How Pilates Helps Dancers


Article and Photos by Viki Westall-Eyre

During my 17 years as a professional ballet dancer, firstly with London Festival Ballet and then as a principal artist with Northern Ballet, I had vaguely heard about ‘the Pilates thing’ as a complementary exercise therapy. I later discovered that when Joseph Pilates set up his original studio in New York, devotees George Balanchine and Martha Graham regularly sent their students to him for training and rehabilitation, so in America a strong link between the two methods of training has existed for a very long time.

However, it wasn’t until I had retired from the stage and embarked upon a teaching career that, wanting an official qualification, I decided to discover more. I was initially somewhat taken aback by the length and intensity of training to become a Pilates instructor. Body Control Pilates, my training body, demanded a 2 week intensive course, numerous exams both practical and anatomical, and 50 hours of supervised teaching before you could even get started. Despite this, the more I learnt the more interested I became, and now, 18 years later as a matwork, reformer and student supervising teacher I am continuing to broaden my knowledge, and find it impossible to count the number of times I've thought - "Why didn't I know this when I was a dancer?'

Pilates makes complete anatomical sense. From rehabilitation to top level sports enhancement, it works. I have been running classes in my home town since the year 2000, and have seen the difference it has made to my clients, their posture, their pain, their performance, their confidence and their ability.
I have been training students and dancers on the reformer at Northern Ballet for the past 12 years and have seen huge improvements in their core strength, their muscle balance and their stability (and therefore increased confidence and the freedom to move and dance).

The Pilates regime and classical technique have so many things in common, and over the next few issues we will be discussing ways in which Pilates can enhance the training in these areas.

First up, and of course the most important prerequisite is ...

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