Discussion #1735

Wendy on the 1st Generation

15 min - Discussion


Wendy LeBlanc-Arbuckle was fortunate enough to work with multiple First Generation teachers, including Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, and Mary Bowen. She tells us how they were different and what she learned from each of them. Wendy also talks about the very first meeting of the Pilates Method Alliance and how it was a special time for the community to come together.
What You'll Need: No props needed

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Sep 22, 2014
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I'm Wendy Leblanc-Arbuckle and I'm really honored to be here. I had the incredible opportunity to work with five of the elders and I'm the director of education for the Pilates Center of Austin. And actually, we're in our 20th year. It's our anniversary this year, so it's pretty amazing over the years. Those experiences have been so rich that as far as legacy, I really sought out, wanted to study with as many of the elders as I could. I had the opportunity because I really wanted to get what was each of their stories and what was their experience, and how did that affect how they teach, and I knew that would help to really have me appreciate the depth of Pilates. So that's what's been so rich, to be able to develop a deeper awareness of the uniqueness of what each of them had to give. I started with Romana, and I'm really grateful to Amy and Rachel in Boulder because it was when they first opened that I met them and they had a tiny little studio on Pearl Street Mall and it was just very special, but they were also very special people, so it was incredible. And then they're dear friends. So as I studied there, I had the opportunity when Romana started coming to actually open the certification program. That was such an opportunity. I thought, I can't miss this, you know? So that was something that I took. And working with her there and then later working with her at Drago's with intensives and in New York City was an amazing experience. Just being in that environment, and just seeing how it's set up, and being able to be on the original equipment. And what was amazing was one of the times that I was up there working with her, we went to dinner and I said, "You know, Michael, my husband is making me a piece of equipment and he's researching and really wants to do a good job. And he's been working on it for months." And she said, "Oh, hhe should just come up and measure everything." And she invited him to come up and he did. He came up and just measured every piece of equipment in there.

And that's an amazing story in and of itself. That was phenomenal. The thing that just struck me so much in working with her and then actually getting to deepen that in New York was that she was such a force of nature. There was such a presence to be with somebody that age, in their seventies, who is so dynamic, and so able to just create this amazing synergy with people. It was exciting too. She taught me a lot about precision and energy and engagement. Engagement from the standpoint of really bringing forth an exciting way of being with people. It was great to just kind of see how she came alive when she taught.

That was what she just lived for. She just loved teaching. She's working with me here, and she's taking me to a deeper understanding of Mat work, and I'm going into Spine Stretch. But she was a real stickler about where things are and what you're doing, and lift up, and sit bones down, and squeeze your butt, and get lift, and all of this. So, I was coming to work with her from having a Yogic body. It was just really fascinating. This is so funny to look at this one because I remember how important it was at those times to have socks on. She would always talk about how it was much more hygienic. And I can remember I hated those socks. I thought, "Why these socks? The socks are not working!" I was sliding all around. I thought it was weird.

I've got these sliding socks, and I'm in the straps, in these socks and sliding and I'm thinking how is this going to work? I just kind of remember that. But she was just fabulous. Just great. Great energy. And this was kind of a jewel. It's interesting. I've had this picture since that time. I snapped it just impulsively because I know she didn't like pictures of herself, especially as she got older. I was just standing there and I had my little point and shoot camera, and I'm just there like that.

And she went into that. She came out of nowhere and all of a sudden she was just in that, and I just went click. As soon as I did, I went, wow. The thing that I would say is definitely a part of Romana in my teaching is my ability to have cadence to really bring an energetic level of teaching forth and to just play with energy, to play with slowing down and going up and really building it. And I can hear myself sometimes say things and I'll say, "That's Romana." So this is a great shot. This is our first meeting in Miami. This is when we first established the PMA. Ken Endelman was a long time supporter and long time equipment manufacturer. And here's Michael, my husband, looking very young, and Julie Lobdell, his partner.

And that was the beginning of Peak Pilates. And Maura and Lindsey for Stott. And it was just wonderful how everybody came together. A hundred people came together. And before that, there was very little communication between teachers, so a lot of the whole idea with PMA is how do we bring people together? How do we communicate with one another and how do we learn from one another? How do we really appreciate our differences and be able to build on that. This is the celebration that we had when we won the trademark cancellation. And look how young Kathy Grant and Mary Bowen are.

So we have Dianne Miller and Mary Bowen, Kathy Grant, me, and that's Gail Anderson, another teacher. But that was when I really connected with Mary and with Kathy, like souls. Kathy was something else. When I first met her, I met her through, like I said, through PMA and then I would go to New York and go there with the intention of having a lesson with her. But we connected so deeply that she just invited me to stay. And she either really loved you or she didn't want to be around you.

Kathy was never lukewarm. We really connected, and it was very special. And you know, it's interesting when we talk about classical and contemporary Pilates. Well it's a myth, because she was asked in the very beginning, at one of the interviews at the PMA, somebody asked her, "So Kathy, do you teach classical or contemporary Pilates? What do you teach?" And she just looked at the person, she went, "Classical and contemporary, what is that?" She said, "All I do is what I do." It was kind of like bottom line, and I couldn't agree more. I think a lot of what classical has become, it's just become something to market, you know? I don't think you really have to name something in order to have it be great.

Joseph Pilates didn't call it classical. And so a lot of people don't know that Kathy was really a political activist, and I think it's an important thing to bring in because it meant a lot to her. She wrote me a number of years ago, and we would email, and it was actually after the 2004 election for president. She said, "Dear Wendy, Sorry I've been out of touch. I didn't, and could not go to New Orleans with the country the way it was. The powers that be generally messed with the minority votes, especially in minority neighborhoods. I don't trust absentee votes. I know we lost, but I spent a lot of time getting my neighborhood, mostly island folks, to get out and vote." So the PMA annual meeting was in New Orleans in 2004.

And so she didn't go, and I was in touch with her and I said, "We missed you and it's too bad you weren't there." And that's how she responded. The other thing that she wrote in there is, she said, "Romana has retired and bought a house in Texas near her son and grandchildren. That kind of frightens me. As long as she was around, I felt like two old dogs in the same Kennel. Now I feel lonely and wonder why and how I can compete with former students of mine. The explosion is unbelievable. McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a bit of Billy Graham." So this was her studio, which was so small. I'll tell students, sometimes teachers, that her studio was so small and so much got done in there, don't think you need a huge space. It's all how you use it. I started out in a very small studio, and my studio now is just a medium size. You don't need loads and loads of room. I just love that. Love that. That was her studio at NYU. I asked, "Can we just take a picture together just sitting?" And she said, "Well, we'll do one sitting. But we need to do something like this too." And here she is. She just created that. I said, "That is so wonderful." She was a prop queen. She just knew how to use props. So that's another thing with classical Pilates, is often the idea is no props, don't use any props, where Kathy was all about props. She just loved them. But she uses them appropriately. So it's not just to have a crutch, it's really to teach a way of being in your body.

And that's what I think is so important with props. What are they teaching? I met Ron through Elizabeth Boswell. Elizabeth Jones Boswell. Wonderful teacher who was in Houston. When I first started my studio, Elizabeth was just a really deeply intelligent teacher, and she's now up in Seattle, but she studied with Ron for quite awhile, and she brought him in. She would do workshops like that, and I would go and get to study with him. It was wonderful. He was so much fun. He's, once again, just so colorful. I mean, so amazing. The stories that he would tell, we would be in hysterics.

It was so amazing to work with Ron in the way that he was such a stickler about the feet. He was one of the first teachers who really concentrated a lot on the feet along with Kathy. You know, Romana talked about the feet, but in my experience it was more from a dancer point of view. It was more point and flex and more relevé kind of thing, and usually the high relevé. But Cathy and Ron were more into really, really working the feet, strengthening the feet. And Sweet Mary Bowen. Mary is so precious to my heart. Mary, I have grown so much in knowing Mary. Mary is a tremendous gift. Mary is one of those people, she's in her eighties now, and she is someone who is still growing. I mean, we were together recently. She and her husband came to visit, and she had some things going on, and I said, "I can show you a couple things if you'd like." And she just was on the floor in a second. And I was showing her, and she was just into it.

She wanted to know every single thing that I had to say. It wasn't like, "Oh yeah, right. That's interesting." No. She was ready. And it was extraordinary. And she let me know. She said, "I'm so thankful. Thank you so much for contributing to me." It was just stunning. It was so beautiful. And I can remember being with Mary. We've worked together for over 15 years now, and she came to do a workshop numbers of years ago, and it was such a feeling of, because her psyche, the Jungian work, and the way she blends that with Pilates is so rich, the way she works with people. I felt so happy after that workshop. I literally told Michael, "You know what? I have had a great life. I've had a rich life and I could die today."

And he just went, "Don't do it." "I know. I just want to let you know I feel very complete." But she's like that. She's just a precious, precious heart. Playful. You see how everything's very playful. It's in here. This is one of the many workshops that we've done at PCA with so many people coming, loving her.

It's interesting to see so much of what she's developed with her Jungian work and her own body. And that mirrors things that I've done, some things that I've done with other somatic teachers. So she and Kathy were very, very effected by somatic teachers. Kathy had numbers of things that she would teach that I could mirror with other somatic teachers. I have a very deep understanding of the depth of the work and an appreciation of it.


Ann S
Thanks Wendy, it is so inspiring to hear about your experiences with the elders. I love Pilates and experiencing different ways of doing things. What a rich form of movement!!!
Love these....thank you....and each elder was described so eloquently. Thank you for sharing the photographs too!
2 people like this.
Thank you, Ann and Jennifer....I feel it is so important to speak about how each of the Elders taught Pilates in their own way.... through my experience with each of them, I have come to see that as the real power of Pilates... it meets us where we are and enables us to grow ourselves into a more whole person
Leeanna V
Great to see you again Wendy, and to listen to you speak so passionately about your journey with Pilates. I am fortunate that you have channeled this passion my way!!!!!! This is a huge inspiration for me today Love, Leeanna
Thank you, Leeanna...you've been there with me on this journey as you developed yourself as a Pilates teacher with a vision to teach people from a space of wholeness. Thank you for the great work you are doing too, xwendy

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