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Language of Pilates

How ballet has shaped Pilates
The Language of Pilates

The Pilates practise is quite sparse with words. What is being said is directive and action-led. Some would even say commanding. We don't please around when we teach and we don't waste any time.


Pilates is a work out not a gentle stretch. It is also meant to be a continuous flow of exercises. So to do that well, you will need to be clear, precise and short in your instructions. There is no time for a longwinding chat or ongoing set-ups. Clients do not want to wait around and being held up in a difficult position while the teacher is finding the right words.

A good quality pilates training will teach you how to be to-the-point in your instructions. There are specific set-up cues that you will use to make clients move. You will also train to use your voice by going up and down in your timbre to accentuate a movement, hold one or add more flow. Screaming should never be part of a pilates teacher practise.


Joseph Pilates was German and came to New York in 1926. His education wasn't focussed on learning the English language so he must have struggled when he came to the UK in 1912. With 'Germaphobia' rising just before World War I, he was interned at the Isle of Man for 5 years. We can safely assume that by the time he left for America, aged 36, his ability to speak fluent English had definitely improved but was still heavily Germanised.

We can see that in the names he gave to some of the apparatus he invented, for example Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector and Toe Corrector. These names are an unusual combination of English and German words which to English people don't make a lot of sense. Joseph was known as a man who could be harsh and to the point - very matter-of-fact - in telling his clients what to do and how to do an exercise. He would say at the end of a session, "One hour! Hit ze shower!".

Please, thank you

I still remember my first pilates class in a studio in London. The teacher, in hindsight excellently trained, didn't waste any time in directing us to our work station ie. the reformer. She told us to stand next to it, cross our arms and lower ourselves onto the apparatus as elegantly as possible. Well, that didn't go too well at first but this 'start' did feel safe since it was so clear that there was no doubt what to do.

Fast forward this approach stuck with me. I am lucky to have discovered classical pilates since that is closest to the original method in terms of 'language'. Other pilates methods do allow more floral wordings which to me is a waste of precious time. So when you come to my studio or a class that I teach, expect to be told what to do without 'please, thank you'. We can do that after the class ;)


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Marco Dingemans is a certified Classical Pilates instructor and Studio Director of ArrowPilates


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