The Lost Art of Teaching Semi-privates: Part 1

The Lost Art of Teaching Semi-privates: Part 1

When I moved to New York City I inherited the clients of heralded instructor Phoebe Higgins after she departed her studio, and I was in store for some humble schooling. While in Chicago I was accustomed to teaching individual clients, duets, trios, Mat, and Tower Classes. Upon my move to NYC, I was teaching in five different neighborhoods, seven days a week, and sharing the floor alongside some extremely dynamic teachers. I recall watching clients come in for their Semi-private sessions, and I was baffled by the scenarios in front of me. Clients were assigned an apparatus of choice (or what was available). Two to four clients were in the same session performing different exercises at the same time. I remember thinking I had no intention of teaching like that. My schedule was plain and simple: Privates, Mat, and Tower Classes.

My situation became different as I began walking into a Semi-private shift twice a week. Previously, I had been used to having Reformers, Cadillacs, Towers, Mats, and all other smaller apparatus grouped throughout the studio. Upon my arrival at the studio in Midtown East, where Phoebe once taught, I will never forget that Tuesday at 7 am. I had 2 clients at 7 am, another at 7:30 am, two more at 8 am, and one at 8:30 am, and it continued from there. By the time 11 am rolled up I had seen 10-11 clients. I recall being in the training room with my face in my hands, I was exhausted. I remember having knots in my stomach on my way to those shifts.

The anatomy of the Midtown Studio was something I was not used to. There were two Reformers together in one section, only one Tower in between two Mats, another two Reformers on the opposite side, and one Cadillac with the smaller apparatus spread throughout the room. To me, that setup was not cohesive. I had to use all my former waiter and bartender skills to get me through these shifts. It created eyes behind my head.

Months later I spoke to Pilates legend Bob Liekens with frustration about not wanting to teach Semi-privates, his response (as always) was stern. He reminded me that Mr. Pilates did not have a certification program. He further explained that Mr. Pilates gave the go when he thought someone was ready to teach, that Mr. Pilates never demonstrated, that Mr. Pilates was not interested in talking in sessions with minimal instruction, and that the clients in the original studio (Joe’s Gym) knew their regimen. After reading John Steel’s The Caged Lion, Bob’s words were supported. From that point on, I went from teaching Semi-privates twice a week to all the time. I had finally realized the importance of teaching multi-levels, on different pieces of apparatus, within their levels, at the same time.

In the beginning, teaching Semi-privates felt like tackling madness, so I had to take a step back. To do so I had to respect the method. Once I nailed it down it became fun and profitable. To teach in this scenario, working according to the anatomy of your studio is key. The question “what apparatus do you have available to you?” must be at the forefront of your mind. I was able to create eyes behind my head, which allowed me to monitor different practices in this scenario, which started with 2 people. One was a beginner and one intermediate, and from there I added on. There was one situation where I had 4 clients and had to cover for a teacher who had an emergency, so I ended up with 7 full Reformers.  Keep in mind it was not a Reformer Group class, and I turned it into a Semi-private. I remember having to step back, not only give myself a bird’s eye view, but to also allow me to create complex cueing when I wasn’t available for hands-on instruction, which then helped nurture my assertive eye or “the eyes behind my head”.


Juan has over 18 years of fitness teaching experience having built an extensive client base in his home city of New York and expanded nationally and internationally. He was introduced to Pilates while a professional dancer in Chicago and counts as his mentors, Romana Kryzanowska, Bob Liekens, Susan Moran, and Alycea Ungaro. Juan served the Pilates community first as a Power Pilates Teacher Trainer, and now as a Master Instructor and Teacher Trainer at Alycea Ungaro’s Real Pilates NYC Studios located in Tribeca, SOHO and the Upper East side as well as Real Pilates host studios located in Berlin, Dallas, Florida, New Jersey, California and Louisana. Aside from assisting Alycea with the Real Pilates Teacher Training program in NYC, US, and European host studios he has trained celebrity clients such as Mike Birbiglia, Julie Chen, Bobby Flay, Diane Von Furstenberg, Hugh Grant, Mellody Hobson, Alexandra Neil, Kate Shaw, Kyra Sedgwick, Regina Spector, and Sofia Vergara along with teaching a wide range of client levels. Juan has been featured on ABC and WPIX morning workout segments, LA Confidential Magazine, several Pilates workout downloads and DVD’s, and at the Pilates Method Alliance in 2015 & 2017.



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