Jelena Petrovic the owner and founder of Smartbody Pilates Studio in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She grew up in the former Yugoslavia, France and Tunisia. At the age of 15, she was awarded an academic scholarship and went to study in the United States, where she stayed for 14 years, studying acting and dance and was working as a choreographer/dancer/performer, writing and teaching Pilates. Along with her husband Patrick, she moved to Amsterdam in the summer of 2000. He had just gotten his Doctorate in Physics and had come to work for a researcher at UVA. She was planning to continue my hmovement career and teach Pilates. And here they are, 14 years later, with her own studio and their 2 young boys. Jelena thinks the future is bright for Pilates!
When and why did you start practicing Pilates?
I was first introduced to Pilates in college, in western Massachussetts, in 1992. I remember borrowing a matwork book from Patrick, it looked like it was published in the seventies – the female model was wearing a leotard and tights, the male model was wearing what looked like swim trunks – and I remember thinking “this is intriguing, and I kinda like it on instrict”. I tried the exercises on my own and practiced it on my own for a while. I have a distinct memory of Hip Circles feeling impossible to do! I was in my third year of dance studies at the time and I found this an important supplement to my dancing. You have to keep in mind this was 1992, so very few dance departments offered Yoga or Pilates as supplemental training.
Where did you receive your Pilates education(s) and who was your teacher?
I went on to practice mat work for years after that, and had a handful of private lessons in the oldest Pilates Studio in New England: Your Own Gym, in Northampton, Massachussets. Your Own Gym was owned by Mary Bowen, who studied Pilates directly under Joe and Clara for a few years. I never met Mary in person, but took lessons from Cathy Caraker, a dancer and Pilates teacher who also later lived and worked in Amsterdam! In 1998, while dancing and running a company in Minneapolis, I started training to become a teacher under Dylan Skybrook, who owned Momentum Pilates at the time. He had obtained his certification from Madeleine Black in San Francisco. I completed my teacher training under Ellie Herman in San Francisco, in 2000.
Do you participate in workshops on a regular basis?
I am somewhat selective attending workshops. I love learning, but I value my time, so I choose to go for teachers who will really inspire me. The last such workshop was a 6 day intensive on the advanced work with Rachel Taylor Siegel, of the Pilates Center in Boulder. That woman is incredible! Her coherence, philosophy of movement, dedication are a great inspiration.
What made you decide to make Pilates your profession?
As a dancer in the nineties, I was always juggling a few jobs. I started out in restaurants and cafes, then later took on writing work for newspapers and magazines, dance teaching and eventually Pilates. Pilates seemed to go hand in glove with my dance career, as it allowed me to teach movement to people. That has always been a core value for me.
Do you own a studio or multiple studio’s ?
I own one studio in Amsterdam. I am lucky that my studio is located in a truly lovely location, overlooking the Prinsengracht, with high ceilings, massive amounts of sunshine and light, as well as ample space. I always consider myself lucky when I visit studios in NYC. 🙂 We have a mat room, which comfortably fits 12-14 students, plus an equipment room, where we have 7 Springboards, 4 Reformers, a Cadillac, 2 Wunda Chairs and 8 Pilates Arcs. We also have a smaller private room which we use for Alexander Technique lessons, which my husband Patrick teaches.We are continually investing in our space – there’s always new equipment, a renovation, guest workshops, etc… We consider it an imperative for staying current and competitive.
What Pilatesapparatus and exercise is your favorite?
It would be hard for me to choose a piece of equipment over another. I like different pieces for different reasons. I am still really partial to matwork and love a good, smooth, challenging mat class. I try to do mat at least twice a week. I love the Reformer of course, I love the Springboard, I love the Pilates Arc. It’s hard to choose! Favorite exercise: Hmm. Too many to choose from. Here’s a few:
- Reformer: Semi Circle, Back Splits, Upstretch, Snake
- Cadillac: Tower, Teaser, Walkover
- Wunda Chair: Side Body Twist, Parakeet, Lunge Front
What is your favorite brand of apparatus?
Favorite equipment brand: Balanced Body. That’s what we use and I’m a happy customer.
Do you experience difficulties keeping your clients because of the current crisis?
The current crisis has affected us, of course, but not on a core level. It has also motivated us to stay creative, which I am grateful for!
Smartbody has been offering Teacher Training since 2008. We have taught 6 teacher trainings since then. The program arose from my need to hire high quality teachers at a time when there were not so many Pilates teachers in the Netherlands. Currently, we offer a 130 hour mat program which runs for 12 weeks, and a 550 hour comprehensive program, which runs for about 11 months. We often hire our graduates to work at Smartbody.
Did you solve body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates?
I never particularly had any body issues. I was always a mover, and someone interested in perfecting movement skills of different kinds: modern dance, ballet, contact improvisation, Pilates, Yoga. Pilates certainly helps me stay fit, supple and strong, but I also believe that a healthy lifestyle is a counterpart to that. I move daily, eat well, keep my stress in check, and I don’t drink or smoke.
Do you have a target audience and how many lessons do you teach each week?
Our audience are mainly professional women between 28 and 60, let’s say. We also have a growing male audience, which is thrilling, because we all know how tough it is to reach men.I give an average of 15-20 lessons a week. I teach mainly privates, but also a mat class or two and a couple of equipment classes. I love the variety of it.
Who is your favorite person that you would love to teach Pilates?
I am an avid reader of novels and non-fiction, so I would say I’d love to give a private lesson to a great author I have recently read. I was blown away by Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Donna Tartt in the studio for an hour, learning movement from me! That would be a huge treat!
What is your opinion about the future of Pilates?
I think the future is bright for Pilates. The obvious reasons are: an ageing population in the west, an epidemic of obesity and sendentariness, a growing incidence of chronic white collar injuries (no specific low back pain, disc problems, hip problems etc). But there are subtle things at play for why Pilates has staying power. People come for their weekly lessons and sometimes you can really tell that this is their time to be with themselves, to work on themselves in a deep and very lasting way. That hour is a real sanctuary. This is what I find even more exciting about the role of Pilates in the lives of us humans. It gives us the chance to practice being here now.
Do you cooperate with other Pilatesinstructors?
I work with a team of 7 other instructors. They are Anna Levin, Astarti Athanasiadou, Susanne Gijsbers, Morag Mackay, Marieke Van Tol, Aleksandra Mazur and Lisa Smith.
What is the biggest insight Pilates gave you?
Pilates continues to give me insight. The biggest insight is the fundamental one – find your centre and ease of movement will follow. That keeps getting refined and shifted as I continue to learn, teach, embody and live. I think it will continue to do so, since we fundamentally still have a lot to learn about the human body.
What is your opinion about the classical, authentic Pilates and the contemporary approach?
I think for me, approaches (classical, pilates evolved, etc), are essentially not important. I think methods are powerless without inspiring messengers! I love learning from great teachers, and devil may care what the method is. Ok, maybe not entirely, but a method is an abstraction, while the individual’s way of transporting it to the student is what brings it to life. I will quote Kathy Grant here, by way of Rachel Taylor Segel: “There are no bad movements, only movements DONE badly.” I feel the same way about methods!
Who is your biggest example and who would you love to meet (again) in the Pilates field?
I admire Tom McCook, from Centre of Balance in California. I am bringing him to Amsterdam for a weekend workshop in Franklin Method and Pilates on October 4-5 2014.
Are you familiar with Pilates over the world e.g. Europe, Asia, Australia? If so, do you see familiarities?
I am pretty familiar with Pilates in Northern California and NYC. As I meet instructors from different parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, I am beginning to develop a picture as well.
Did you ever meet an “Elder”?
I have never personally met an elder. Ellie Herman, who certified me, studied directly under Romana, as did Rachel Taylor Siegel. That’s the closest I have come.
Do you have a favorite story about Joe or Clara or somebody else?
One of the stories that I heard from Rachel is that after all is said and done, Joe’s main mission was world peace. I love that.
Do you expect to keep on practicing Pilates and keep on giving classes?
I expect and hope that I will keep teaching well into my sixties. Pilates keeps you young, so why stop?
What is your Pilatesdream?
My Pilates dreamis to keep on learning from great movers and to keep growing in my understanding of human movement. I don’t think that I can exhaust all the possibilities before I go. Smartbody Studio/ ProFysio Molenpad 15, 1st Floor, Amsterdam Phone: 06-48270752 Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org