Robert Surenbroek (46), co-owner of East Bay Pilates in Emeryville, California. He and his wife Krisna have a lovely studio in the San Francisco Bay Area.
How did you get introduced to Pilates? Did your background have anything to do with it?
My wife, Krisna L. Hanks, was a former professional modern dancer and Pilates’ enthusiast working in the Netherlands who introduced me to Classical Pilates. At that time I was a professional cameraman working free-lance in television, documentaries and film for various companies and stations. If you know camera work it involves a lot of traveling, hauling equipment and being in awkward positions with a broadcast camera on your shoulder for long periods of time. Slowly this lifestyle started to creep up on me and I was looking for a change. I always had been involved in sports. I played Waterpolo from the age of six and that lasted twenty years, at the same swimming club. I also taught young kids to swim. When I worked as a full-time filmmaker, I didn’t have the time to play a team sport any more. In the winter I would take several weeks off to go snowboarding that led to teaching, during which time I received my snowboard instructor certification in Austria. So I had some teaching background before I started the Pilates’ certification program. Krisna was teaching and heavily involved in the Iyengar Yoga program in Amsterdam, and we were both looking to train more regularly in Pilates. We discovered Marjorie Oron’s program in Scheveningen and made a consistent Saturday adventure to Marjorie’s studio, which by the way is a beautiful location and she is an excellent teacher.
Where did you receive your Pilates education(s) and who was your teacher?
I am certified by Power Pilates of New York City and studied under Susan Moran, a co-founder of Power Pilates, Lesly Levy, Cary Campbell, Allison Laundry and Allison Gonzales owner of Purely Pilates in Belmont, CA.
Do you participate in workshops on a regular basis?
I regularly participate in workshops for the reason that Pilates is such a rich method that it is impossible to absorb all it’s diversity during the certification process. As one starts teaching the real work begins, questions arise and that is why workshops are so important to continue the learning. My latest workshop was summer camp at Vintage Pilates, which consisted of private sessions, Vintage Pilates classes, Teachers Clubhouse and Workshops with Sandy Shimoda, Karen Frischmann and Jay Grimes. Other workshops this year were the annual Power Pilates’ official teacher trainer enhancement, which consists of multiple workshops over the course of 3 days, this year in Atlanta, GA. We also hosted Karen Frischman of Vintage Pilates and Bob Liekens of Power Pilates at our studio, East Bay Pilates this year.
Do you own a studio?
As mentioned above we have a “family business” meaning my wife and I, together own East Bay Pilates. The studio is just across the bay from San Francisco, thus in the East Bay area. The studio is located in a small retail section in downtown Emeryville. We now have a combination of Gratz and Peak apparatus. We will hit ten years in business this coming March 2015. Yeah!
What Pilates apparatus or exercise is your favorite and why?
I don’t think I have a favorite piece of apparatus or exercise. I enjoy working on all the apparatus. The question maybe is what is your least favorite piece of apparatus or exercise because that is probably what I should work on the most! At the moment I am working on the Swan with the Push Through bar with no spring. I have the range of motion to do that exercise with a spring, but lack the strength to do it without a spring on my own. I use the full system of Pilates, to enhance my strength for that exercise. I think that is also the beauty of the Classical system; it gives you all the tools you need to improve
What is your favorite brand of apparatus?
I favor the Gratz apparatus, because I feel the Classical Pilates work makes more sense on the Gratz, especially the Reformer. We started out with the Classical line of Peak Pilates equipment when we opened our business. It served us well in the beginning, however, we are in the process of transitioning primarily into Gratz.
Did you start your own educational program?
We currently are a host-training center affiliated with Power Pilates Teacher Trainer Program out of New York City. I am one of Power Pilates’ team of certified Teacher Trainers. I teach the comprehensive trainings for our studio as well as for Purely Pilates in Belmont and Evolve in Los Altos.
What is your purpose in giving workshops?
The reasons for giving workshops is the same as being a participant, it is the sharing of knowledge and the opportunity to be inspired.
Did you solve body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates?
If you have done any sport for a long time your body conforms to that particular movement pattern inherent to the sport in question. When you are young these patterns are not so noticeable, but when you get older they can lead to problems, just like old injuries. Pilates is great cross training. In that it evens out the body or realigns it. The older you get, the more important it becomes to have a daily exercise routine. Training does not have to be strenuous everyday, but it needs to be consistent in order to keep the body supple. Jay Grimes said something like; “The body is an instrument and Pilates keeps it tuned.” I see that as an appropriate analogy.
How many lessons do you give each week? Is your focus on private, duets or trio sessions or do you prefer to give mat classes?
I teach all the above and enjoy it all. Classes and privates all have different dynamics as well as various individuals who work out. Privates offer a unique chance to work on specific details for that individual and dig deeper. Duets and semi-privates present another dynamic in that people might tend to sometimes push themselves harder due to the competitive nature of the human psyche. I believe it is good to start with private sessions to gain clarity as well as confidence in the method. Then as one progress to add a duet or trio class which demands more independence and self-sufficiency. Good habits are formed in the studio with the ultimate goal being that you can carry them with you in whatever you do.
In Europe there are more female Pilates trainers than male. How is that in your country and more specific in your area?
I feel its’ the same here in the US as it is in Europe. For a long time Pilates was sold as a more female oriented workout, meaning a larger emphasis on the yoga/flexibility piece. I think men are still a bit leery about it, because the first thing they say is “I’m not flexible enough to do Pilates.” Over time they find out that flexibility is not the most challenging component of Pilates. In my opinion flexibility is the wrong term, it has more to do with the imbalances in the body that have created limited range of motion. It’s not simply just a question of how little or how much flexibility one has. If one does the correct exercises, in an intelligent order, the body evens itself out through the work…i.e. Pilates works! I also believe it definitely helps if there are more male trainers to cater to male clientele. For example, our studio has a higher portion of male clients than similar studios due to having male trainers.
What is your opinion about the future of Pilates?
Pilates has been around for a long time so in essence stood the test of time, plus it delivers results, all of which lead to longevity. That said, it only works, from my perspective if you work within the true Classical system. This needs the guidance of an experienced teacher that understands the work and utilizes all the apparatus as Joe Pilates intended. Like with all success stories there are always copycats and contempory blends that will compete for market share. Unfortunately since the lawsuit one is allowed to call any type of exercise “Pilates.” I feel this has led to a lot of misconceptions and lack of understanding about what Pilates really is. It has created a whole marketing mania around Pilates, which means many individuals may experience a form of exercise which in essence is very far away from the classical method of Pilates, and that is a shame.
What is your own vision of Pilates?
Pilates is exercise, plain and simple, but very efficient exercise. It is a full body workout that develops the body evenly. Not too much and not too little. You try to not overwork the muscles, which can lead to injury, but you strive to work the body hard enough to make appropriate changes in the body. It is exercise to lead life and should support your daily activity, not dominate it. You should feel invigorated after a Pilates workout, not physically trashed.
Do you cooperate with other Pilates’ instructors?
We, meaning our studio East Bay Pilates, try to connect with as many of the Classical Pilates’ instructors and studios as we can. Of course given our location in California that is often primarily with those on the West coast. As our studio is a host center for Power Pilates, we also work with Allison Gonzalez owner of Purely Pilates in Belmont, CA. I take lessons from various classical teachers such as Karen Frischmann and Lucero Barry among others.
Which Pilates’ word would you rather not use?
I don’t think any of the words like Powerhouse or Pilates’ stance is in essence “wrong”, but in my opinion maybe overused and or inappropriate in some cases. For example, when teaching a new student who has no concept what Powerhouse means and you keep asking them to use it, confusion might set in. I understand it is an easy way to cue, but I think possibly more efficient if woven in later, when the client has a better understanding of the work, as well as where the movement should initiate from. That said, words are certainly a large part of your toolbox as a Pilates’ teacher, especially since we do very little physical demonstration while instructing, thus semantics matter. I guess if you achieve the goal of getting your client to move in the desired way it doesn’t matter what words you use. I appreciate teachers who are clear, concise and get one moving with as few words as possible.
What is the biggest insight Pilates gave you?
I think my biggest insight from Pilates is that less can be more in terms of working out. Quality over quantity. By quality I mean that Pilates’ addresses individual physical weaknesses and capitalizes on total body function. It enhances posture, improves mobility and positively influences overall levels of fitness at any age. Pilates can provide you the level of fitness that you desire. It can be adapted to your specific exercise needs; from top-level performer/athlete who needs the ultimate cross training method to normal quality exercise for someone who works in an office and just wants to move efficiently. Everyone is strapped for time these days and probably all need to move more that we do. However, you don’t have to run marathons or cycle for hours in order to be fit. Nor does it require extreme sports or radical activities. If you do a little bit of movement every day and are consistent, you can be fit.
Who is your biggest example and whom would you love to meet (again) in the Pilates field?
I think it would really be fun to hook up again with Kathi Ross Nash. I met her once for a mat class and workshop, and lately I’ve been enjoying her classes on Pilatesology. She is an incredible mover and really knows the work. Besides been hilariously funny and slightly insane, although trying to follow her classes on video also counts me as being somewhat nutty ;).
Did you ever meet an “Elder” and if so, how was that for you?
I have taken several workshops and lessons with Jay Grimes. I continue to visit his studio in Los Angeles when given the opportunity. Meeting an elder is as close as you can get to Mr. Pilates so it is kind of special. It offers a peek into the essence of how Pilates’ was originally practiced at 8th Avenue in New York City. For example with Jay and how he teaches, it offers me a chance to get some feeling of the original studio vibe.
Do you expect to keep on practicing Pilates and keep on giving classes?
Yes, like many Pilates’ teachers it is part of my life. That means regular practice is inherent to staying active in the profession; I intend to keep that up!
How did you and Krisna end up in the US?
Some times you just feel an urge to live somewhere else. After visiting the SF Bay Area for a holiday we decided that was the place for us. We had some friends living in the East Bay and decided to move there; packed everything in a container, put our belongings on a boat and moved to California. We had no house, no work but lots of enthusiasm. We crashed at our friend’s house and started looking for a space to open a studio. The first years I continued to work in the film industry and quickly realized I wanted to do Pilates full-time. Who dares wins.
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