely enjoy and celebrate the work with a peer. With Moses, I fell in love again with the Classical work, and it felt as if I was experiencing it for the first time. I was humbled and set aflame once again.
Then, in January, 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow Romana graduates, Kathi Ross-Nash, and Monica Wilson, thanks to Kristi Cooper at Pilates Anytime, who invited me to yet another “party,” (more like a severe ass-kicking), that turned out to be a joy-filled, tearful and profoundly spiritual reunion. While filming, sheer magic happened, and the three of us were transported back in time to Drago’s where together we rose to new heights, and it was there, after having been the “prodigal daughter” for many years, I understood that my family of Romana trained teachers reached across time and was much bigger than I could have imagined.
Feeling Welcomed by The PMA Community
At the 13th Annual PMA Conference in Fort Lauderdale in November, everything came full circle for me. That early experience of painful exile from my home community had finally been healed. Everything from the warm welcome I received from friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in many years, to the poignant tribute the Classical teachers and I made to Romana, past hurts were subsumed by joy and remembrance. I was able to celebrate her, and my heart was filled with nothing but pure admiration and gratitude. This, coupled with my amazing experience working with Mark Pedri on his exceptional film and witnessing its premiere to the community, along with the very moving and meaningful interactions I had with each and every student who attended my workshops at the conference, was for me the final step in an epic homecoming.
It wasn’t until I moved out to the West Coast almost two years ago that I understood how few people had ever really been exposed to Classical work, and it was then that I realized I had a responsibility to share anew what Romana had passed onto me. I felt compelled to introduce myself to the current community, and the best way I saw to do that with its burgeoning reach, open-minded and welcoming philosophy, was through the PMA.
Because I am a Classically trained instructor who embraces an ethic of open-hearted generosity in her teaching, I feel that I can offer a unique window for others from all schools and philosophies to fly through in order to expand their educational and historical horizons. Simultaneously, I hope to serve as someone who encourages other Classical teachers to join this new “party,” so that they too may feel the joy of being included, welcomed to share the innumerable gifts they received. I want them to rise to a new occasion, do their part in bridging the gap between Classical and contemporary, and dispel preconceived negative notions about the community, as well as unfounded fears or misconceptions around the work and the ethos.
A quote by Jeff Brown I came upon recently really sums it up for me: “We are powerful beyond measure, and so deeply vulnerable at the same time. This may seem like a dichotomy, but it isn’t. We have misunderstood real power. It has been something assertive, non-surrendering, pushing on through. This is not real power. This is simply willfulness. Real power is something else - receptivity, openness, the courage to keep your heart open on the darkest of days, the strength to feel it all even when the odds are stacked against you. Real power is showing up with your heart on your sleeve and absolutely refusing to waste one moment of your life hidden behind edginess and armor.”
The Responsibility We Share
“Real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased.”
I recently told a friend and colleague that we, as today’s generation, are charged with a sacred responsibility to transcend the dysfunction of prior generations, to do what our predecessors could not, and that is, to put their self-motivated interests and ego-driven actions aside for the greater good. We must strive to create authentic unity in the community, so that all traditions are honored, recognized, respected and appreciated. Given the gifts we have received, we have an obligation to act with integrity, to honor them and to use them not only to heal the unfortunate legacy of pain, jealousy, and rejection that has long been rife in the Pilates community, but as a method of truly uniting mind, body and spirit for the betterment of human kind. I believe this high act, with right speech and good intentions can be today’s generational legacy. The PMA now has a growing presence. It’s up to us to make sure that we continue to bring this higher intention and action to everything we do.
Why did Pilates create his Method? I believe that he wanted us to want more for ourselves and for one another. He wanted us to make the most of the beautiful, miraculous bodies and minds we were blessed with, so as to elevate our spirits, to feel JOY. And where does joy come from? Think about it. It comes from a feeling of freedom and trust. It means trusting your inner truth and acting on it, believing that you can spread your wings to be all that you can be, unfettered and acknowledged, first and foremost by yourself, and then by fellow souls who see your inner expression of truth and who want to love you for it. It is the love and generosity that arises from this shared experience, that gives birth to more. This is the cycle of conscious abundance and evolved manifestation, and this is what is needed in our community today, and beyond.
I do not believe that this generosity of kindness, empathy and love as I describe it, was inherent in Joseph Pilates’ interpersonal teaching style, nor necessarily in his own spirit. I believe he was a visionary, a genius and an egotist who left his prodigious gift to the world and silently whispered, "I took it as far as I could, given my talent and tools (along with my own pain, dysfunction and limitations as a human with my particular “story,”) and now it's up to you to take it higher.” This is why I believe that we, as a community are drawn so magnetically to the spiritual component of this work, even if at times, we have trouble living its higher purpose. We are, after all, human, and so must forgive ourselves for our foibles, and then, heeding the call to a higher ground, unite, and answer that moral obligation to do more. We must pick up where Mr. Pilates left off.
Much progress has been made in the realm of healing and coming together as a community, and I was overjoyed to witness it all firsthand at last year’s PMA annual meeting. That notwithstanding, more healing needs to happen, and we all need to manifest a higher, more refined level of consciousness and be better people. Period.
Think about it for a moment: What does every human being want? She wants to be seen, heard, acknowledged, respected and included. She wants to be “invited to the party!” Every person in this movement, if he or she has been dedicated and invested in the work and in helping people rise to new heights of personal development, needs appropriate acknowledgement and respect. Everyone, including pioneers and trailblazers who made this movement what it is today, all need accurate inclusion as important historical catalysts, so as to enlighten the uneducated masses, helping to literally preserve the integrity of Joseph Pilates legacy, something we all share in common and care a great deal about. This extraordinary mind-body system is a life-changing art that has been passed down from master to apprentice for a reason. In its purest form it transforms everyone who is connected to it, and everyone who comes in contact with it. It is my hope that this heartfelt missive will inspire greater integrity and compassion, greater integration, love and respect for one another, especially now that most of the elders, the “mothers and fathers” of this movement are gone.
What Will Our Legacy Be?
We have a responsibility to come together and without judgment, to enjoy ourselves, playing and growing with the work, so that we may all experience a kind of freedom and bliss that has not always been the case for many of us. We need to raise the bar of collective consciousness, so that we may preserve our history for future generations. If we do that, if we succeed, we will grow and evolve well beyond our own community and boldly shine our hearts open into the world we serve, creating lasting change that will ripple out in concentric circles transforming the lives of everyone we touch.