(Honest) Diary of a Pilates Convention

The International Pilates Heritage Congress 2019

Day 1 – arrived in Monchengladbach at the Hotel Leonardo having successfully navigated Dusseldorf’s public transport system, very proud of myself for not ending up in Munich. The vast room all to myself at less than €60/night is a real treat. So far, so good. Head down to hotel restaurant for dinner. Everyone knows each other! Eek, I’m here on my own and I feel like a bit of a spare part as the waitress tells me I can ‘maybe sit at the bar?’ The room, meanwhile, is full of, quite obviously, pilates teachers here for the conference. Retreat or sit alone? Be brave Jess! Headed over to a table with a space and asked to join them, welcomed with open arms by two lovely Swiss teachers from Geneva. Phew. Beer, meal, great company. Feel like I’ve already been out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion and I haven’t done any pilates yet.


Soon realised I wouldn’t need this, everyone speaks English better than me.


Day 2 – joined my new friends for breakfast and sat beside Aki who has travelled all the way from Osaka! I thought I’d had a long trip from Yorkshire but Japan 😲?! Everywhere, I hear accents and languages from all over the world. The congress is living up to the ‘International’ part of its title. Find the location of Haus Erholung on Google Maps (what did we do before this was invented?) and walk over, joining some of the other 225 delegates on the way. We head up cobbled streets and turn the corner to face an impressive building, our school for the next three days. Slick registration, handy goody bag and on to introductions in the Exhibition Hall. Kathy Corey is the main woman here and she introduces all the presenters, organisers, board members and talks about Joseph Pilates, the whole reason we’ve ended up here, and finally introduces Lolita San Miguel. Wow, I wasn’t expecting that kind of reception! Slightly worried I’ve come to some kind of Lolita worship conference but hey, the woman’s 84 and she was taught by Joseph Pilates so I’ll hold judgement until I’ve at least had the chance to see her in action.

Head to my first lesson with Sherri Betz, oh hang on a minute, she hasn’t made it due to a cancelled flight. What a shame, I was really looking forward to her Older Adult Mat Class for Balance and Fall Prevention to add to my repertoire for my gentle pilates class. Her combined theoretical and applied approach to teaching this population appealed to me in order to give my classes more flow and structure, when the traditional scope of pilates cannot be used. Oh well, another year, another time (another $585). We listened to Reiner Grootenhuis instead who was an absolute joy, sharing his experience of working with older clients (although I wouldn’t put 65 as old, I was thinking more like 85) and by the end of the 2 hours I had reams of notes and a smiley face, thanks Reiner! So not quite what I was expecting but useful nonetheless and reassuring that all the modifications I use and exercises that I (think I) invent are all being used out there in the wider pilates world, yey!

After a welcome, long lunch, I returned to the main hall for Kathy Corey‘s Matwork – Focus on Alignment. Loved it! Imaginative, clever tips to use the mat exercises to address imbalances; those feelings that one side is different to the other – heavier, longer, stronger, weaker and explanations of how to go about making corrections. Fascinating work that I’ll use in both my everyday mat classes and private lessons. A true teacher of teachers. Following the afternoon sessions we all reconvened in the hotel lobby and walked together to visit the plaque of Joseph Pilates which has been placed by the house in which he was born. Fortunately, he was born on what is now a quaint, cobbled street surrounded by ornate buildings so it was both a pleasure and a privilege to be there for a short ceremony with city officials and with Kathy and Lolita sharing their thoughts. More lengthy applause at every opportunity, I think Joseph Pilates would have been a touch bemused. Drinks reception to follow back at Haus Erholung to meet other teachers and socialise, what a lovely idea, wine flowing, friendly faces all round. Headed off for food and my Italian meal for one became a party of eight as I was joined by teachers from Leeds and Washington.


Kathy Corey, Lolita San Miguel and me at the plaque for Joseph Pilates.


Day 3Fabrice Lamego‘s ‘Following the Footsteps of Eve Gentry’ workshop. Interesting and fun. Some breathing exercises, some pre pilates and then…we danced! That was the coolest part, he had us doing a small part of the choreography of Eve’s dance ‘Tenant of the Street’ and then he talked about her pilates teaching and how it was influenced by her dance background. A pleasure to have a history lesson, to exercise and especially to dance. Straight into the ‘Special Mat Class for All with Lolita San Miguel‘ billed as ‘Loving Our Mat …open for all to share and experience our unity through the power of the matwork’. With over 200 mats and people on them in one room, this class had to be experienced to be believed. In came Lolita surrounded by her ‘disciples’ (I’m not kidding, they actually use that term) and took centre stage on a chair. She doesn’t look a day over 65 and has an energy and vibrancy to match. If that’s what pilates does for you, I’m sticking with it. As soon as she started speaking, the whole room fell into sync and we continued for well over an hour through the entire repertoire. Just brilliant. A truly remarkable woman who genuinely appears to want to continue to spread the pilates love for as long as she possibly can, the class lived up to its billing.

While I have the utmost respect for anyone who’s still working at 84, I can’t say I enjoyed the reformer and tower class (for a start, I’d signed up to a cadillac workshop) that was to follow. It was all a bit frantic, everyone seemed a bit nervous to be in the presence of such a pilates goddess, her disciples were rushing around correcting everyone under the strict orders of Lolita, there were so many ‘don’ts’ that I really didn’t know what to do; it was quite terrifying! I stood on the ‘wrong’ side of the reformer at one point; I thought I was going to be ejected from the room. Maybe it highlighted my lack of practise of advanced reformer and tower work, maybe her style of teaching that day just didn’t suit me, all in all it was an emotional 3 hours!! I think it’s probably the same in all lines of work, but ever get the feeling you are completely out of your depth/having a mid-career crisis/just want to go home? I had a bit of a moment there on Saturday evening and almost missed the dinner, but I pulled myself together, put a fancy frock and silver shoes on and headed over. Also I’d already paid for it.


Mass participation pilates and the calm before the reformer class.


Day 4 – morning run and then ‘Lolita’s Body Walk’ a slightly weird addition to the schedule but in for a penny, in for a pound and all that (I’m from Yorkshire, I wanted to get my money’s worth). It was led by one of Lolita’s Legacy Students who introduced the walk by saying how bad running was for us ‘because of the fascia and everything’, eh?? Not really the best thing to say to a marathon runner but I was already up and there and it would have been rude to leave and go for coffee. We walked, with purpose and rhythm, with lots of arm exercises thrown in. The rest of the day was going to have to be something to end on a high. It was. Elizabeth Larkham, what a star! One of my new favourite pilates people. Intelligent, quick witted, warm and generous she delivered a 2 hour fascia workshop that left me wanted more, more, more. After the throw away fascia comment of the morning, I was delighted to hear some real science behind this current buzzword. It’s absolutely right that fascia has come to the forefront of movement training but it’s also handy to know where to find the good research, the best books and the most engaging presenters to learn a little bit more, so as not to fall into the bottomless pit of an internet search and end up none the wiser. Lunchtime mat with Kathy Corey, another full to bursting mat lesson and another opportunity to experience Kathy’s remarkable ability to get even the most subtle cues across to 150+ people. Hundred, teasers, boomerang, roll overs swan dives etc etc etc, accompanied by small moves to realign and rebalance, perfect for mind and body.

Getting a bit tired…one lesson to go. Fingers crossed. I had high hopes because I’d been in a lesson next door to Brett Howard the day before and there was a lot of laughing going on, it sounded like my kind of class. ‘Deepen Your Understanding of the Universal Reformer’ with Brett. And it did. I had excellent reformer training during my STOTT courses back in 2009-10 which has given me a full repertoire and a good understanding of the essence of the reformer. Brett took each exercise further and imparted his experience and knowledge in a way that really resonated with me. The work was hard. At the end he asked for a volunteer to do Tendon Stretch and I immediately said yes…within a minute I was dripping in sweat, breathing like a crazy woman and basically working harder on the reformer than I ever had before. He uses strong tactile cues in a way that you can only do with his level of expertise. A terrific end to the conference for me. Closing thank yous, drinks in the beer garden with new friends in pilates and back to the hotel to go through my notes and decompress.


I don’t like to use the F word but these two were my favourites.


Take away thoughts? Teaching pilates is my job and I’ve made a successful* career out of it for over 13 years. To do this I’ve always kept myself up to date with continuing education, for ten years with my initial training provider and more recently with Lisa Bradshaw and this year with the congress. I want to be a good teacher, I need people to come to my classes (that’s kind of the point, we’re not doing this solely for the love of it) so I have ideas galore to integrate into my teaching. Box ticked. As well as what to teach though I’ve also been able to think about how I teach. In the sessions I enjoyed I the most, I enjoyed the warmth and the humour of the teachers, I enjoyed the whole class experience, not simply the content. I want to give that to everyone in my studio. It’s been a thought provoking weekend, physically and mentally challenging, slightly bonkers at times (had I inadvertently joined a cult?) but overall a weekend to remember and one that will prove very useful for me today as I teach my classes and as I move forward.

*successful for me. I have a happy balance between work and life, running my own studio between the school runs and the school holidays and keeping my own hobbies alive. I think it’s important to find your niche, trust your intuition and follow your own path; otherwise it’s too easy to compare yourself to other teachers and feel a bit crappy.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply