Has the Industry Left People Out?
Contrology magic and the life of Joseph H. Pilates continues to shape the lives of instructors and students worldwide. Contrology was not a finite practice. Joe was a learner and an innovator in my eyes. Mr. Pilates once said that he was fifty years ahead of his time, and we can all agree that he was right. The method of movement aptly called after its name-sake is now mainstream. The legacy of Pilates lives through each of our practices and continues to evolve. Pilates is something that I deeply love, despite feeling like the industry does not “see” many of us for a myriad of reasons.
There is a lack of representation in this industry. Some common issues that continue to permeate are accessibility, affordability, inclusion, and diversity. Although Pilates is known globally, the timeline that brings the method to the United States coincides with American racism and discrimination suffered by communities of color. Many of the same cultural disparities (income, access to health care, etc.) still exist today. But for the instructors of color that we know about in the U.S., the Pilates industry is not dissimilar.
The groundbreaking lawsuit that made it okay to use the word “PILATES” as a generic term was settled one year before I even found out what it was. I found Pilates from watching a home fitness infomercial after having my daughter in 2001. I loved the workout, and I wore out the grooves on the DVD because I was hooked! When I tried to find out where I could do this in real life, it wasn’t accessible to me because of where I lived. There were gyms and fitness centers in my neighborhood but still NO PILATES. I was told, “That’s something for rich white folks.” Mentally, I put a “pin” in the idea of finding out more about Pilates in real life later. Fast forward to me becoming a fitness professional, teaching Pilates-inspired formats, and finally becoming a certified Pilates instructor. And guess what? Pilates was still something for “rich white people.”
Those seated at the ivory tower of Pilates are the creators of the barriers we now speak of because they made the rules. Many instructors of color were able to learn and teach amidst exclusionary practices. By their example, I and others who have not felt seen successfully work despite feeling like an outsider.
In 2021, we have to reevaluate the “gatekeepers.” Are they complacent with the status quo? Who does it benefit from promoting “lineage?” Does lineage inform your pricing? Does your practice make space for body positivity? Age? The Disabled? The LGBTQ+ community? Gender Identities? Can Pilates be democratized?
It’s time to wake up! The world we now know is not the same as it was last year. We are nearing a year of living during a pandemic! If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it taught us to pivot! June 2020, I became aware of the term “BIPOC,” which stands for Black Indigenous Person of Color. When I reference “BIPOC” here, it’s to compare persons of color and a white experience in the Pilates industry. Person of color is not synonymous with lack, despair, or poor – just as “whiteness” does not mean wealth or a pass for access to all things.
I just happened to be a Black woman who had the means to devote time, money, and sanity to hundreds of hours of instructor training. That education was a journey of privilege. I have a sense of agency for my community to show up for “us” as Black Excellence. I am not saying that Pilates is the panacea for all the world’s ills. Still, the way the gatekeepers put the practice on a pedestal, you’d think they would share this gift with more inclusion.
I do not have the answers to any of this. I have a voice, and I am using it to start or continue the dialogue for reimagining the Pilates space. I involve myself in the rhetoric because the people I serve don’t see Joe or the elders when I click the start button for my virtual class; they see me. My call to action is that we keep learning – learn to be an ally, learn to be open, and, lastly, learn to use your voice to be an agent of change for the Pilates community.