My Pilates Career Pathway
Pilates has been a constant companion throughout my entire professional career. From a tool I used to support my dancing days, to my fulltime job, to opening my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship, to being my expertise for media gigs, to taking me across the globe – my Pilates practice and ability to teach has opened doors, enabled opportunities and been a service that has allowed me to share my gifts with so many incredible people.
I talk about Pilates (a lot) and I’m often asked for advice on how to get into the industry, how to find work, look for opportunities, or move internationally with the career. So, thought it was the right time to share the origin story for this aspect of my career – plus a whole load of throwback photos!!
I first started Pilates during my undergraduate dance degree, when I would take weekly clinical Pilates sessions under the supervision of a physiotherapist to assist with chronic injury and repetitive strain.
The surprising thing during these sessions, was that nothing about Pilates, even in those initial experiences felt foreign to me. Perhaps because as I had been dancing since age 3, the movement and exercise repertoire, which itself had been developed on the dancers of the New York City ballet, mirrored movement patterns and techniques that were familiar to me, being within the world of dance, mobility and movement.
Pilates for me at that time was an undertaking to support my main passion – performing. Continually getting injured and being told I had a non-existent level of core strength, matched with hypermobility of the knees, tightness at the ankles and a training schedule that clocked 40+ hours in the studio a week had led me to Pilates. And as the ever-diligent student I am, Pilates was the cross-training method that enabled me to “work harder” outside of the studio, to ensure I could keep up with the ever-growing demands of a pre-professional dance career.
Pilates For Dance
Pilates-inspired workouts form the basis of near-all dancer’s warm ups and strengthening protocols. Before class, you will find dancers activating, engaging and lengthening in a manner that replicates many matwork Pilates classes.
At this stage, Pilates was just another tool I used daily to maintain my physical vessel. But in doing so, I began to learn to breathe, I started to gain awareness of my pelvic floor, I understood that there was more to my abdominals than popping six pack muscles. My eyes were open to the benefits of Pilates, but I didn’t pursue it greatly beyond a form to assist my technique.
Over the following years, during my further dance training and performing around the UK and Europe, I incorporated Pilates into my daily routine and regime – simple exercises to assist my long days in the studio and on stage. But I also began exploring other cross training methods – Yoga, weight lifting for strength, cardio for endurance, it was even this time I was first exposed to a Mindfulness practice. Again, Pilates was present, ever there, but not my main focus.
Becoming A Barre Instructor
Hurtling a few years forward, after spending some time in London, I was ready to return home to Perth for an interlude, mostly to soak up some sun and family time (SADs hit me hard each year!) During what was meant to be a short holiday, I began visiting various local Pilates studios, knowing it would be the perfect movement method to keep me in “dancing shape” during a time I wasn’t taking class every day. Low impact, highly engaged, focused and specialised – the movements so closely mirror dance, that I didn’t need to worry too much about losing my strength in rotation, or extension or endurance so much – key technique standards it was important to maintain.
It was during this period, that after attending various sessions at one local studio, I was invited to come on-board to assist them in the launch and programming of what would become their signature Barre method. This was a time just before the influx of what we now know to be stand-alone barre boutiques e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, and the just before the barre movement fully exploded onto the market. The studio, though exceptionally equipped with Pilates knowledge, didn’t have many dancers in their midst, so they were looking for someone with a dance background to come on board, learn the qualifying program and then work in-house to develop their own style and launch the studio’s classes.
Quickly, I became obsessed. First I became qualified in the STOTT Pilates/Merrithew Total Barre training, before then being given free creative reign to work alongside another instructor (and my very first mentor) to devise the signature method for the studio.
I had been teaching dance for nearly all my teenage years, throughout both degree’s and t a dance studio in Perth at the time, consistently nurtured and encouraged as a natural born teacher. It is one of my gifts, truly, that I can see and observe others in movement and intuitively know the correction, cue or touch, that will help them execute to a higher level.
Moving into the barre space, enabled me to take those teaching gifts and my extensive dance knowledge, and distil down what can be a very intimidating art form, of ballet, into a fun, uplifting and sweat-inducing workout. My classes quickly became popular and most of all I had so much fun! I loved programming the sessions, creating playlists, assisting others, seeing the satisfaction of a killer sequence, watching my clients progress, seeing their results. And for the studio, well, they quickly had received my valuable method and programming!
“Do you want to become a Pilates instructor?”
As the barre program began to expand, the studio approached me with another question – surely, it seemed only natural to undertake my Pilates teacher training too so as to become fully qualified. I debated for a while – all I wanted to do was to return to London and get back into the dance studio. But here’s the reality – London is a hard city to live in, none more so than on the dancer’s dime, where money can come and go, auditions are tough and in the beginning, most dancers will be hustling in side gigs in hospitality, retail or promotion. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with those side gigs and the flexibility they bring, I had •been there• for so many years until this point. And in the space I was in, I didn’t want to go back to the bar or be worried about the struggle, when I had found a way to fuse my passions of performing and teaching into the vessel that was barre. So, I agreed and signed up for my total STOTT Pilates qualification.
Undertaking My STOTT Pilates Training
The comprehensive Matwork and Reformer Pilates Qualifications generally run over a 12-15 week period, followed by an apprenticeship, observation hours, practice teaching hours and in-depth academic and practical exams. You usually have the scope of 1 year following your initial training to sit the exam, which offers students the space and time to undertake their hours and feel comfortable with teaching, before taking the final examinations. My situation here, slightly differed. As the studio I was working for and elected to do my training with, did not have an in-house Instructor Trainer at the time, they engaged with international teacher trainers to come in for the intensive programs and additionally conduct any examinations from the previous training cohorts. As there was not a subsequent teacher trainer scheduled to come to town in the months following my initial training, we made the decision that I would be intensely mentored by both the visiting instructor training and the senior instructors of the studio during my training period, so that at the culmination of my training period, I would complete my exam within one week of concluding my studies.
Now this is an extenuating circumstance – for many reasons – and a circumstance that does not, and truthfully, should not suit all who are embarking on a Pilates teacher qualification
I was already working within the studio, so had access to the studio space to practice in, take my own mock sessions in with friends and family and unlimited sessions with the other instructors.
2. I was able to commit myself fully to the study and had an exceptional relationship with my guiding instructor mentors – I was working part-time at other jobs, so it was possible to devote many hours a day to study – both academic and practical.
3. For many, it can be quite daunting to step in front of a classroom of expectant students and it takes time to develop the skill of teaching and guiding a class. I was fortunate in that I had been teaching for an extended period of time prior to undertaking my training – it wasn’t frightening for me to lead a session, rather it was about honing my skills of knowing the repertoire and having deep insight into the Pilates method.
4. I had studied advanced anatomy and kinesiology alongside teaching methods extensively throughout both my undergraduate and Masters degrees, so I had a vast array of knowledge into both the human body, movement patterns and the psychology of teaching which enabled me to enter the training program with a strong degree of advanced standing. This certainly put me to an advantage in my training journey.
I dove fully into my training, being quite the perfectionist, I didn’t want to just pass my exams, I wanted to truly feel like I was fully prepared and able to excel in the training and in my subsequent teaching. Interestingly, whilst it was slightly stressful at times – I spent many hours reading the exercise programs aloud to the muted TV playing the STOTT dvd’s (a great exam hack for learning the exercises concisely and being able to explain each one!), begged all of my friends and family to come to endless practice sessions and my body was definitely in incredible shape from the amount of practice I was undertaking – I recognise this is a privileged position to have been in and one that may not be possible for many!
My First Fulltime pilates position
After acing my exam, proudly, the studio I had been mentored through offered me a full-time teaching schedule, to complement the barre method I was already undertaking. I joined the ranks of three other ‘full time’ instructors and launched into my Pilates teaching career leading 20-30 classes a week, covering beginner to advanced matwork and reformer sessions across two locations. It was a full baptism by fire and the subsequent months shaped my craft so strongly by leading so many classes a week. As a new instructor, I was strongly supported and mentored, not only by the lead instructors, who I had weekly training and creative sessions with, but also by the team of physiotherapists who shared one of our studio spaces – which broadened my knowledge hugely – and was my first experience of working closely with other allied health professionals, which would become a staple of my practice.
I stayed working at this studio for almost a year, learning, teaching and growing hugely in this period. But in my personal life, I was longing to head back to London and itching to be performing again. So, having gathered a hefty dose of experience in teaching, I packed up my bags and headed back to the UK.
Pilates in London
This year of foundational teaching was crucial to my success in landing teaching positions in London. By the time I got back to the city, Pilates was still on the cusp of going mainstream (especially in contrast to the popularity it already held back in Australia). But there were various studios around offering the method. It was also, just before the rise of the “social media instructor” which in years to come really shaped the way teachers would land work. Upon my return, however, it was soon obvious that I was fortunate in my experience and level of teaching skill to be able to gain employment in the types of studio’s I wanted to be working in.
Not my style
Many of the studios that had cropped across London were “dynamic reformer” sessions – which when I undertook many of these style of classes, comes across more as a workout on a piece of Pilates equipment, than a contemporary Pilates method with its foundations still connected to the original Pilates repertoire. Many of these style studios, while they had large client lists and multiple locations – seemingly very successful – would ask that instructors learn their signature method of training, gaining a qualification of their in-house programming, which wouldn’t necessarily enable you to teach Pilates elsewhere. This didn’t sit right with me – I had already gained the international comprehensive qualification and it seemed as though these programs were not as in depth as would be needed to truly share the Pilates method with clients. Initially, I signed on to one such studio and began to undertake some of their training, but quickly, having questioned many aspects of the training modules, I realised that this was not the spot for me – Pilates fitness wasn’t truly my style!
Fortunately, I landed on my feet with a few great studios who looked for individual freelance instructors who could lead with contemporary Pilates knowledge – such as STOTT – across the city. Most of these initial opportunities came through attending the studios classes and then reaching out, once I had ascertained it was a studio I would enjoy working within, through listings on job portals, or through Facebook groups set up for Pilates instructors were classes were sometime listed.
The Key To Finding Work
Being open to opportunities was a key trait to have in this time and I quickly locked down a regular teaching schedule by freelancing with many various operations. I took classes within private member’s clubs, was a roving instructor to visit clients in their own homes, had multiple weekly regular sessions at reformer and matwork studios and would be up for covering sessions wherever possible. Being a freelance Pilates instructor, running your own business, can be super taxing on your body and mind – you’re criss-crossing across town between sessions, trying to secure a timetable with regular slots that suits you and your needs, looking for growth opportunities and testing your skills with so many various clients – but it is a hugely beneficial practice in growing your capabilities! Teaching, is the only way to get better at teaching and I feel like not on my craft, but my reputation as an instructor, grew by being so willing to learn, lead and be authentic in my sessions.
A Private Pilates Practice
It was the next position that really advanced my Pilates teaching skills and catapulted my career however. An exclusive personal training gym in the heart of Soho was looking for a Pilates instructor who would build a private clientele list and collaborate with the existing Physiotherapists and Strength and Conditioning coaches who shared the space. It was a small space, but in an absolutely ideal location, linking the creative and financial districts with a high-level of professional and executive clients feeding through. The opportunity would enable me to grow my own client base, while being an integral link between an injured client, in the physio clinic, to the fitness clients, in the strength and conditioning clinic and prove how integral a Pilates practice could be to both. It was this position that rapidly expanded my expertise and challenged me to grow as an instructor.
Learning the business side of pilates
There had not been a Pilates practice in the studio prior, so I had to build the clinic from the ground up – marketing, cold-calling, flyers, social media, referrals, scheduling – all the skills of launching a studio soon became my responsibility to make this Pilates arm of the business work! I would email all the major professional offices and firms within the precinct to invite them down for trial sessions, chat to clients leaving the physio, sit by the open front door of a busy Soho street with flyers to passer-by’s. It wasn’t always easy work by any means, in that I didn’t have an existing client list having just returned from Australia, nor was I actually using my “teaching skills” across many unpaid hours of promotion and trying to acquire clients, but I was passionate and eager, and committed to making this work – traits that would become invaluable in my future endeavours!
A 1-1 Private Pilates practice is a fascinating world of work and one that I truly now favour. You become so much more to clients than just a trainer. As you intimately understand their bodies in movement and program sessions over a period of time, a connection grows and truthfully, you often become a friend/therapist to those you see 1-3x a week over many months! I worked very closely with the physiotherapist, cross-referring and being a tool to assist in the recovery of many client’s injuries, utilising my skill to assist in their strengthening process. Which again led to another degree of mentorship from this experienced allied health professional – I was able to ask questions about specific injuries, test out theories for strength and recovery protocols and learn so much more than I could have just on my own. Likewise, I shared many clients to the strength and conditioning team and it was during this time that I was supported and encouraged by the team to expand my own skillset, so I undertook my Personal Training qualifications to now take on Personal Training sessions, again having the privilege of experienced trainers, a gym space and clients to practice on in the lead up this professional development.
I stayed in this practice for around one year (while taking various group sessions at other studios across London throughout the week also), growing my client list and having a steady stream of regular daily sessions. It was an expansive time and I formed some incredible professional relationships. Unfortunately, the gym itself, wanted to redirect its focus and remove the Pilates offering in favour of expanding strength and conditioning, so it was time to part ways.
Launching A Boutique Fitness Studio
It was at this point, I realised I had many more skills I wanted to share. Whilst I adored 1-1 training, I did miss the energy of group classes – I missed teaching barre and now I also had my Personal Training qualification that I wanted to utilise. Fortunately, at the exact right timing when my previous posting was closing, an ideal opportunity cropped up. A boutique fitness studio was set to launch and was looking for founding instructors.
After taking a meeting with the team, I realised this was an opportunity that I could really run with, feeling like it would be a place I could truly share my energy and skills. For it wasn’t just instructors they were looking for, but they were looking for individuals who could help shape the studio as they launched. Finally, I was getting back to my passion – being creative and developing programmes! As I transitioned into the studio in their pre-launch phase, I began to develop their in-house methods for Pilates, Barre, Sculpt, Dance Cardio and fitness workouts. Being with the studio from the very start, I learnt so very much, from the process of designing the space; laying down the barre height and just how many reformers to fit in, to how many clients to take in a class, timetabling, fielding clients concerns and feedback, developing the studio’s footprint and interviewing then training instructors – the studio felt very much like my own baby business, without taking on any risk!
read: pilates for men
I led a huge number of classes across many disciplines each week, and whilst I was loving what I was sharing, it soon, inevitably led to a burnout – read about my Adrenal Fatigue story here– I was giving so much of myself in every session, overworking, overtraining and felt like there was never enough time to develop in the way I truly wanted to. I am so grateful for this period of my career – it taught me so much about how I would launch a studio and run a business – but being overworked, led me to ill health and sadly, I fell out of love with teaching for a while.
A Pivot In Career
Forced to take a break to focus on my health, I stepped back from the studio and took some time off. I reassessed what I wanted to do with my career and realised that actually I had other passions I wanted to pursue; Writing, learning, education, personal development. Which gave me yet another career tack. I moved in digital media and freelance journalism, launched my site, worked as a social media strategist and then in my personal life, made the decision within my relationship that we would move on from London and relocate to Singapore.
My career today
My Pilates career in Perth, then London, had been hugely expansive – I had learnt so much with all of my clients, studios and experiences. I truthfully look back fondly at all of those times and am both proud of what I achieved and impressed by my tenacity and resilience to forge my career in a very tough city! I came to a point before the move, where I was wanting to do more than just teach full-time, but I still so greatly wanted to share my gifts and talents, knowing just how powerful and transformative the Pilates practice can be.
Fortunately, during my time within Asia, I’ve had the opportunities to expand my Pilates career by using my skills and combining it with the expansive knowledge I’ve gained in other modalities, to work within the Travel Wellness sector – offering residencies and retreats for hotels and travel companies looking to expand their wellness offerings. It’s been such a joyful expression of my Pilates career – being able to fuse so many of my passions and again, travel with my job! These days, I mix my Pilates career with my media career and soon to be a new academic journey too – realising how fortunate I am to have the expertise, experience and opportunity to use all I have learnt over the past 5 years of teaching (and 20+ years dancing!) to share with clients all over the globe.
Pilates has been the tool that has allowed me to expand my career and take me to so many unexpected places. It’s always more than just a job – sharing a Pilates practice is an energy exchange, it’s a passing on of knowledge, it’s enabling a client to broaden their understanding of their body, it’s a vessel to explore the world – and I’m so grateful it’s been a part of this journey of my life so far – not only in my career, but also in my personal practice!