We are very proud to have Karen Frischmann (47) from Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles to tell her Pilates story for our magazine! Karen grew up on the East Coast of the United States, mostly in Connecticut. As a child she played soccer, swam and ran track, but athletics and movement were not her prime focus. She was a serious flautist and a visual artist. As a senior in high school she had to decide which discipline to follow. Visual arts won out and Karen received her bachelor’s degree in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design. She moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to join many of her friends from college. They were all film majors. She wasn’t really sure what she wanted to do, but she figured Los Angeles was as good a place as any to be. The day she arrived, one of her friends took her to the set of a low budget film they were working on. One of the interns had quit and she was offered a job. That was the beginning of her career in film.
When and why did you start practicing Pilates?
I started practicing Pilates in 1994. I saw an article in a women’s magazine about alternative workouts, Lotte Berk and Pilates were among them. I loved the description of Pilates, the article talked about building long lean muscles and increasing your flexibility. I have a swimmer’s build and tend to bulk up – one of those strong tight bodies. Anything that would keep me strong, work on my flexibility and lean me out sounded attractive to me. Plus the apparatus had this 1920’s industrial look that I thought was pretty cool. It took some research to find a studio at that time, but I found Mari Winsor’s on La Cienega in Los Angeles. As soon as I started, I knew I found something special. My job as an assistant director was incredibly stressful and I was often on my feet for 12 to 18 hours a day. Pilates centered me and improved my posture so I could take the long hours on my feet. It gave me the strength to make it through my days without pain.
Where did you receive your Pilates education(s) and who was/were your teacher(s)?
My initial training was with Jill Cassady through A Body Prepared in Los Angeles. I was looking for a change in career and wanted to go back to school to get my Master’s in photography. The studio was starting their first training program and I jumped at the chance to take it. Pilates, I thought, would offer me a flexible job while I went back to school, an opportunity to teach, and time in the studio to workout for free. It was a great education and I was certainly hooked on the method. It was, and still is, endlessly fascinating. I loved what I was learning and discovering, but I knew there was more to it and I was so hungry for knowledge. I wanted to know everything I could about the method.
About that time I met Jay Grimes. I am not sure how I got his phone number, but when I found out he had studied with Joe, I started calling….and kept calling until he gave me a lesson. We hit it off immediately. I still laugh at my first lesson. It was Pilates like I had never seen – or felt. Jay has the gift of getting to the heart of the matter, and he did so with me. He killed me. I remember trying to elegantly get down the stairs from his apartment with my wobbly legs. Jay was leaning out the door smiling and waving goodbye. All I kept thinking was “please go inside, please go inside.” It still makes me laugh.
Well, I made it down the stairs and couldn’t wait to get back for more. In that first lesson Jay told me that we only have one exercise – the double leg pull. You can find it in everything. So, I am determined and analytical and I went back to the studio and with my wobbly legs began to work through the entire Pilates repertoire. Sure enough it was there. The lessons continued that way with some cryptic Jayism which I would gleefully work to death back in the studio.
Jay encouraged me to study with Romana. This was something I had wanted to do for a while so I enrolled in the certification program at Drago’s Gym. I would travel back and forth to New York for two or three weeks at a time. I have to say I am so grateful for my amazing clients. They were so patient and so happy with the information I brought back. It was incredible to be at that studio and I learned a lot. I was so lucky to be able to watch Romana, Shari, Juanita, Edwina and all the teachers there as well as the clients. Many of them had been at the studio for decades and really knew the work. It was a very special place. Throughout my training I continued to study with Jay, as I do now. I credit so much of my work, teaching style and deep understanding of Pilates to his teaching.
Do you attend to workshops on a regular basis?
Even after all this time I am hungry for a deeper understanding of the work. There is so much in there. It is truly astonishing. I wish I had more time to attend workshops these days. I think continuing education is essential to all teachers in our field. I cannot tell you how many times I have been to a workshop and heard something for the fifth time or more and I was finally ready to absorb it physically or intellectually. I always come back energized and ready to see things in a new way.
I have been blessed with the ability to work with Jay through much of my career and I have organized many workshops for him in Los Angeles and to attend them all. I always come away with a new and deeper understanding.
I can’t say that I have one that inspired me most. Cynthia Lochard is an amazing teacher and I would go to anything she teaches. I was also blown away by Chris Robinson’s workshop on Push/Pull/Run/Jump.
What made you decide to make Pilates your profession?
I really fell into teaching Pilates. I was looking to make a career change and to go back to school for my masters degree. At the time teaching Pilates seemed like a great flexible job, allowing me the time to go back to school. I laugh about it now… I have been teaching for almost 20 years and never actually made it back to school. Along the way I fell in love with the intricacies of the work. It is elegant in both its simplicity and complexity. I am still discovering its secrets every day.
Do you own a studio?
Sandy Shimoda and I co-own Vintage Pilates with Jay Grimes as our director. The three of us worked together for over a year to develop the concept of the studio. We all wanted to create a place that, as Jay says “Would make Joe would feel comfortable.” We were also interested in creating a place – a community -where teachers were invited to learn and explore the traditional work.
What did you have to invest (people, time, money) to get your studio running?
Getting Vintage up and running took us over a year of serious planning. This was the second studio I had started from the ground up and I actually love the business development process. It give me a chance to flex my other muscles and talents – business plans, models and structure, mission statements, lease negotiations, zoning restrictions and space planning, studio design and branding, program development. These are all tasks and skills necessary for a good start up.I think many teachers don’t realize the amount of work or the variety of skills it takes to start a successful studio. I am happy to say that I am starting to move more of my time and effort into consulting with teachers and studios to help them develop and realize their dreams.
What is your favorite brand of apparatus (Gratz, Peak Pilates, Balanced Body, Stott Pilates, Basi, Basil or other)?
I work on Gratz equipment, and have for most of my career. There are so many variables in the apparatus that affect the body as it work. I find that the proportions and spring loads on the Gratz work for the way I teach and I see marked changes in the body quickly.
What Pilates apparatus is your favorite and why?
I love all the Pilates apparatus, but if I had to choose a favorite it would have to be the Reformer. It offers so much dynamic support and leverage to the body. As a practitioner, it offers me something to reach into and something to work from. I can dig deeper every time I am on it. As a teacher, it offers me tremendous information about the body. I can see imbalances, hear movement patterns and really help my students get connected to the two way stretch.
I also love the intricacies and engineering of the apparatus. Joe was a genius. The more I explore the effects of the apparatus on the body, the more I realize that he considered every millimeter. The breadth of his work is astonishing.
What Pilates exercise is your favorite and why?
Wow – choose only one? I think my favorite exercises change with both my body and understanding. Currently, I love the tower exercise on both the Cadillac and the Tower. It is such a great way to open up the lower back and find the lower body reach.
Do you experience difficulties keeping your clients because of the current economic crisis?
You know, I can’t say that I have. It was pretty frightening when the economy fell. There is often a belief that Pilates is a luxury item, an expensive form of exercise and you would think people would cut that out in times of crisis. What I realized during the economic crisis is that my clientele is comprised of people who need Pilates for their health, students who are dedicated to studying the method with the depth of a teacher, or teachers. The work is so important to them, so integral to their lives, that their lessons are often the last thing they will cut. I have been really lucky for that.
Did you start your own educational program?
Yes, “The Work”is our intensive one to two-year program for teachers who want to go deeper into the work. It covers the complete repertoire of Pilates exercises and apparatus and truly goes beyond the workshop and any primary certification. The class begins in January every year and it is amazing to see the depth of work and understanding that goes on. The program is led by Jay, Sandy and myself and supported by the rest of the staff at Vintage, all of whom have completed or are in the process of completing the program.
What is your purpose in teaching workshops?
I firmly believe that Pilates certifications are only the starting point for a teacher. There is so much to learn and absorb in this work – a lifetime of learning, really. I teach workshops because I want to share the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the work my teachers have passed on to me. It is how we continue learning, and how we pass down the work.
Did you solve your own body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates?
When I came to Pilates I had relatively few injuries. I was just tight and had poor posture, as many of us do. Pilates gave me the flexibility to balance out my strength and a level of physical awareness I never had. I took up flying trapeze about 10 years ago, and I loved it, but I did injure my shoulder pretty badly at one point. Pilates has been great for rehabilitation.
Do you have a target audience?
I don’t think I have a target audience per se . I love Pilates and I love getting into the nuances of the work. I am fascinated by the connections among the exercises across the apparatus, and how to use the apparatus to it’s best advantage to get the body to connect. I am analytical and detail oriented and work best with clients who respond to that. Don’t get me wrong, everybody works hard and moves in a lesson, but I do tend to work with students who are interested in going as deeply into the philosophy of the work as they are the mechanics. At the moment my students are fellow teachers who want to deeply study the work and clients who need Pilates for injury recovery or prevention.
How many lessons do you teach each week?
I teach between twenty and twenty- five hours a week. Running a busy studio, teacher’s program and teaching workshops occupy much of the rest of my time.
Is your focus more on private, or duets or trio sessions or do you prefer to teach mat group classes?
I teach both private lessons and what we call the Vintage Pilates Classes. I enjoy teaching them both, but I have to say the classes are my favorite right now. We have been working toward moving the studio back toward the atmosphere Joe had on 8th Avenue in New York.
In Joe’s studio the clients would come in for their workout on their own schedule. There would always be teachers on hand to help with questions about exercises or springs, offer pushes and pulls, teach new exercises when the student was ready and make any necessary corrections. The students knew their own workouts, spring settings and exercise orders and were really independent. We run our classes the same way, but they are by appointment and limited to 4 people. With a small group, everyone gets the attention they need and can move at their own pace. The thing I like best about them is we often have beginning students and teachers in class together. The learning is incredible. The newer students are really inspired by what they see; the teachers often hear corrections that help their own work and may offer a different approach for their clients. I mean, they’re just fun.
Who is your favorite person that you would love to teach a Pilates class?
I have to laugh. What a great question. The fantasy student. I would love to teach Michael Phelps. He is such an amazing athlete. It would be great to see what Pilates could do for him.
In Europe there are more female Pilates trainers than male. How is that in your country and more specific in your area?
I think that in the States it is the same at the moment, but I am seeing more and more men at workshops and conventions, which is great. Often, I think, we forget that this was an exercise method created by a man for men. I am happy to say that one quarter of our current class of The Work are men.
What is your own vision of Pilates?
I don’t really have an opinion about the future of Pilates, just a hope that the work continues. With the use of technology and the internet the world continues to get smaller and with that things that were previously inaccessible are now possible. I am hoping that with this accessibility anyone who wants to learn Pilates will have it available to them wherever they are.
What is the biggest insight Pilates gave you?
I know this is going to sound funny, but Pilates gave me the insight that anything is possible.
Do you cooperate with other Pilates instructors? If yes, who?
Pilates is and always has been a collaborative effort for me. I love working with other instructors and hashing out ideas or concepts. It is what has enabled me to deepen my understanding of the work.
Which Pilatesword you rather not use? (e.g. powerhouse, pilatesstance)
There are a couple of words I don’t like as they are applied to Pilates, but are not necessarily “Pilates words”. I dislike the term choreography as it applies to the exercises or the order in the mat and Reformer. To me it refers to a superficial view – the picture of the exercise or sequence – rather than digging deeper into the why. I am all about the why. Cuing is another one. Each student is unique and responds differently to instruction. Some are visual learners, some learn by listening to instruction, some respond to touch, and some have to do something a hundred times before it sinks in and many need a combination of all four.
It is our job and responsibility as teachers to find the best mode of communication for each student, and to find the words and touch that ring true to us as teachers. A standard set of words or “spots” don’t work for everyone, and if they don’t resonate deeply with the teacher, they will be ineffective on the student.
Did you change things about your teaching or would you like to?
My teaching is constantly changing. As I continue to grow within the method, continue to learn, I find new things in the work. I am always seeing new connections, a different way to look at an exercise, a different way to express to a student what an exercise is about, or a new approach to an imbalance. I do literally learn or discover something or actually many new things every day.
What is your opinion about the classical, authentic Pilates and the contemporary approach?
I don’t really have an opinion, honestly. I was trained classically, but have had the pleasure of experiencing the teaching of Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, Jillian Hessel, Rael Iscowitz and other amazing teachers along the way. Although they all have different approaches and ideas, the thing I am always looking for, classical or contemporary, are the similarities. And they are there. For me, that is where I find Joe’s work and that’s what I am ultimately interested in.
Who is your biggest example and who would you love to meet(again) in the Pilates field?
Jay Grimes is my biggest example. He is both a gifted and giving teacher. I would have loved to have spent more time with Romana, also a gifted and giving teacher. I learned so much from both of them. Many of their lessons transcend Pilates and are applicable to other areas of life.
Are you familiar with Pilates over the world e.g. Europe, Asia, Australia? If so, do you see familiarities?
I am familiar with teachers around the world, and yes I see many similarities. Everyone I have encountered is dedicated to the work and looking and hungry for more.
Did you meet an “Elder”?
I have had the pleasure of working with many of the “Elders”. I have worked more extensively with Jay Grimes and Romana Kryzanowska. I have had workshops with Kathy Grant and Ron Fletcher as well. Even though each have their own approach to the work, there are threads of similarity in the work. They each have an elegance to their teaching that I admire. It’s not something I can put my finger on, but they all have it.
If you are traveling abroad for Pilates, what would be your goal?
When I began learning Pilates, New York was really the center of the classical method. There are, and were, other fine teachers, but I really felt that to continue my education in the best way possible I needed to be there, to take lessons, to do workshops etc. At the time, it was just not financially viable to be there in the way I wanted to be. I do travel abroad to teach Pilates and my goal is to be able to reach teachers who might not have the opportunity to visit the States and study with us. I believe that education should be available to anyone who wants it and to that end I teach over the internet and we are currently streaming many of our workshops on the Internet to make them more accessible internationally.
Do you have a favorite story about Joe or Clara or somebody else?
I love hearing stories about Joe and Clara. They have always rounded out the picture of the method for me and humanized the work – made it about people rather than machines. Romana used to tell a story about Joe. There was a client, an older man, who has lost his wife. He would come in to the studio to workout and Joe would take him into the kitchen they would have sausages and beer and talk, and Joe would send him home. After a while, they would talk less and Joe would take him into the studio and they would do a little work, and it progressed like that. As the man became more able, he would work more. It was such a lovely story for me about giving the student what they need – that day.
Do you expect to keep on practicing Pilates and keep on giving classes?
Yes, I love teaching and practicing Pilates, and can’t see my life without both in some form.
What is your Pilates dream?
I don’t know if I have a Pilates dream actually. With Vintage Pilates I have been able to fulfill most of the things I have dreamed about during my teaching career, which is not a bad place to be.
Are you available for bookings in the Netherlands? Can you tell us something about your conditions and the things you want to offer?
Yes, I am available for bookings in the Netherlands. When teaching out, I prefer to work on Gratz equipment because it is what I know. I offer a broad range of workshops that cover the fundamental principles we have developed at Vintage – overviews and deeper looks at repertoires of exercises on all the apparatus. I also offer concept-based workshops on how to get the most out of your apparatus, developing and analyzing movement, and flow in the work etc. I am also happy to collaborate with studios and event organizers to present workshops that they think will best serve their teachers. The Vintage studio is happy to send out a full list of workshops we have offered as well as our rates
Are you planning to write Pilates books?
Yes, Sandy and I are currently working on a book.
1950 Sawtelle Blvd. Ste. 185 Los Angeles, CA 90025 310.429.7993 www.vintagepilates.com firstname.lastname@example.org