I went to the PMA and this is what the experience made me think about…
Cuing can be an Expressionist, Minimalist, Abstract, Formal, Hyper-realist and a Surreal Art form. And that is Art with a capital A. Personally, I fall somewhere between staunch minimalism and a black hole in terms of language. Think Donald Judd meets the sound a library makes. I say very little without much intonation. My “style” of teaching – for a lack of a better term – works and doesn’t work in equal measure. Saying almost nothing other than what is absolutely necessary for a student to preform an action, is that the lesson can seem rather pedantic. So I need to find ways other than using language, to get the human in front of me to move well. My method of teaching springs out of mortal fear of saying things that are categorically untrue. It isn’t rational but I try to own my issues outright.
The good news is that students of an almost silent teacher sometimes end up being more responsible for their hour of practice. In a more quiet session, students could potentially take the time to listen to other things. For example: the sound of the springs; the sound of the carriage coming all the way “home”; traffic; birds chirping. But most importantly, their bodies. Saying very little can give a student the freedom to figure some stuff out independently of the teacher. This results in a relationship that is based on trust: the student trusts that what I say is important because I don’t say much.
The ever prevalent questions I get from new students are: “what is this for?” and “where should I feel this?”. These questions are problematic in different ways. “What is this for?”, in my opinion, isn’t an actual question in the context of Pilates, but an accusation. As in saying: I don’t find inherent value in this movement or lack of movement, you are asking me to perform. “Where should I be feelings this?” is a bit more accusatory in the sense that the implication is that there is pain, which obviously I am not looking to cause. Or not enough buildup of lactic acid in a concentric manner which is resulting not finding value in the movement. It is quite possible that if I spoke more and more knowingly and with more authority and precise enthusiasm, I may not give room to be asked questions that stem from boredom or general lack of stimulus (mind and body). I certainly have a lot to improve on this matter.
To offset my problem, I love taking class with teachers who are talkers. But not all talkers are made equal. There are talkers that fill the hour with a constant symphony of words which aren’t meaningful. Maybe it’s better than the vacuum I create? But I doubt whether shouting “piriformis!” and “lengthen!” at random times, has actually helped anyone during Stomach Massage.
A few NYC based teacher come to mind when I think about the master talkers: Alycea Ungaro, Jennifer DeLuca and Jan Phillips. All vastly different teachers and personalities they’re unified in being able to speak for an entire hour and still make complete and brilliant sense. They know what they mean and are consistent in their dogma. There isn’t a lot of flowery language such as, “feel the back of your leg slowly spread long on the mat”. Did you mean straighten my knee? Because that I can do. In their hands I am never being asked to “lengthen” at random. Nothing is random.
I am very lucky to have a business partner who is, in some ways, more like-minded to myself in terms of sparse language. Jeremy Laverdure does not say much to his long term students. He assumes they know their “Up Stretch” from their “Down Stretch”. When he does decide to say more, he will often stop the flow of the hour to explain what he means in detail. If he is going to mention bony landmarks or muscle insertions, he will also take the time to pull out a picture or point to a skeleton so when he yells “piriformis” folks know where that is exactly and why he’s yelling it (for the record: Jeremy actually has never yelled during a lesson I have been witness to I only said that for dramatic effect).
Love the direct style. I’m borrowing honor the student as motivation to shut my trap more. Generally this gives me time to observe the student, thereby perhaps receiving the gift of something to teach.
Oh and thank you for describing us as students. I am an ever evolving student of Pilates as is everyone who walks through my studio doors.
Kristen Iuppenlatz Grech says
How lovely to find your voice here, Anula, after meeting you in Denver. Love this examination of the different styles of teaching. I am, I must admit, a talker. I try very hard to keep quiet and let my students have their own experience without my yakking but I know how much impact an incremental shift can make in my student’s awareness and I am so excited to get them there that I have trouble shutting up. I tend to work with older, injured clients so I use many modifications (although I try to move everyone toward full expression of the method). My instruction emphasizes alignment and exploration of each individual’s patterns and strives to strengthen the weakest link in any exercise and create balance in the body in front of me. My style isn’t for everyone and I encourage my clients to work one on one with me and then take classes from one of the eight other teachers in my studio. How amazing that you get to study with Cara Reeser and Alycea Ungaro!! A big plus of living in such an exciting city. I need to take the time to venture out more often and study with some of the extraordinary teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area which is just an hour from me. I look forward to reading your blog regularly. All the best, Kristen