Mariska Breland (39) from Fuse Pilates was born to a Dutch mother and an American father. She grew up mostly in the United States, but she regularly traveled for holiday in the Netherlands. Mariska studied communications and journalism at university. First, she worked in television and later, she was a creative director for multi-million dollar events, including a project for the Olympics. In her spare time, she started doing (and then teaching) Pilates. When she went freelance with her job and had more time, she started teaching more. Mariska still does the occasional freelance project, but today, most of her time is spent teaching, as well as working on books and manuals on exercise for neurological conditions. It’s a big change from what she used to do!
When and why did you start practicing Pilates?
I took my first classes in mat Pilates at a gym. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2002, I started practicing both yoga and Pilates regularly
Where did you receive your Pilates education(s) and who was/were your teacher(s)?
I received my comprehensive Pilates certification through BASI. After that, I trained in a mentorship program with Julian Littleford. I also have worked extensively with Jennifer Kries. I still study with her as well as other classically trained (by Romana and Jay Grimes) instructors.
Do you participate in workshops on a regular basis?
Yes – I love workshops. If I could be a professional workshop attendee, that would be my dream job! The last workshop I attended was a mentorship weekend on teaching the Cadillac with Jennifer Kries. My favorite workshop was the weekend Julian Littleford trained me and 5 other teachers to teach his arm chair repertoire. It was his favorite apparatus. It was just a few months before he passed away, and I’m grateful to have had that opportunity.
What made you decide to make Pilates your profession?
After my mother passed away in 2004, I stopped caring so much about the day job that I had loved so much when I was younger. I knew I wanted to do something to help people be healthier. I suppose a made a subconscious decision then. The stars aligned to make the rest possible.
Do you own a studio (or multiple studio’s)?
I own two contemporary Pilates studios in Washington, D.C. One studio is focused on mat work and the other is a full studio with reformer, tower, mat, chair, Cadillac, and the barrels.
What did you have to invest (people, time, money) to get your studio running?
A lot of time and money! Luckily, I had investors approach me about opening a studio with me. I was able to split the cost of opening, as well as the effort of studio management, with my partner. And, luckily, I had already taught two teacher trainings, so I had several teachers ready to start when the studio opened.
What is your favorite brand of apparatus (Gratz, Peak Pilates, Balanced Body, Stott Pilates, Basi, Basil or other)?
If I am doing or teaching contemporary Pilates, I prefer Balanced Body. When I am doing classical Pilates, I prefer Gratz.
What Pilates apparatus is your favorite and why?
Tough question! I think the Wunda Chair is my favorite (this week!). I love that such a tiny apparatus has some of the toughest exercises in Pilates.
What Pilates exercise is your favorite and why?
My favorite Pilates exercise changes regularly. This week it’s probably long spine with no straps because I just figured out how to do it (with some very good instruction).
Do you experience difficulties keeping your clients because of the current economic crisis?
I think our biggest challenge is that Washington, D.C. is a very transient city. People routinely move away. It’s one thing to retain clients, but you also have to keep an influx of new people.
Did you start your own educational program?
In terms of my studio classes, since my mat class has a very distinctive style, I developed Fuse Pilates mat training. Fuse Pilates is the trademarked name. Our intention is that it is seen as separate from traditional Pilates. We incorporate exercises that aren’t traditional, teach to music, and teach by request. I try to be clear that our group classes aren’t classical, but if people want to take classical work, most of our teachers are also classically trained. I also teach advanced workshops in Pilates for neurological conditions. I started doing that after Carolyne Anthony, founder of the Center for Women’s Fitness, asked me if I had a course on working with multiple sclerosis, and if not, if I would consider designing one. I wrote the Pilates for MS course, which is taught in both the United States and Europe.
What is your purpose in teaching workshops?
I want teachers to understand the basics of working with clients with neurological conditions, and to not be afraid of taking on those clients. The Pilates environment is a perfect place to help these clients, and more recovery is possible than many people think. I was diagnosed with MS when I was in my twenties, and I have very rarely encountered fitness professionals who understand how to help.
Did you solve your own body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates?
I use Pilates to maintain my strength, balance, and flexibility – all things that can be lost with MS. My medical condition has been well managed with diet and exercise. I do have some symptoms, but when I don’t do my Pilates, they’re worse.
Do you have a target audience?
For my Fuse Pilates classes, our target demographic are younger students – people in their 20s and 30s who want to have a safe and effective workout. For my Pilates for MS course, I want to work with any teacher who is interested in helping this largely underserved population.
Is your focus more on private, or duets or triosessions or do you prefer to teach mat groupclasses?
I love teaching group classes and workshops.
Who is your favorite person that you would love to teach a Pilates class?
It’s not a specific person – it’s more a type of person. I love to tackle the people who are fit (or at least think they are) and who have preconceived notions that Pilates is easy or “girly.” One of my favorite students ever was a Navy SEAL. He was incredibly strong, but like most students, he struggled with things like the short box series.
In Europe there are more female Pilates trainers than male. How is that in your country and more specific in your area?
It’s the same here. Of my 15 employees, only two teachers are male, and most studios don’t have a single male teacher.
What is your opinion about the future of Pilates?
I think Pilates will exist forever and continue to grow in popularity– there really is no better exercise system.
What is your own vision of Pilates?
I hope that medical insurance or employers will cover some of the costs of Pilates so that more people can participate.
What is the biggest insight Pilates gave you?
You can love something that you will never ever fully master.
Do you cooperate with other Pilatesinstructors?
We host other teachers for workshops, or if they are in town, they can use our studio to see clients. Both Cara Reeser and Karena Thek have taught clients at our studio when they are in D.C.
Which Pilatesword you rather not use?
Pelvic floor. I actually don’t think that’s a Pilates word (I’m sure Joseph Pilates never said it), but I find a lot of Pilates teachers love to cue it (and over-cue it). They cue engagement but not release, so a lot of Pilates students and teachers have pelvic floor problems.
Did you change things about your teaching or would you like to?
I think I’m a different teacher every time I’ve taken a good class.
What is your opinion about the classical, authentic Pilates and the contemporary approach?
I love them both, and I truly view them both as valuable. I think it’s very important for contemporary-trained teachers to also learn classical. I take a private session every week with a teacher trained by Romana. I have studied with the protégés of Jay Grimes and Kathy Grant. But my mentor – my biggest inspiration – was Julian Littleford, who was very different in his style of teaching and the exercises he taught. As I’ve followed the debate between the two approaches over the years, I have questioned what it is that I teach. Is it Pilates? I would say that sometimes it is and sometimes it is not. But everything I do is influenced by Pilates and the understanding of movement and the human body that I have gained from it. In an ideal world, I think classical and contemporary Pilates would have different names. Since that didn’t happen (and it probably can’t be changed now), in order to help clarify what I do, our branding says “Fuse – Pilates-inspired fitness.” But if you want me to teach you a classical class, I’m able to do that as well.
Who is your biggest example and who would you love to meet (again) in the Pilates field?
I would love for Julian Littleford to come back for a visit. I miss him very much.
Are you familiar with Pilates over the world e.g. Europe, Asia, Australia? If so, do you see familiarities?
I have seen Pilates in the U.S., Argentina, England and Italy. The biggest difference I saw was in Pilates in the United Kingdom. Most teachers didn’t have access to fully-equipped studios.
Did you ever meet an “Elder” and if so, how was that for you?
Lolita San Miguel walked past me at a conference many years ago and said “You need to strengthen your sartorius muscle.” She kept walking, so I have no idea what her trained eye saw in that brief moment. I’m still wondering five years later.
If you are traveling abroad for Pilates, what would be your goal?
I travel to teach my Pilates for MS workshop.
Do you expect to keep on practicing Pilates and keep on giving classes?
I imagine I will do Pilates until I die. And, since I love to teach, I will probably be teaching well into my old age.
What is your Pilates dream?
I would love to travel the world to train with the best teachers for extended periods of time – daily sessions for a month or so, and then I would move on to learn from another teacher.
Are you available for bookings in the Netherlands?
Yes the Pilates for MS course could come to the Netherlands. That would be great – it would give me an excuse to visit family.
Have you written a Pilatesbook?
I wrote a 300+ page textbook for the Pilates for MS course. I also am writing a book on exercise for neurological conditions. I hope to have that done next year.
Mariska Breland Fuse Pilates 2008 Hillyer Place NW Washington, DC USA firstname.lastname@example.org