Pilates (life) style – interview with Suzanne Gerber

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Interview with Pilates ‘guru’
Suzanne Gerber

For nearly five years, Suzanne Gerber sat at the front of our industry’s favorite mag, Pilates Style. In her role as editor in chief, she has met and trained with pretty much everyone, and has experienced, sampled and vetted almost every new thing to come down the Pilates and fitness pike. As a freelance writer, she’s covered travel, alternative health, food, nutrition, celebrities, home, art, fashion (and more) for publications including Natural Health, Body + Soul, Fit, Travelgirl, Fit Yoga, Islands and Sport Diving. We first met on a retreat I was leading in Ubud, Bali, a year and a half ago. I was lucky enough to catch up with her somewhere between New York, Oregon, Florida and a diving trip to the Philippines.

For many years you were the editor-in-chief of PilatesStyle Magazine. When and how did you first become interested in Pilates?
Back in the early 1990s, when I was something of a gym rat, I took a lot of class with our fitness director, Lou Cornacchia, who was always ahead of the curve. One day she told us she was going to teach us something new that she was studying, called Pilates—but she quickly added that we couldn’t technically refer to it as Pilates because there was this lawsuit, and that we should say we were learning the Pilates method. But of course, it was classical mat Pilates—very pure and deep! And for me, it was love at first Ab Series.

I continued to take mat classes at my gym, loving them, but it wasn’t until the opportunity to edit the magazine came along in 2006 that I began working privately with instructors on apparatus. And how lucky am I to say that my very first private instructor was none other than Brooke Siler!

But you never thought of becoming a Pilates instructor yourself?

Mareile, I’ve thought about becoming everything from a scuba instructor to a geologist to a Pilates instructor. When I fall in love with something, I want to do it to the max. But in reality, I’d rather get to practice it, learn about it from some of the best teachers in the world, and share it with anyone who’ll listen.

You must have tried it all – from classical Pilates to the latest props and trends. Do you have a current or all time favorite?
I love it all—and I’ve learned from (almost) every single teacher I’ve had. I definitely enjoy adding on some of the newer things I learn (like Jumpboard on the Reformer, which wasn’t part of Joe’s original repertoire, or some of the highly creative ways that, say, PhysicalMind instructors modify the classical lineup to work with the uniqueness of the body that’s there. But in my heart of hearts, I am devoted to Classical Pilates—and I’m very lucky to get to work with some of the top instructors at True Pilates, New York, home to Romana’s Pilates (and run by Tom Gesimondo).

What’s your view on combining Pilates with Yoga and/or other forms of movement?

I’d compare that to blending classical French haute cuisine with, say, Vietnamese food. That’s Fusion—and it can be delicious and a fun change of pace. But you can’t call it classical French cuisine! At home, on my mat, I mix things up all the time: Pilates, yoga, Gyrotonic (which I am also mad for), isometrics, cardio, weights, old-school stretch moves and whatever my body wants to do. But I would never tell anyone I’m “doing Pilates.” It’s really important that we keep the distinction straight. As time marches on and more and more instructors start adding their own flourishes and modifications to Joe’s brilliant Contrology, we run a very real risk of not only watering down the Method, but of losing it for future generations. We must have “gate-keepers,” to preserve his system and keep it pure. That said, we do know that in spite of Joe’s genius, we as a society are always learning more about anatomy, physiology and movement as a science. Furthermore, back in Joe’s day, people didn’t spend ten hours a day hunched over their electronic devices. Postures and habitual patterns have changed us for the worse. Therefore, I believe, there are small adjustments or corrections that a really smart and experienced classically trained instructor can make to even better serve his or her client/students.

You have practiced with many renowned teachers, including Brooke Siler, Bob Liekens, Alycia Ungaro, Katherine Corp, Kathy Grant, Connie Borho, Siri Galliano, Rebecca Leone). As a client, what do you feel is the most important quality an instructor should have?

It’s hard to reduce great teaching skills to “one most important quality.” And it’s also hard to quantify. For starters, an instructor should truly be a master of his trade. (I’ll just say “he,” rather the cumbersome “he or she.”) That is, he should know how to perform (and modify if necessary) every exercise in the classical repertoire. Beyond that, he should be extremely knowledgeable about anatomy, movement and breathwork, and be an excellent “body reader.” This way, not only will the student be safe, but she will derive maximum benefit from the work. Last, I think a great instructor can effectively communicate (verbally and tactilely) the work and motivate! After all, Pilates isn’t something we do for a year or two then abandon for say, Tae Bo or Kettle Bells or whatever new trend comes down the pike.

Do male instructors teach differently than females? Can you give an example?

Some do, sure, but everyone teaches differently from everyone else, whether male or female! I’ve had women instructors push me hard and guys be soft, and vice-versa. I don’t think you can make this generalization.

Let’s talk about retreats. What’s the best part about attending a Pilates or Yoga retreat?

Ha! There’s not one best part. It’s the whole, can I say gestalt? It’s exciting to be in a beautiful nature setting (which they to be), and inspiring to work with new teachers and alongside practitioners from other countries. Working in a new place almost by definition opens you up to new ideas and makes it easier to try different things. And the intensity of a retreat—three to six hours of practice a day—really gives you “traction” in your practice. I also love that they almost always offer “add-ons,” like yoga, or Gyro, or Rolfing or meditation, and fantastic bodywork. Personally, I’d go on at least one a year if possible!

Did you ever have a bad retreat experience and if yes, what was the reason?
My retreat experiences have ranged from extraordinary all the way down to merely excellent-with-an-asterisk. It’s important to know who the leader(s) is(are). Experience and skill aren’t enough. A leader must be the spiritual core of a retreat, and if that person has his own issues, they can come up in an intense setting like a retreat.

Overall, what’s more important for you – the location (including accommodation), the size and composition of the group or the quality of instruction?
In real estate, there’s a cliché is that the three most important things are “location, location, location,” but I disagree. Of course, location is super-important, because it literally sets the scene for the retreat. And not just, say, “Bali.” You need to be at a destination that can support all the needs of the group, from food to a good practice space to cleanliness, safety and, for instance, not having a bug problem (a factor in the tropics to be sure). Having a skilled, mature leader is probably almost as important. I’ve yet to be on a retreat where the people were anything other than fantastic. For reasons I don’t quite understand, Pilates and yoga retreats seem to attract a uniquely “cool” type of person. In fact, I’m still in touch with a quite few people I’ve met on a number of them.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I think retreats are the perfect blend of vacation, deepening one’s practice, having an adventure of a lifestime, and self-care bordering on self-pampering. (Smile.) I did a nine-day retreat with Mareile in Bali, and got to know her as an instructor, artist, and friend. Her amazing skills in Pilates, communication (she’s fluent in at least three languages), organization and dealing with people, coupled with her warmth, sincere compassion toward her students and killer sense of humor are truly extraordinary. It was an absolute joy to “sweat our prayers” together in Ubud, and I encourage you to take one of her retreats if you possibly can. For the record, she did not ask me to say a single word of this and is probably blushing as she reads this!

Thanks, Suzanne, for this interview. Blushed as I am, I will leave it at that ;-)… I do have a few retreats coming up in 2012, though, including a Pilates & Yoga retreat in Mexico with the amazing Mary Chan and a very special Pilates & Body Movement retreat in Thailand, which will be especially interesting to the instructors amongst you.

Comments

  1. crystal boecker on November 16, 2014 at 6:09 am said:

    Mareile, I am interested in retreats you will you will host for pilates instructors. Do you have any coming up in 2015? thank you, Crystal boecker

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