Is it time to drop the C Words from our Pilates Vocabulary?

Mea culpa – yesterday, I used (one of) the C words.  Twice.  No, I lied – three times!  What, you gasp, nooooo!?!  YES and…, I’ll do it again.  Classical.  Classical.  Classical.  For those who didn’t hear it the first three times.  Classical.  Really, Rebekah, you’re starting to sound like “one of them”. Um, one of whom?  One of them, an elitist.  Because I describe my teaching as classical?  Exactly.  The terms classical and contemporary Pilates lead to arguments,  fighting and probably, the Apocalypse.  Whoa, slow down there.  How does using the term classical lead to the Apocalypse?  Because when you describe yourself as a classical teacher, you imply that classical is superior to contemporary.  That is wrong and in fact exemplifies all that is wrong in the universe.  Away with these distinctions.  Really? But how will people know what I am teaching? They don’t need to know.  Just say you teach Pilates.  So is all Pilates the same, and is everything Pilates just because someone says it is?  Uhhhhh.  Yes.. I don’t know.  Maybe?

Sound silly?  I am obviously exaggerating, but only slightly.  Some members of the Pilates community recently opined that we should no longer use the terms classical and contemporary.  And the editor of Pilates Style Magazine announced that the magazine would not use them because they fostered negativity, an “‘us v. them’ mentality”, and that eliminating them would make “our Pilates world a better place.”  I disagree.  This is not a revival of the tired classical v. contemporary debate.  It is not “us versus them.”  But all Pilates is not the same and pretending otherwise won’t make it so.   As my friend Maria stated when this subject was discussed on social media, “ everyone uses the term classical music or contemporary music .  There are the classical philosophers and the contemporary ones.  Can we just wake up one day and say music is music and philosophy is philosophy….”  There is not A Pilates style; there are styles, plural.  Classical and contemporary are the two primary styles.

Those who seek to abolish the terms classical and contemporary Pilates claim that the Pilates world will be a better place if we do so.  Is this argument an attempt to couch what is in reality a business decision (sell more magazines, attract more students..)?  Or is it misguided political correctness?  Probably a bit of both, but mainly the latter.  Much as the trend toward excessive political correctness in recent years has taken a nosedive into the realm of the ridiculous, the same phenomena is starting to take root in the Pilates world.  We cannot describe our style or lineage without offending those who do not conform to the definitions we use.  Shall we no longer use any descriptions that others might find exclusive?  In that case, should we even use the term Pilates teacher? Why not movement professional?  Or simply professional so that we don’t offend non-movement professionals.

Another argument espoused by those who want blur the lines is that the term classical Pilates is not universally agreed upon even within the classical Pilates community.  (I do not know if this disagreement exists with the contemporary Pilates world).  This is not false.  There is indeed disagreement as to what is considered classical, particularly as there has been a recent shift toward classical and more teachers are beginning to explore the original work. Some believe that classical Pilates refers exclusively to the Romana lineage; others consider it to include the work of the other elders.  But since when do let the failure to achieve a consensus on a definition lead us to just wipe out the word from our vocabulary? That is intellectual laziness.  Again, drawing a parallel to the word Pilates itself – it appears improbable that the Pilates community will ever agree upon a universal definition of the term Pilates.  That ship arguably sailed in the year 2000*.  Does that mean that we should no longer use the term Pilates?

Will blurring the classical/contemporary lines result in a kinder, gentler Pilates world? I defy someone to produce a shred of evidence that substantiates that theory.  Were we to drop the terms men and women, would gender equality ensue, would the pay gap disappear and would sexual discrimination, harassment and violence cease?  If we no longer used the terms Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative, would everyone hold hands and sing Kumbayah?  Sure, and unicorns and leprechauns exist too.  That people have different opinions on pretty much everything  is reality, and a healthy one.  Negativity ensues when people are incapable of reasonable discussions to voice their opinions.  The use of the terms classical and contemporary Pilates is not the source of the negativity pervading the Pilates community.  The two styles are different.  It is  futile to pretend that they are not,  or to close our eyes and hope the differences go away or go unnoticed.  Expressing a preference for one or the other is in no way equivalent to belittling those who teach differently.  Admittedly, this behavior (belittling) has unfortunately occurred within both the classical and contemporary communities.  However, and  again I cite my friend Maria who astutely stated, “our Pilates world becoming a better place has nothing to do with classical or contemporary.  It will become a better place when people become better people.”  Let’s direct our energy toward becoming better people and teachers .  (Apologies to all non-teachers and non-people I may offend with these terms).

Finally, I would argue that, in our post-lawsuit era*, when anyone can say they teach Pilates, we need these distinctions more than ever.  This sentiment has been echoed by both classical and contemporary teachers.  As my friend Cathy commented, “this is a slippery slope to dumbing down both/all styles of Pilates.  There needs to be a distinction made for purposes of training, for clients who walk into a studio to know what they are paying for, and to continue to honor the work that was developed by Joseph Pilates and by the First Generation teachers, and by modern  teachers who create exercises based on his work.”  It is both possible and rewarding to be part of a greater Pilates community, while maintaining our classical or contemporary identities and also our unique personal identities. Instead of worrying that we weren’t invited to the cool kids party down the block, let’s make our own party.  Ultimately, it boils down to a choice –   celebrate our shared heritage AND our differences?   Or take offense where there is none meant?  Take pride in our own teaching or censor those who choose to underscore their differences? My choice is made.  I plan to keep using the C words.  What about you?

*October 2000 – the term Pilates was deemed a generic term that could not be trademarked.

About the Author

laracroftRebekah is a supremely talented and accomplished human being. In fact, she is so accomplished that to list her myriad accomplishments would take too much time. Suffice it to say that she was voted best all-around in preschool and has saved a ladybug on more than one occasion. She is so nice to animals that she does not even have to be nice to other people. She does not post many pictures on facebook because she does not want others to feel bad about themselves. The word that people use most frequently to describe her is enchanting, although delightful is a close second. She teaches Pilates in her home studio in France (over 200 hours a week), where she is not above making her students do extra teasers if they question her authority or mock her accent. Yes, rumor has it that a few people have apparently dared mock her, but when we went to question them, we couldn’t find them anymore. *note- for those of you who don’t know me, this bio is meant to be humorous and there is no intention to offend animals, ladybugs or humans.