Pilates as a Dancer

I was introduced to Pilates in 1990’s while dancing in college. I remember that Pilates class wasn’t so bad.  It felt good, but it felt simple.  I could make all the shapes and do all the moves.  What was so special?  Why did we “need” to do this? The teacher tried to explain why, “Pancaking over on your thighs isn’t the goal.  All that flexibility is great but let’s work on your core and strength to support all that mobility.”  As a young dancer, it wasn’t important to me to take care of myself, I was invincible.  I didn’t have many injuries.  What was so special or important about “doing Pilates”?

My last semester in college I was a practice body for an apprentice on the apparatuses. This time my experience with Pilates was totally different. My mind was blown.  There was so much to learn and so many ways to do it, the challenge was real.  Three months later, I started the Certification program under Romana Kryzanowska.  I was a sponge soaking up all that my brain and body could absorb.

After a year, I was teaching evenings and weekends at a booming Pilates studio.  I had many clients to gain experience from and peers to help learn and support each other.  I was also dancing full time professionally at Dance Theatre of Harlem. While on tour with DTH, I sprained my SI joint while dancing Serenade.  I remember it clearly. My back went into full spasm and I could barely walk or stand up straight.  I had a bag of ice the size of a basketball on my back at all times. Luckily, our next stop on tour had a great PT.  At my first appointment, I saw a reformer out of the corner of my eye.  I asked the PT if I could use the reformer and explained that I was certified.  I started with a basic, very modified session. No flexion or major extension.  By the end of day three, I was doing a full reformer and I was back on-stage dancing with no pain or back spasms!  Wow, what just happened? This Pilates stuff really does work! Needless to say, I was blown away by the benefits of the Pilates Method and the magic it had to heal the body.  Pilates works your body as a whole. It fine tunes your muscles and creates a healthy and unified body that works in harmony.  As a professional dancer, it was a life saver.  It strengthened my core, fixed old imbalances that had caused injuries and corrected others that if left unattended could have created new injuries.  It definitely protected my body and was the glue that kept me together while I continued to dance.


Throughout my career as a dancer, I started my day with a Pilates Mat routine before barre to warm up, center myself and put me on my leg.  My balance was solid and my turns were the proof. Today, as a 49-year old ex-professional dancer and Pilates instructor, I am still standing at the ballet barre doing what I love to do because I have a solid practice of Pilates in my life.  I promise you a little bit of Pilates will go a long way and help you stay strong with a healthy body and be a happy dancer, with a long career!

Keep on dancing!


Gina Papalia - is a Second Generation Teacher and owner of Grasshopper Pilates NYC (est. 2000), lives in NYC with her husband and two pre teens. Gina fell in love with Pilates in college. After graduation, she began her Pilates training in January,1995 at SUNY Purchase, under Romana Kryzanowska, Bob Liekens. She danced professionally with Dance Theatre of Harlem and completed her Pilates training at Drago’s with Romana and at The Pilates Studio with Bob in her early 20's. Having worked closely with Bob Liekens for 23 years, she was thrilled to be hand picked by him to be a Teacher Trainer for his program, The Pilates Standard (TPS). Gina is excited to share her love and dedication of The Pilates Method with the next generation of teachers with a program that is classical, thoughtful and logical. Gina as a teacher embraces each client individually and unconditionally, balancing a serious approach with a fun, friendly attitude. She challenges each client, working with their weaknesses and imbalances while acknowledging their strengths and accomplishments. Gina is PMA Certified, a teacher on Pilatesology, trains bi-weekly with Cary Regan and Phoebe Higgins, and is currently becoming certified in Fascia Manipulation. You can find out what she is up to on Instagram @Grasshopper Pilates or check out www.grasshopperpilates.com.



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