New Year Interview with Chris Hocking, Director, Pilates Body Awareness Est 1987
Clare Hand The Kentishtowner
Q. 1 You were one of London's first Pilates teachers trained by Alan Herdman, the founder of the practice in the UK. Can you tell us a little more about how your practice has developed and evolved over the last 30 years?
I came to Pilates as a university graduate and aspiring professional dancer. The dream came true with Pilates playing a major role in sustaining my career. Between dance jobs I taught for the London Pilates Studios eventually shifting my focus from dance to Pilates in my early 30s and swiftly to the development of my own school.
In terms of a UK school of Pilates Matwork, I believe I was first in the field. As I evolved into the idea of teaching teachers I felt the need to broaden my perspective on what it meant to be the kind of movement expert Joseph Pilates was. I tried to replicate some of his training. I have 3 science A levels, Biology, Chemistry and Physics plus Latin GCSE so found it easy to go back to studies in the anatomy of bones, joints and muscles. My main movement studies up until that point had been in forms of dance. Useful as this is I felt this narrow perspective might be limiting a full appreciation of the Pilates Method. Yoga had a profound influence on the formation of the P-method and not only in what he rejected but more so in what he deconstructed... reconstructed and kept. Also of significance is a study in the devastating accuracy of the martial arts. JP was a master teacher of self defence. Yoga came first into my life followed a couple of years later by Karate. If wishing to evaluate and teach movement efficacy and precision one must set standards in line with martial arts teaching at its best. If wishing to teach mastery of form and grace then look to inspiration from the world of dance. If wishing to keep students mindful of what it means to reside in a healthy body then look to practice of the yoga gurus and for a safe class look to anatomy books.
Q. 2 WHO COMES TO YOUR CLASSES?
People from all walks of life...doctors, artists, art restorers, lawyers, graphic designers, musicians, actors, civil servants, scientists, dance teachers, university professors, editors, accountants, film makers, illustrators, economists, landscape gardeners, photographers, potters, wardrobe mistresses, wedding dress designers, secretaries, political researchers, theatre directors and school teachers ....remarkable really and what is even more remarkable is the way they all get on with each other at social events. The PBA class...a shared experience bringing people together.
Q. 3 WHO SHOULD COME TO YOUR CLASSES
One would like to say ...everyone! Without any doubt what so ever, all people need to exercise and all people who do regular exercise feel incalculably better for it. It is a question of temperament. Pilates is brilliant for people who need to be fully immersed in class both mentally and physically but who are more comfortable retaining their critical faculties when exercising. Pilates is both aesthetically pleasing with its grace and adherence to form but works on sound biomechanical principals...and only sound principles of movement control and placement. It becomes a most worthwhile form of exercise but it is hard work and does require complete concentration. For those of us that participate...better health in all dimensions. This temperament?...simply coming to a place where you realize how much you need this form of body work...it could be for example a back condition or it could be ageing.
Q. 4 IN THE SHORT TERM WHAT DO PEOPLE TAKE AWAY FROM THEIR SESSIONS WITH YOU?
Ah ...some years ago I was told by a student and new mother that the husband insisted on taking bottle and baby every Tuesday so my student could get to her Pilates class, "Just go! You will come back a nicer person." Apart from the stress busting properties shared by all enjoyable forms of exercise, Pilates does have additional value as corrective exercise and can be highly successful at educating people into better posture and use of body. Every class will induce a sense of wellbeing and vitality. So often I hear people say they feel so much taller after class...great! Taller, fitter, calmer, more optimistic.
Q. 5 CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE LONG TERM BENEFITS OF PRACTICING PILATES?
As with all good and suitable exercise it will hold back the aging process. Pilates is especially efficient and effective at this because of its scientific approach to the teaching of posture and movement and the application of core strength to let's face it the pretty vulnerable structure that is the human being. If we are to have a better old age we must do our body awareness structural fitness exercises. Only a scientific approach such as Pilates can keep all the joints working and all muscles in condition. As we get older the use of the Pilates method to inform us how we should open a door or lift a heavy weight or pay an elderly game of tennis without wrecking a knee becomes of vital importance. The sooner you start, the better.
Q. 6 WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT PBA?
I would say our syllabus and our Matwork classes at 5 levels giving all students training at the correct level for their fitness and ability enabling the development of good technique without strain and progression into the next level. The super talented do not become bored to distraction and therefore under-perform and the new student does not become overwhelmed and likewise under perform. All have appropriate, safe and stimulating class content to work with and good value for money. Of course a graded system is widely used in such studies as ballet, karate, musical instruments etc and one then can go on to win international competitions i.e. these are serious subjects. Pilates is not competitive...does not go in for competitions but it does encourage the evolution of movement skills and is in my opinion worthy of a graded system for tuition especially if one is aiming at the original Classical work as set by Joseph Pilates himself. This is hard. PBA starts teaching it at...Level 5...i.e. when the body has trained to be flexible, strong and graceful.
Chris Hocking director of PBA.
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