This is part one of the 2 articles with Jennifer M. Stacey, MS., 51 years of age and owner of Peak Performance Pilates in San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, California, USA since 1989.
How did you get introduced to Pilates?
My background and my interest in Dance Science and Medicine led me to Pilates. I was a dancer, choreographer, a gymnast, gymnastics coach and a Physical Therapy assistant. At the University of California, Berkeley I was interested in a pre-med track and earned a Bachelor of Science in exercise physiology, and minored in Dance. Cal had a strong dance department that specialized in both The Graham and Cunningham techniques. I still use the images from these classes to teach Pilates. I received my Masters degree in Exercise Physiology with an emphasis on muscle and biomechanics at the University of Oregon. My Master’s thesis was one of the early biomechanical studies using dancers. UO had one of the top biomechanics labs in the world and I was lucky to use it. This study led me to some amazing experiences with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) and other organizations.
Where did you receive your Pilates education(s) and who was/were your teacher(s)?
I was so fortunate to study a long time with three Pilates First Generation Elders: Romana Kryzanowska, Ron Fletcher, Kathleen (Kathy) Stanford Grant, for approximately 15 -25 years. In 1988/1989 I went through the St. Francis Center for Sports Medicine and Dance Medicine program. In 1991, I was part of the first group at The Institute for the Pilates Method in New Mexico that created the first course curriculum for teacher training. Most of the Elders were on the panel. The group (from around the world) included respected teachers such as Jillian Hessel, Rael Isacowitz, Roberta Kirschenbaum, Michele Larsson and Eve Gentry. It was a unique collaborative experience. That curriculum is probably the basis for most of the major teacher education courses today. It was at the Institute that I attended workshops with the Elders Eve Gentry and Bruce King. From 1990 onwards, I was lucky to have studied and apprenticed under Romana Kryzanowska at Dragos by observing, taking lessons and teaching for Romana. What a privilege to be part of the culture of Dragos where 70 to 80 year olds were swinging on the rings and parallel bars. Romana gave so much to passing on Contrology. And the champagne in dixie cups was not to be missed! During the same time period I was fortunate to befriend Ron Fletcher (what fabulous stories he told!), attend and host several of his workshops. Ron was like the energizer bunny, so full of energy and so creative. He wore us all out – even though we were a third of his age! I was invited to teach at the first Ron Fletcher conference in Arizona. Ron also came out to San Francisco to take sessions from me when he had a shoulder problem. Kathy Grant attended the 1994 Ron Fletcher workshop that I hosted, while she was in San Francisco for an IADMS meeting. It was exciting to have Ron and Kathy and others like Rael Isacowitz and Moira Stott together in my studio (great pictures!). From then on I was able to observe and study from Kathy Grant and be an audience to her ingenious handling of each body that was before her. She taught her 45 minute morning Mat class at NYU Tisch a couple times a week. She was so conscientious, preparing detailed notes of what she would do in each Mat class, then she reviewed the class with her assistant, Blossom Leilani. Kathy took such care and thought into developing her curriculum and addressing her students’ needs. In her Pilates’ studio at Tisch, Kathy created programs for students that came in with injuries. By using simple, inexpensive props like small balls, tennis ball cans and bands, she challenged her students with exceedingly difficult but deceptively simple looking movements. She turned into a wonderful friend with interesting stories. She gave me permission to teach her famous Cats at workshops. Kathy attended workshops I taught at IADMS, and to my surprise, a daylong workshop at Rolates Pilates. Ron was highly effective at imparting the love of Movement; Kathy Grant the art of alignment and presence, mastering the use of props and solving any problem in front of her; Eve, with her M. Feldenkrais influence seemed to float, like she had no bones; Romana was able to teach so many teachers to keep Contrology going into the future. I often refer back to the copious notes I took while observing the Elders. I am saddened by their passing and miss them, but all their voices live in my head while I am teaching.
Do you attend to workshops? Can you name a few? What is your main reason to join them?
I try to attend as many workshops and conferences that I can. Because I love to learn, I was one of the first to host workshops: Kathy Corey, Rael Isacowitz, Jillian Hessel, Jean Claude West and Anna Schmidts, Eric Franklin, Blossom Leilani, Jarmo Ahonen, Dr. Gotz Lehle, Craig Phillips, Jeff Smith (Feldenkrais) and other physicians and health practitioners. I continually learn about movement and health from Dr. Richard Robertshaw, DC, Dr. Chady Wonson, DC, LAc, CNT, CCN, Dr. Gotz Lehle, MD, and Jeff Smith (Feldenkrais). They conduct workshops, co-teach workshops with me, and Dr. Wonson works with my clients while I am teaching them Pilates. She is able to immediately transform the body by pressing on an acupressure point, stretch a finger, or having the client relax the jaw. I eagerly embrace and share these tips with teachers and clients so they can experience these magical things that change the body immediately. So empowering for the client’s progress! I have also taken lessons from Alan Herdman in London (who is from the same small village in England that my grandmother and god-father lived in – small world!) Deborah Lessen in New York, and many others. I have attended workshops taught by Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, Romana Kryzanowska, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen, Kathy Corey, Jean Claude West, Marika Molnar, Irene Dowd, Eric Franklin, Michele Larson, Jeff Smith and many others. I have attended and regularly presented at the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science and attend (and have taught at) PMA symposia and other organizations. They all inspire me.
Can you tell us something about your 2 studio’s?
The San Francisco studio is located between Union Square and The Financial District. It has 3 maple Current Concepts (Balanced Body) Reformers and Combo Chairs, 1 Gratz convertible, A 40 – 50 year old Gratz Reformer that used to be in Romana’s studio that Ron Fletcher named “Knock-Knock.” A Balance Body Cadillac, Mat, Spine Correctors, Ped-a-pul, Ladder Barrel. One of the teachers has a Gratz Reformer as well. We have numerous auxillary apparatus such as The Magic Circles, Toe and Foot Correctors, The Sand Bag, Breathacizor, bands, balls, roller, Stretch-Eze®, etc. The Half Moon Bay Studio, established in 1989, is a smaller studio, which has a beautiful maple BB Ron Fletcher Reformer, A Gratz convertible, A Balanced Body Wall Unit and Mat, BB Spine Correctors, Current Concepts Chair, a classic Wunda Chair and the auxillary apparatus. My husband, who owns Pilates Apparatus Repair has re-vinyled and refurbished many of the apparatus, so it is like new again! I started my studios (I opened a total of 4) in the time when no one knew what “Pie-laytes” was. So I started with 1 reformer in each studio, then a Cadillac, adding apparatus as I expanded. The first few years were mainly spent talking with health professionals such as Physical Therapists, Doctors, Chiropractors, massage therapists, athletes, dancers, actors and professionals, educating them on Pilates. Lecturing and teaching at conferences and giving a lot of free introductory sessions. I taught Pilates and performance training to actors and dancers. I opened the San Francisco studio because I was closely working with the cast and crew of Phantom of the Opera. The first 15 years was an extensive investment of time and money but my enthusiasm for the Method and how it empowered my clients carried me through it.
What apparatus or exercise is your favorite and why?
I like all of the apparatus, large and small. I do appreciate the Pilates Mat, which is adaptive to different body types and restrictions. People who have wrist problems or tight feet can place their hands (on the side) or feet (off the end) in a comfortable position. Those with tight hamstrings can put their feet on the ground when performing the Spine Stretch, Saw and other skills. The moon boxes that come with it are very useful. I love the sequencing on the Reformer. The Chairs satisfy and challenge the old gymnast in me. The Ped-a-pul is brilliant at revealing the relationship of the ground reaction force with gravity, and the Serapé wrap. My male clients love the Cadillac. The Cadillac is very effective for injured clientele. Many clients insist on using the Ladder Barrel every session. And Ron Fletcher’s love of Movement is revealed with the Spine Corrector.
What is your favorite brand of apparatus (Gratz, Peak Pilates, Balanced Body, Stott Pilates, Basi, Basil or other)?
Each apparatus company has its advantages. Each challenges you in a different way. Balanced Body has beautiful, well made apparatus. You have to control the carriage from going out too quickly. Gratz has the drag in the wheels we like. You have to pull the carriage in yourself, which is a nice challenge and promotes concentric work of the hamstrings, hip/leg adductors and instant use of the centers. I like Basil’s wood two-toned Reformer. I think whatever apparatus you have, it is important to know the length of the straps in reference to when the carriage is home. Then you can use any apparatus and have it set up correctly. For example, for the Short Spine Stretch, when the carriage is home, the length of the straps should be long enough to allow the feet to be directly above the eyes (when you are lying supine with your legs straight). For the One Hundred and other skills, the length of the straps should be long enough so the arm is slightly toward the body (about 15 – 20 degrees inside vertical) when you are lying supine with your arms up. The Long Spine Stretch Straps should allow the legs to be just inside 90 degrees (towards the body by about 10 – 20 degrees) when the carriage is home. I recommend owning at least one Classic size Reformer box since elements of the Long Box I and II, such as the Pulling Straps, T, the Teaser, and it’s transitions, and Short Box require this (smaller) box. Performing these skills on a large box can place the body in a bad position, resulting in poor biomechanics, which can stress the body. If you do not have a smaller box, then place a pillow under the legs for the Teaser or set the Stott barre on the lowest setting to make it safe to perform. Big boxes are appropriate for tall people and are good to sit on during the modified Rowing work from the Pilates-based repertoire (not Classic!). You can stack a moon box on top of the box to allow the client to be on their sit bones when they sit. I usually like the smaller classic apparatus, although I have several men over 6 foot 5 inches, so a tall Reformer would probably be easier for them, especially the older gentlemen. But we are able to place the jump board over the spring area so they can safely mount the Reformer for the Footwork, and place blocks in the tracks to enable them to perform the repertoire. A large carriage can interfere in the proper position of a smaller person – for example: the Semi-Circle, the front edge of the carriage should lie just below the bottom of the scapulae.
I do not believe the spring settings are the same between brands. So try them first before teaching, if you are using an apparatus different than your own. It is also important to try to work with the springs balanced. So if you have 2 springs you either have 2 outer or 2 inner springs, rather than 2 on one side. If you use one spring use a middle or inner spring. Kathy Grant was a genius with the springs, she would place them in certain positions depending on whether you had a weakness or scoliosis, or what skill you were performing. She did place a 5th spring between the middle two, so that when she used one spring it generally was the middle one for skills like the Rowings and Pulling Straps. Kathy Grant said that Joe generally liked lighter springs, and Carola liked heavy springs. They could not find a standard spring they both liked, so that is why we do not have a “standardized” spring. Kathy said Joe used to make the size of the Reformers according to the size of the room. Larger Reformers for large rooms, smaller Reformers for small ones. But I am sure that the proportions were always correct!
Do you experience difficulties keeping your clients because of the current crisis?
I am lucky to always have a waitlist. The business is 26 years old, so it has survived during the bubbles and bursts. During the economic downturns the referrals from the doctors and chiropractors ensure a full schedule. People who need Pilates to stay well or get well will always have a way to make it. We try to keep our rates low and consistent in order to make Pilates accessible to many people.
Can you tell us more about your own educational program?
I started the Peak Performance Pilates Teacher’s Education program in 1990 because there were not enough Pilates’ teachers in the area and we needed them. I have taught the course in San Francisco, Zurich, Switzerland and in Paris, France. It is a comprehensive program that requires a deep commitment and dedication. It teaches you how to Teach Pilates. It is approximately 125 hours of interactive lecture, and a minimum of 200 hours of observation and 600 hours of (paid) teaching. In San Francisco I usually taught it over a period of 9 months; one 4 hour lecture, several hours of observation and a couple client sessions per week. You learn the levels, sequencing, transitions and contra-indications of the Classic Repertoire on all of the apparatus. You learn how to design a program, modify, spot, sequence, and adapt the entire Repertoire to differing clientele. Movement Perspectives™ is the first part of the program. It sets up the foundation of how to think and understand the Pilates system that Joseph and Clara Pilates created. You learn the basic principles, concepts, images and skills the entire repertoire is based upon. You learn to assess and “see” the client and address their needs. You learn how to prepare the body for Pilates by releasing restrictions through movements based on Moshe Feldenkrais, Physio-synthesis®, Pilates-based, physical therapy, dance and other genres. You learn to address special problems. You also learn basic principles of neuro-muscle physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, lifestyle, and gait training, and how it relates to Pilates so you can understand the “why and how” of Pilates. The apprentices have the chance to discuss what they observed and their experience of teaching. Basic management and business is also reviewed. To get the most out of a course, the optimal candidate has Pilates in his/her body, has a background in basic anatomy, physiology and biomechanics, is presently a teacher of something, preferably movement, and has been a mover. I always say: In order to teach English one needs to know English first. My books Movement Perspectives™ and Teaching the Universal Reformer Repertoire were written for the course I was teaching and contributing to in Paris.
What is your purpose in giving workshops?
I love teaching workshops. It is thrilling to pass on the information I have learned from so many wise people. It is fun seeing the participant’s eyes light up. I enjoy clarifying the intelligence of the system of Joseph and Clara Pilates, and the Elders. Since I was so lucky to have studied with several Elder teachers, I feel it my duty to pass on their teachings and stories. I think it important that people know the source. I like to pass on the magic tips and new insights from the health practitioners such as Dr. Richard Robertshaw, Dr. Chady Wonson and Dr. Gotz Lehle. They deepen our understanding of health and movement. I especially enjoy co-teaching with these health practitioners. Revealing the wisdom of the Pilates Method through other fields is exciting. For example, the jaw and the organs of the body can influence how a body moves, and how the muscles function. Imparting ideas from other fields expands a teacher’s ability to assess and address a client, and to know when to refer a client out to another Health practitioner, to help the client accomplish his/her goals and succeed in Pilates more quickly. I also like it when the participants interact, offer their insights and ask questions. Laughter is a nice part of the workshops.
Did you solve your own body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates?
Pilates keeps me functional, moving and healthy. I am sincerely grateful for how wonderful it makes me feel, especially since I had numerous gymnastic injuries, and had some structural problems.
Do you have a target audience?
I like to teach a variety of people. I teach children from the age of 4 to adults in their 80s, from those who cannot move due to illness, injury or surgery, to elite athletes, dancers, musicians and actors. Many doctors refer their patients to me so I can give them tools to get better. Sixty to seventy percent of my clients are men. When you see them perform it, you realize Contrology is made by a man for men. When you see a client of similar structure to Joe, you see Joe – whoa! Men take it very seriously and if you want consistent clientele for years, recruit the men! I have been working with many of my clients for over 15 to 24 years. They are my best teachers, they constantly challenge me and keep me on my toes! When Marc Pedri, the director of the movie “A Movement of Movement” and I first started talking, we were hoping that my male clients would be featured in his film, because they are wonderful to see how they have embodied the work. However, I ended up meeting him in Paris, so unfortunately I cannot share their movement with the world.
How many sessions do you teach each week?
When I am not traveling, I teach 16 -20 hours per week. Two days in San Francisco, and two days in Half Moon Bay a week. I teach privates, duets and semi-private sessions. I have a teacher’s class on Wednesdays that is a lot of fun. It is attended by many styles of Pilates teachers although most of them are Romana Teachers. I also go to a client’s house, as he had polio and has rheumatoid arthritis. The other days are reserved for administration, writing papers, organizing workshops, applying for conferences, writing and selling my books, working on my new device I invented and developing the repertoire for it – gasp!
Who would be your favorite person to teach?
I really enjoy my wonderful clients. They are fabulous! I have already had two experiences that were a great honor (but rather nerve racking). Ron Fletcher flew to San Francisco so that I could work on his shoulder that was troubling him. I gave him skills I learned from Eve Gentry. I referred him to our brilliant Chiropractor Dr. Richard Robertshaw and Feldenkrais practitioner Jeff Smith. Kathy Grant attended workshops I taught at IADMS; and Spine Corrector and Chair workshops at Rolates Pilates. I made her co-teach them with me, for she is my teacher! People who attended that workshop were very lucky indeed! Many reputable people have attended my workshops so already I feel incredibly honored. I think the Swiss tennis player Roger Federer embodies the fundamental expression of biomechanical efficiency and “Floppy Specificity” (my favorite alignment concept thought up by Jeff Smith, the M. Feldenkrais teacher). Although he reveals all that we strive for, it would still be interesting to work with him. I also wish I could teach my parents 3 times a week. They are both such good students! I live too far away though.
In Europe there are more female Pilates trainers than male. How is that in your country and more specific in your area?
Yes, there needs to be a better percentage of male teachers (and students). Kathy Grant was always saying that Mr. Pilates made Contrology for men. When you see men that have similar structures to Joe, you really see the work. Many of my clients are men. I always advertised with men in my pictures. And in my books there are a lot of men and people of all ages, shapes, sizes and level so that you can see the work on many bodies. I have trained several men to be teachers. I think most male athletes practice Pilates, but do not share the information, so as to have the competitive advantage, unlike women who seem to share their experiences.
What is your opinion about the future of Pilates?
Pilates is a time-honored system that incorporates all aspects of health and well being. It is here to stay. Like Mr. Pilates, I hope to see Pilates in more schools and medical institutions. A neighbor just told me that he thought Pilates must be effective because every Pilates teacher he has met seems to be really happy!
What is your own vision of Pilates?
Pilates is a kinesthetically intelligent system that enhances function, well being and energizes you. It is fun and makes you feel like you had a great workout and also the most incredible massage at the same time. It teaches you how to move in a biomechanically efficient way, so that everything in your life improves, whether it be carrying groceries, playing golf or climbing a mountain. It is phenomenal to observe the positive transformation that clients make in their lives from having practiced Pilates. Joe wanted everyone to have a balanced life: sleeping, playing, learning, etc. Every time I scrub my skin I think of Joe. I do recommend that everyone read Mr. Pilates’ books Return to Life and Your Health every year. To learn, and for the entertainment value!
Do you cooperate with other Pilatesinstructors?
I cooperate with many teachers, especially those open to constantly learning. I have met some very nice people in France and Europe. I helped set up, and taught my course, Movement Perspectives™ and workshops in Paris for approximately 7 years. I wrote my teaching manuals for that course. Presently, Laurence Thiébaut in Paris St. Cloud hosts and has always translated my workshops. It was at Laurence’s gorgeous studio Inspire that Marc Pedri came to interview me for the movie “A Movement of Movement.” Maria Elena Bernardi who went through my course has a nice studio in the Marais, Paris. In Nantes, France, Patrice and Antoine Zaballone came to my Pilates + Vacation™ Retreat in France and Italy, and always added some wonderful insights. Violaine Bonnin, in the Dordogne region, gallantly translated my book Movement Perspectives™ into French, and attended my course in Paris. Her mother’s house was the site of our Pilates + Vacation™ in the Dordogne, and she came to the retreat the following year in Tuscany. She is a lovely person and teacher. In Florence, Italy my fabulous host Francesca Bertoni, owner of Body Balance, is so open to new experiences and is an excellent teacher. Dr. Gotz Lehle, MD, (from Germany and now residing in Florence, Italy), who I co-teach with in Europe and England, provides invaluable and eye opening information on the body. Jarmo Ahonen, PT in Helsinki, Finland, contributed to my book Movement Perspectives™, is a gait specialist and a respected Physical Therapist who runs the Pilates teacher education programs in Helsinki. I was honored to have him attend my teacher’s course in San Francisco many years ago. I often email Gotz and Jarmo questions about clients and medical issues, which they so generously provide the answers. There are some wonderful Dutch teachers from Eindhoven who attended my Pilates + Vacation™ Retreats: Carine Kennedy, Pam Garcia, Myra Uijne-Friedel and Hwee Tan. In March, Tisha Harrington provided a fun opportunity for me to teach in London. In New York, Roberta Kirschenbaum, owner of Rolates Pilates, a beautiful studio that is located in Joe Pilates’ original space on 8th is incredibly supportive. When I teach there, I feel Joe breathing down my neck…There are so many people who I have worked with around the world (Japan, Singapore, Australia, Scandinavia, Europe and America), that I am sorry I cannot mention everyone.
Which Pilateswords you rather not use?
Powerhouse and core. I prefer to use the term “Center” and “Serape” which is the interaction of the lower scapular muscles, through the serratus anterior, which wraps around the body to intertwine with the oblique abdominal muscle’s – like a Mexican “Serape.” I say that the Serape connects the two centers of the body (the scapular area and the trunk) together. (Part II of this interview will be online in the 6th issue of Pilatesglossy.) Peak Performance Pilates 126 Post St., 3rd floor, SF, CA 94108. 717 Main St., HMB, CA 94019.