We at Pilatesglossy are very proud to introduce you to Karen Sanzo, Pilates teacher, physical therapist, and owner of Pilates Unlimited, her studio in Dallas, Texas. Karen is also known for her online classes at PilatesAnytime.com. Karen’s motto: “Patience is part of every practice.”
Please tell the readers something about yourself.
I was born into a military family. They were living in Greece when I was born, and we spent some time in Italy. We returned to the US when I was still in grade school, and I graduated from high school in Omaha, Nebraska.
I was very active in high school sports. Softball was my favorite. I wanted to participate in the Olympics and become a professional player, but when I was 16 years old, I had a terrible softball accident. I played shortstop. We played competitive fast-pitch, and my catcher and I were known for never allowing a steal to second base. The batter was out by a mile, but she slid into me and took me down. My tibia and fibula stuck out in the shape of an L. The physical therapist gave me pep talks, cared about me, and didn’t talk to me like I was a baby. It was tough, and the rehab was lengthy, but after that experience, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I earned a PT Assistant degree from Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts and graduated from Texas Woman’s University with a Masters degree in Physical Therapy in 1984. My first anatomy teacher, Pat Christopher at Becker, inspired my love of anatomy and movement, and Ken Byrd, my teacher at TWU, strengthened my passion for the subject.
What is unique about your approach to Pilates and movement in general?
I have always addressed movement as part of a rehab protocol, and my extensive training in anatomy has been the ideal preparation for my career as a Pilates teacher. The movements immediately made sense to me because I understood the logic that inspired them. As a teacher, I work hard to enable my students to make those connections, too. It’s much easier to learn a new exercise or a new way of moving if you can visualize what’s going on in your body.
I love the organization of the Pilates exercises. From the beginning I began to see the exercises as forces exerted on the spine. What’s important in Pilates (and most movement) is how the body interprets the exercises. It’s all about communication—how the body “listens.” For the body to “hear” the correct movement, there has to be a harmonic union between teacher and student. When you see it working, it’s a beautiful thing.
Every student or client is unique, and I meet that person where he or she is. This is something I emphasize when I teach other Pilates teachers. It’s not enough to know Pilates through and through. They must learn to mold the exercises, the experience, and the communication to each individual.
Do you own a studio?
I opened my current studio, Pilates Unlimited, in Dallas in January of 2008. It’s a beautiful, compact space that houses our Pilates classes and our Teacher Training Program, which attracts students from far and wide. We have three Balanced Body Faculty members.
Our studio holds five reformer/tower combos. Six chairs. Two cadillacs. Four wall units. Ladder barrel. Arc barrels. Suspension training. And a host of what I like to call tools and toys to facilitate movement and function. We offer private and small group training sessions in addition to group mat and group equipment classes. Every one of our nine teachers is passionate about guiding our clients in essential mind-body connections. This is our mission statement: Pilates Unlimited—where we mind your spine.
Who are some of the important influences in your career?
My first Pilates teacher was Alice Ann Daily in Dallas, Texas. Her love for movement was obvious. The teachers at her studio then are still my colleagues today. Dorothy Stewart owns Personal Pilates Plus and Lori Huffstutler works with us at Pilates Unlimited. Alice Ann went on to create “The Inner Body Workout,” based on the principles and philosophies of Physiosynthesis.
I learned a great deal from Elizabeth Larkam, Madeleine Black, and Marika Molnar, and I worked with Colleen Glenn and Wendy Le Blanc Arbuckle and received certifications from their programs.
I respect the teacher who is present to the needs at hand. In a busy studio, it’s the cooperation of all that makes the studio hum. It’s the teacher who makes the weakest person feel strong in a class. The teacher who instills hope and desire and passion that anything is possible.
What is your opinion about Traditional, Classical, and Contemporary Pilates?
There’s a place for everything. I believe there are more similarities than differences.
What made you decide to make Pilates your profession?
Supporting individuals in their health journey is important to me. I saw so many people with challenges that stemmed from faulty posture. Posture is a lot more than just standing up straight. It’s relationships among your body parts. And it’s even more than that. It’s about your physical body, your mental body, your emotional body, your spiritual body. Posture is a verb. Posturing yourself for success includes surrounding yourself with individuals who both support and challenge you.
What Pilates apparatus is your favorite and why?
I am very inclusive. I don’t want any piece of equipment to feel left out. Each piece provides a different experience. Each exercise requires different connections. My job is to find the piece that creates the connections for the workout I have planned. In the event my plan needs to change, I know that I have other pieces.
Tell us about your own educational program.
I named my first Teacher Training Program, “Pilates! More Than Exercise.” That’s one of my trademarks. I believe that Pilates is MORE than exercise. I believe that a training program should encompass mat as well equipment and include anatomical applications. I continue to sell manuals and Audio CD’s from that program, which others use for their own continuing education.
In 2006 I met Al Harrison and Nora St. John of Balanced Body and began doing my teacher training with them. They have been wonderful in my journey (and that of my studio). The union has been very positive. Their staff handles registrations and books and manuals, which has given me the opportunity to focus on teaching.
Do you have a You Tube channel? Do you teach on Pilates Anytime?
I am working on the You Tube channel and on podcasting. I LOVE teaching on Pilates Anytime! It’s been a wonderful learning experience. Preparation for filming is exhilarating and I am always working for clarity and good articulation.
Nowadays people call themselves Pilates trainers after one weekend course or a Pilates workshop. What is your opinion about that?
Well . . . people are responsible for themselves and their actions. Some may not realize the importance of safety or recognize liability issues. The PMA has done a wonderful job in this area. I was asked to be an expert witness a few years ago in a case involving someone who was hurt on Pilates equipment during a class. I had to answer questions on training, safety, class protocols, and the like. Seeing the importance of proper training from a legal perspective will definitely give you pause.
Tell us your top 5 tips to those new to Pilates.
- Take the time to schedule your sessions when you know you can make them. Know that a new discipline takes time and commitment.
- Patience is part of the practice.
- Ask questions when you don’t understand.
- Enjoy the process of examining old perceptions.
- Resist quick fix thinking.
Please share your top 5 tips for trainers studying to become instructors.
- Find a teacher/mentor you resonate with.
- Resist trying to figure out the “right” way.
- Patience is part of the practice. Learning is a gift.
- Take time to study, practice and observe.
- Fundamental principles and movements are the KEY.
Do you attend Pilates workshops and conferences?
I teach at conferences all over the US, and I attend workshops as a student as well. Preparing to teach at a conference and preparing to teach for Pilates Anytime challenges me to tie together current ideas, trends, and research and make them accessible to others. My favorite workshop is the one I am sitting in at any given moment. I am present to learning. I stay present. I listen. That’s how we learn and grow.
What is your favorite Pilates quote?
“It is the mind itself that creates the body.” Joe
Books by Karen Sanzo:
- Pilates ! More Than Exercise® A Manual of Thoughtful Movement
- Pilates ! More Than Exercise® Reformer Level I and II
- Pilates For All Bodies® Getting Started (2 volume)
- Pilates For All Bodies® Focus on Fundamentals
LLC. Dallas, Texas
Betsy Fuller says
Karen your mention of Becker College brought me to send this message. I was previously faculty in Becker’s PTA program and am now on the administration. But I think our paths may have crossed in Houston! I taught some of the physical rehab movement lectures and labs at TWU Houston around the time you were there. Do you recall have a grad student teacher who worked at TIRR?
Karen Sanzo says
wow. Aren’t connections great???!!!
I remember Mandy Smith–both from TIRR and from Becker College.