“Teaching Pilates is a lot like performing. You have to connect with the audience. ” – Sarita Allen
Of course, Kathy is why I was able to dance. Literally. The simple fact that Pilates gave my body the ability to dance all of the myriad styles which were and still are required to be a dancer in the Ailey Company. I didn’t think about how I was becoming a part of history while Alvin was creating works on me – that’d secure the legacy and future of his dance company.
One thing is for certain, Kathy’s work and support helped me to do what I loved with confidence in my physical ability. I could be in pointe shoes, high heels, and bare feet in one evening’s performance! That may not sound so “complicated,” but being prepared to transition seamlessly from one style of dance to the next is what Pilates allowed me to do with deft and certainty. That was an extraordinary foundational feeling to have as a dancer. I put that same energy and attention into how I teach dance, movement, and Pilates. Teaching Pilates is a lot like Performing.
You have to connect with the audience. My initial audience was my fellow company members. The work was beneficial to them. I understood why Kathy always made room for dance and dancers in her practice.
Perhaps it’s because Kathy was also a dancer who was accomplished in many techniques and styles. Being familiar with my needs and demands as an Ailey Company member, she knew precisely how to work with me to make me a better performer and a better teacher. Kathy also attended our performances; being familiar with the repertoire, she adapted her training to things I was having difficulty with. She got to see a lot. I’ve been fortunate to have had many teachers who have had a pivotal influence on my life and career.
I think of Alvin Ailey as my creative dad and Kathleen Stanford Grant as my creative mom. It literally blows my mind… they are my creative inspirations and where I often draw from when I create. Since being more “technologically engaged,” I’ve found that I have a lot of experience that adds a layer of clarity and support to the work that everyone is already doing. We continue to get our work out there onto so many creative platforms creating more opportunities to collaborate.
There’s also significant activism going on in both the arts and the world of Pilates. With Ailey, it was a political statement to travel the world and dispel myths about Black people based on limited perspectives and negative images rooted in America. Alvin’s mission was to show The Beauty of Black People and their contributions to the world. Jazz. The Blues. Spirituals, etc. all created by Black Americans. Alvin was born in the segregated south yet always had an integrated company to show that different races and nationalities could coexist and create Beauty.
Upon reflection, especially in these times, it was a gift to learn the craft of acting from Alvin; his ballets were based on real characters. We believed that in order for the audience to get involved and committed, you had to move them and make it believable. It was important to dance with the utmost confidence. When an audience sees someone on stage that is not certain, it can make them uncomfortable. When they watch a confidant performer, they relax and get swept away in the journey… it’s physical storytelling, just like the story of the body through Pilates.
There are many ways to capture an audience. The important thing is to connect. One great way to connect is to know and study the ones that came before you for inspiration. Learn how to pay the work forward and move the needle on the work itself to keep it alive. The work is perpetual. Keep organizing, keep practicing, keep asking questions. Keep moving forward. Keep sharing stories.