What is a “Pilates body” anyways?
“Sculpt a dancer’s body with Pilates”
If you have been a Pilates devotee for a while now, you have undoubtedly seen this type of headline on the internet or in magazine articles. Have you ever wondered what it means to have a “Pilates body”?
If we look at what the fitness industry considers a “Pilates body”, we will often find references to the Pilates method as a fitness method that creates the look of a ballet dancer, or a core workout that develops long lean muscles. However, if we go back to the source, Joseph Pilates himself, we will find that the aesthetic body was not his sole focus. According to Pilates, Contrology (the name he gave his method),
“is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit” and “develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit” (Return to Life, page 18)
Whew. That’s a lot of things Pilates will do for our bodies, but nowhere does it mention giving us a dancer’s body or talk about long lean muscle development. So where did this idea of Pilates creating the look of a ballet dancer come from? (Besides it being a convincing marketing tactic to draw people in?) Likely from Pilates Elder Romana Kryzanowska: a ballerina who spent the greatest number of years studying with Pilates, and who trained a number of former professional ballet dancers as Pilates teachers.
It is important to note that Joseph Pilates taught to many different body types and levels. Many of his first clients were men, and it was not until he moved to New York City did he start working with dancers. Pilates taught to the individual in front of him, and gave them specific exercises that would enhance that individual’s daily life activities, profession, or athletic interests. It goes to say that if he was working with a ballerina, he would give them exercises to help correct imbalances specific to dancers, and if he was working with his opera singer client Roberta Peters, exercises to help with her performances.
While some of the other Pilates Elders were also dancers (Ron Fletcher, Eve Gentry, and Kathy Grant were all modern dancers), it was only Romana who was a classically trained dancer. She is known for her transitions in between exercises (which create flow) and ballet-like variations. Romana likely gained a large number of ballet dancers as clients due to her own dance background, thus promoting the idea that Pilates could potentially give you a dancer’s physique. It wasn’t the Pilates exercises that made these dancers look like dancers though – it was their years of ballet training that had already given them this “look”.
If you look at historical photos of Pilates throughout his lifetime, you will note that his physicality remained fairly constant. I think it would be safe to say that Joseph, having practiced his method his entire life, did not develop the long lean lines of a ballet dancer
What exactly is a “Pilates” body then? From Return to Life, Pilates (Contrology) is:
“designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will be unmistakeable reflected in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the way you work” (Return to Life, page 19)
A Pilates body is YOUR body. By doing Pilates exercises, we all work towards what Pilates considered the ideal: the unity of mind, body and spirit. By conditioning our bodies and our minds during our Pilates workouts, we develop our best selves:
“Self-confidence, poise, consciousness of possessing the power to accomplish our desires, with renewed lively interest in life are the natural results of the practice of Contrology. Thus we achieve happiness…”
(Return to Life, page 34)
Conclusion: Every body is a Pilates body, if he or she is doing Pilates. A Pilates body is a happy body!
How to get a Pilates body?
How would you describe your Pilates body? I would love for you to share in the comments below!
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only, and is the sole property of Flow Pilates & Movement. I am not a doctor or a registered dietician, and this blog’s content is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you have any concerns