“And now place your hands on the pegs, extend those legs up to the ceiling, breathe, and feel your strength.”
Mila Parrish walks around the studio speaking in a calm almost melodic tone, guiding her students through a Pilates flow, stopping from time to time to adjust a leg or arm to help the dancers achieve the proper positions.
The students are pioneers in Pilates at UNCG’s School of Dance—the first cohort that will earn a certification to teach the exercise form.
“A certification program leads towards job security,” says Parrish. “And it aligns beautifully with the direction these dancers are already going. It fits in with their coursework. It’s not extra. It’s not more. It just deepens their already experienced bodies, and these students are earning certification from the premier organization for Pilates teachers. They will come away with an incredible marketability.”
Her students agree:
“I thought this would be a great thing to add to my resume, to help me find work after graduating. But I also wanted to do it for myself. Pilates is a great way to find balance,” says Liz Anderson, a first-year MFA student.
Anna Creekmore is a junior pursuing a BFA in Dance Education:
“I’m studying to be a dance teacher and adding this kind of cross-training is essential. Some of the exercises we do help us reach full potential in stretching and in movement. I’m only 4′ 11″, and with Pilates I feel like I’m six feet tall! There’s this newfound sense of stability and understanding of my body, especially my core.”
Pilates is a type of mind-body exercise developed in the early twentieth century by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates while treating polio patients on the Isle of Man. He invented the equipment called “reformers” (originally made from bedsprings) to help patients use resistance to work their muscles.
Davida Reid, a third-year MFA student, found that Pilates classes have helped her work through her own injury:
“I think it’s important for dancers to know where movement initiates and to have a deeper understanding of movement so you’re not just throwing your body around. I’ve been dealing with an injury that came from having flexibility but not the strength, and Pilates helps you gain both. After bringing Pilates into my training, I was able to go into arabesque and hold it again. I hadn’t felt that in a very long time.”
Parrish loves seeing what the class is doing for the students and how they will use it in the future:
“They can utilize their practice to care for themselves because this is a mindful practice. Beyond that, being certified to teach may help them pay the rent! We want to help students learn how to achieve financial wellness, too. This is another beautiful layer to add to their growth as artists and teachers.”
“With my MFA, I can be a performer, dancer, and professor,” says Reid. “By adding that certification in Pilates, I can work right away within my field. It’s a foundation that helps a dancer live off and take care of themselves.”
“In Dance Education, there’s a career path but having the extra certification is valuable. Pilates is a booming exercise trend, so coming out of school with this certification will make it easier to find work,” adds Creekmore.
Parrish is excited to be bringing Pilates into the curriculum:
“This was five years in the making. I’m so appreciative that Dean mcclung believed in this program and was able to help find funding for the equipment and this studio.”
“As a College of Visual and Performing Arts, we want to grow and adjust to meet the needs of our students to help them become successful in living a life in the arts,” says Dean bruce mcclung. “The Pilates Certificate program is an important addition to the School of Dance’s offerings as it will allow dance students to become certified Pilates instructors and will add to their career possibilities.”
While the certification program is only open to dance majors, the School of Dance also offers a Pilates class to all students as part of the university’s MAC (Minerva’s Academic Curriculum) general education program. The course falls under the category of health and wellness, and it fills quickly every semester.
Victoria Williams, a second-year MFA student in the certification program, values the aspect of wellness:
“For me, it was just taking some time for myself as a grad student. I have the desire to perform and to teach and I wanted to integrate a practice that would allow me to strengthen and train as well have some time to focus on myself in a very intimate environment. It has allowed me to give my body so much more grace. Instead of being frustrated with how my body is or isn’t performing, I’ve learned to work with my body instead of against it.”
Story by Terri W Relos