On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. This means Black people in the United States weren’t allowed to voice how the country ran until 55 years ago. It’s safe to say the 1960s brought a lot of terror and trauma to us as people, and survival was at the top of our “to do” list.
For the majority of us, Pilates was not an option.
In the 1960s (Joseph Pilates died in 1967), Pilates was mostly accessible to dancers, actors, and the wealthy. I can’t speak for anyone else’s family, but unless you consider my mother and uncle winning the community dance contests as valid, no one in my family was a professional dancer. We were certainly not wealthy. My parents were born in the Jim Crow South of the 1950s, where getting to school without being killed for your skin color was a real issue. I imagine it was so real that the idea of anything else was secondary…
…like feet in straps.
When I think “footwork,” I think about my great grandmother, who was in her 60’s when she crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge. I think about the courage and fearlessness it must have taken for her to take place in history, knowing that her desire to do so could make her history…like as in death. She knew she could have been killed on that bridge just for wanting better.
When I think about footwork, I think about how I’m approaching the Pilates’ space, where I have often felt (and been told) that I was not welcomed. And while no one has threatened my actual life for wanting to teach chest expansion, I have certainly had my livelihood threatened. People refusing to take my classes because the idea of a Black woman who plays Black music and speaks with a Black vernacular is too much to handle.
Only a select few seem to have a problem with me playing Al Green and Missy Elliot as a soundtrack in my class. Music is universal. Willingness to challenge your own biases of what you think the Pilates’ space should be (exclusive, to your liking, and learning only from people who look like you) isn’t.
But I digress.
In the craziness of our world, it seems a little frivolous to say I am fighting for my daughter’s right to practice her teaser wherever she wants. I am fighting for her right to be heard in spaces she finds relevant in her quest to be whomever she wants to become. I am fighting for her right to be intuitively connected with her body through movement without someone else feeling like they own the patent and can only enter if she isn’t loud, belligerent, or threatening. Basically, if she wants to work with the Magic Circle, she can’t be the “angry Black woman.”
We are indeed angry. But what does anger have to do with inner thigh engagement?
The connection is that our anger is a reminder that we are still dealing with our parents’ and grandparents’ issues. Living with the trauma of the Black experience in our DNA while fighting for the right to be seen as equally excellent in a world that wasn’t made for us. And yes, we are well aware of Katherine Stafford Grant’s magnificence, but before social media, how many other prominent Black Pilates instructors can you name? Kathy Grant was the exception, not the rule, and with that must have come its own set of problems. Kathy Grant also started taking and teaching Pilates in the ’50s. People (me included) seem to not even realize she existed until the 2000s. Again, I digress.
The bigger picture is Black people have a lot of catching up to do. Being denied so much, considered so little, and then asked to get out of “our feelings” when we demand a space on the Cadillac, a professional’s respect is a little 1960s-ish. It was unfair and ridiculous. We fought how we could back then, but it is unequivocally not going down that way here in 2021.
Black teachers are being asked to do the most right now while still being denied and disregarded. However, there is no backing down. We know what has been sacrificed for us to even be here. We hold that close to our hearts while simultaneously holding the door for others to come behind us.
We’ve caught up now, and we’re here to stay.