Discussion #4930

Grow Your Creativity

40 min - Discussion


Join Maria Leone and Gia Calhoun as they discuss ways to grow your creativity as a Pilates teacher. They will talk about the difference between creating new movements for function versus marketing or promotional purposes.
What You'll Need: No props needed

About This Video

(Pace N/A)
Feb 25, 2022
(Log In to track)


Read Full Transcript

(bright music) Hi, I'm Gia, and I'm here with our Pilates Report, and we're back with Maria Leone. She so graciously decided to come back and help us talk about creativity, and how you can find creativity as a Pilates teacher. Welcome Maria. Thank you, Gia. Great seeing you again.

Yeah, it's so wonderful to have you back. I'm sure everyone has a lot of questions. So if you do have questions, you can leave them in the chat and we'll be asking Maria throughout the conversation, and we also have some clips that she has shared with us that we'll show you too to give examples. So my first question for you is, when you were trained, were you encouraged to play with the exercises, or were you told to keep everything as it is when you teach clients? Well, when I was trained, there was like, still that war between the classical Pilates world and the contemporary Pilates world.

And so I was taught classical Pilates, but then always like, and this is what we do. This is what we would do as a modification. It wasn't like, oh, be creative. What else can we create? But there was this need for creating modifications of the original exercises, and then of course that was very much, is that real Pilates?

It was like, if you started with your legs at tabletop, and you were doing 100, are we doing real Pilates? No, that's a modification of Pilates. So I think that with being creative in the very beginning, I was just trying to make exercises fit on my clients, not necessarily reinvent a new abdominal exercise but just how am I gonna approach teaching backstroke to my clients? And so just that in itself, gets your creative juices flowing. So it's like getting the exercise to fit your client rather than getting your client to fit the exercise that may not work for them.

Absolutely right. I used to always, and I still tell my teachers this. It's like, Pilates is like a one-size-fits-all dress, and then you wanna start tapering it. You wanna take it in, you wanna take that garment and make it fit exactly to your client as best as you can. So you have to be somewhat creative to be able to make that happen.

I love that analogy, that's great. So where do you get your inspiration for creating new exercises? Is it just from the clients, or is it from your own body? How do you find your inspiration? You know, all different.

Sometimes it's that I'm actually problem solving. Like, I don't wanna do this like this, and why don't we try standing? So how can I do this exercise in standing? Or how can I do this exercise with my client's head and shoulders down? Outside of that, I have to say, I do use that awful Instagram, and a lot of the work is done for me now.

I feel lots of times like I don't have to spend so much time trying to come up with new stuff 'cause I can scroll. I will see something and I'll be like, "Oh, that's kind of a good idea." And then I'll get on the machine, and I'll start at that place and be like, yeah, that totally doesn't work for me. Or this would be better if I did this, if I took that and changed this. So lots of times I have to say that Instagram will be an inspiration for me. Before the Instagram days, I think all of the other things that I did in my life, I brought into the work.

And you see that in my work, those of you that follow me at all. You see my dance background. You see my martial arts, and now you see my yoga practice. So there are things from other sources that I bring in, and that helps me be creative, I still try to make it Pilates-ish. So I still do that and Instagram, and problem solving naturally lends itself to me being creative.

Yeah, I totally agree with that 'cause I don't consider myself the most creative person. I'm not great at coming up with new exercises but I'll see something that someone else has done or I'll take a class from someone and be like, oh, this is really great. How can I implement this into my practice, and use it to work with my clients or other people? And I might change little things here or there just to make it work for me or my client, but it's a great way to just take other people's classes, especially, and just feel it on yourself too, before you actually go out there teaching it to other people. Totally agree, totally agree.

That even happens in my studio sometime, where I'll be teaching something in an hour, that's something new. And then all of a sudden, I'll see a teacher teaching it, and I'm like, how can she be teaching that already? She hasn't worked with that. She hasn't had time to feel it on her body, to try different springs, and to even know what that feels like. So you do need to have that time of actually experiencing it on your body and knowing what it is that you're teaching and what your intention is for the exercise.

I agree. Exactly. Do you play with the movements on your own before giving them to clients, or do you also work through them with clients while you're teaching them? Do you play with them as you're teaching? Oh, not too much, not too much.

If I'm teaching and something isn't working, I might make a slight tweak, but in terms of really being creative, and trying something new, no. I don't like to teach anything on a client unless I've felt it on my own body. And then even when I'm creating for Pilates Anytime, I create it on my own body, and then I will take that workout, 'cause it's a set and I will teach it on many different types of clients, just to get a feel for how they're able to follow the instruction, how it felt on them, how quickly they're able to transition from one thing to the next. So I do a lot of dress rehearsals and work things out. And I guess that's my approach everywhere, where I start to...

And sometimes I will tell my classes, you may have even been there. I'm like, hey you guys, I need you to be my guinea pigs today. I'm trying out a new workout, and let's see how it goes. And then based on that, I make changes, but always on my body first. And if I have somebody in the studio who's free, I'll do it on their body with them as well.

Oh, fun. That must be fun for your teachers too. It is fun. We try to have fun here at Body Line. It's fun. Yeah.

I always have fun when I go there. So how do you know that you've created a variation that's functional or useful? Is there a difference between the movements that just look cool or for Instagram, or the movements that actually help clients? Yes, absolutely. So, there's Instagram posts that I do that are there for marketing, they're there to inspire you.

Like, oh my God, look at that, that's so incredible. I didn't know that body could do that. So more like inspiring and get your attention, right? So there's definitely those exercises. And then there are actual exercises for other neat...

What am I trying to say? Deficits in Pilates. Pilates can't do everything. In my opinion, if you just taught absolutely everything that Joe did, there just isn't enough there for everybody. So for example, particularly earlier on in my teaching career, I used to remember as a new teacher, that I'd get really stuck on clients that couldn't lift their head and shoulders up.

Just really stuck. How am I gonna train their abdominals? 'Cause there wasn't particularly, if you stay to the classical repertoire, it wasn't that much available. So now I just feel like, so my creativity around that area, I have a whole repertoire of things to do if a client can't lift their head. It's like it's not even an issue.

And many of you that have been trained in these later years, it's not an issue for you either 'cause most of us are showing you like, this is what you would do if you can't lift some of these head and shoulders up. Exercises that take clients upright. That was another big hole to me in their teaching. I had to just keep thinking, well, at the end of the day, my client is walking out of the studio, and yet yeah, 80% of the time in Pilates, people are laying on their back or laying on their stomach. It's not functional for them, and so there's a lot of creativity.

There's a ton of exercises now that you can perform with your clients upright and on their feet. It just fills a gap. So there's a big difference, there's a big difference. And sometimes I still look at stuff that I see, and I'm like, yeah, well what's the point of that? There's no point to that exercise.

Like there's just no point to the exercise. Yeah, definitely. So have you had movement ideas that didn't actually work when you tried them out with clients? Yeah, I have. Just things you have to be mindful of.

I don't know if any of you have been in this situation yet, but taking the loop and sticking it up over somebody's knee, where it physically won't fit. So there are things like that happen. A lot of the more creative things require, what am I trying to say? I guess I like to take my clients upright a lot. And a lot of those things require a lot of balance.

So the reformer, as you all know, is very unstable. So I'm extremely mindful of making sure that that client has enough balance in their body to be able to do those things on the reformer. Just even stepping up and down off the reformer for some people is not very good. And too much choreography. It's funny, I'm saying that 'cause I do all these dancey things.

But when it just gets too dancey, when clients are just trying to remember the choreography of something, it's just too much- They're not engaged with what they're doing. Yeah, yeah, exactly. I always have to come back and say, do I see the work, or are they just struggling just to do that action? So things don't always work, things don't always work. Yeah, so I wanna move into some of the clips that you shared with us.

Do you wanna explain what this first one is? Oh, did you wanna say something? Sure, I'm good, I'm ready. Yeah, so the first one Levi sent was, it was this standing exercise with the different props, like a magic circle, a ball and the loop. Let's go ahead.

Yeah, let's go ahead and put it on, and I can talk about this. So this is something I actually did to be funny. So you look at it and it's like, hey, that's kinda interesting. Oh wow, the ring and the disk, but there's no work going on. The machine is light.

I'm pushing the carriage out with my legs so that my arm is not being loaded at all. And actually as I was doing it, the girls were there. They're like, "Oh, that looks really cool." And I'm like, okay, but I'm not doing anything, you guys. The machine, I'm not doing anything. Nothing's being loaded.

Don't get fooled by this. And I'm also kind of... Do you really need that many props on a machine? Not that I don't use props. I do use them from time to time, but we have that whole reformer.

It just kinda gets gratuitous when you start just loading, loading, loading with all the props. So that's what this is. This is something that looks interesting, but is really nothing at all. Yeah, it does look really cool, but you're right, it does have way too much going on with all the different props and you really like, I personally like to keep things simple. And I find you get a lot more out of it when you can focus on what you're doing.

Instead of like, oh, am I gonna drop this prop? Am I gonna lose the ball? It's too much. Exactly, and then you gotta fiddle around with the ball. You gotta figure out with this, either the machine and the loop.

It's too much, too much. Yeah. You can go to the next one. So the next thing. As you see, I have the same outfit on.

So that day when I was trying to find things that were ridiculous, at one point I put the loop over my knee and I was like, oh, but this is nice. And so the tension is real light, the bar is there and you can use your hand on the bar and challenge, if you need it, for your balance or take the hand off. So you immediately have one exercise that is very advanced once you take that hand off, and intermediate when the hand is on, right? And it's a very simple action. The knee is pulling in, the knee is pressing out.

It's a shape your client's know. But the benefit here is that we are standing on that left leg. So that outer glute meat is gonna get a lot of work. The whole body is having to stabilize the knee, the ankle. So again, this came out, I found this exercise just by experimenting and trying to find something that I thought would be ridiculous.

And I just found this exercise and actually, it will be in my next Pilates workout also. I love this one. I remember you teaching it in the class I took of yours and my standing glute was shaking. It was very intense, but I think we were on a yellow. It seemed so light. It's just a yellow, I know.

Yeah, I love that one. And then what was the next one? I believe it was... It's us coming up with some new ideas. So this is me playing around, and to get this idea I'm gonna take my hand off.

Yeah, totally scary. And I do have this saying, like Instagram injury and there are moments where I do push the envelope, and what I'm doing right now, trying to do, is totally not anything other than trying to get your attention. And so actually none of this made it into a post. There was nothing that we found in this setup that I was playing around with that we could get to actually work. So yeah.

I can even see everyone's terrified. Even though you did it fine, you didn't fall or anything, but just the... I did not try to do it again. That was my one time taking the hand off, I was like, yeah, no, thank you. A little too risky.

Yeah. And then I think the next one was another one that was a little bit more on the promotional side. Yes, so... A headstand with the jump board. Yes, so this actually, again was me just messing around, and the first couple of times that I did try to do this, it did feel very dicey on my neck.

But honestly, once you get the feel of this, it doesn't feel difficult to do. I know that sounds crazy. So it is a huge, big risk factor, but then it just... Once you're locked in that position, and these are all things that I do, right? I'm a dancer so my foot is strong enough to do that.

I do yoga so I can balance and do a headstand pretty easily. But literally, when I posted this for the first time on Instagram, I started it off by saying, of course you should not try this. This is not Pilates. This is to catch your eye and do not try to do this. And then a lot of the comments were like, this is dangerous.

And I'm like, yeah, I know. I'm not suggesting. But look how cool. It's super cool though, it's super fun. And there is somebody that can do this, right?

Probably a gymnast that can do this. I'm not always suggesting you go out and you try that, but I still think its cool. Or anybody, there's nobody in my staff that's tried it. Nobody at all. And yeah, I would even think twice about recreating it, except I do know that once I was in it, it got to be simple, you know?

Yeah. So I think the next one was a dance flow piece with music that you wanted to show? Sure. Yeah, so the there's music here, so I won't talk over this. (calm music) It is fun to watch, right?

So that's an outtake of me just working on it in the studio. I think I started, so I always had this idea about.... And I don't know if any of you out there in the world teach like this or not, but occasionally I will do a class two music, and so I had started playing around in my reformer groups, having a certain playlist with a certain tempo. So you'd be doing footwork and going out for two and in for two, and moving to music. And it's really, really nice to do that.

And so then when I started building out my Instagram, I wanted to put Pilates with some music, and then I just started creating these little flows, these little movement pieces that I was doing really just for me, and truthfully also, I'd hit a hard spot in my life. And I think it was cathartic for me to be creative, and to make these little things. So those are definitely something very different. And I have thought about, and I have done this only once taking a little, an easier flow, not that one, but taking a little movement flow and actually teaching it in a class, right? It would have to be a very specific kinda person.

Yeah, so I did do it once during COVID. I did it on Instagram live where, I taught it like a dance class. So I was literally just teaching the movement and it was really fun and then people reposted them doing the little flow to the music. So that's a route I could go with that, but still within that little dance flow that you just saw, there were pieces of things that I will clout and then use as exercises. I'll just take one moment.

So the next three clips we have, I don't think they come from this flow, but they came from a flow that I created. And then I was like, let me start teaching these movements in class. So by creating the flow, I created a music flow, but then I took out just individual elements and began to make those exercises, as long as they were viable exercises. And a lot of the things were viable exercises. So I think we'll see that in the next three clips.

Yeah. Oh, and Martha said that it was beautiful too. So this is just me doing what looks like an exercise. So it's just teaser to chair, to plank. To chair.

And then I think I sit right back down the teaser. So just doing those three moments, and then let's see what else we have. So that's the actual exercise there. So here I am, I did this for Pilates Anytime as part of my new year challenge. I did a whole workout in a chair, but it came from doing that flow.

Oh, that's awesome. Yeah, so it's the same concepts. Going through the same shapes, just different place, adding a little different. I probably, if I had to anticipate, I'd say probably next time I walk out into a push up position, right? 'Cause that's what the dance did.

And so here's me and Miku doing it. This is the actual flow, I think. Yeah. And so then just this piece, just this in and out, I teach that as an exercise on its own, like four to one side and four to the other. Oh yeah.

And then there's one other thing. So it is a flow, but I just took out elements and created little exercises. This is actually really nice, even if you keep the knee into the chest and just take the box out. And then it's like a modified single leg stretch, single knee stretch with the box there. And so it all kind of works.

Yeah, that's cool. I love that. So do you think your dance background helped with your creativity? For sure, absolutely. And I find that the teachers that are good at creating things, are the ones that do have that dance background, but hey, with Instagram, you don't need to be a dancer.

'Cause you can just go to somebody else's page who's already worked it out for you and do it that way. And certainly, moving to music as another whole element that makes it much, much, much more challenging. But I think that the creative part of this work is one of the reasons why I'm still doing it. I don't think without... So there's a certain amount of creativity when you're doing problem solving for sure, right?

But actually allowing myself just to be creative with the work, even if I'm creating Pilates and doing something else, I think it's a huge part of what the draw is to me to this method 'cause it uses that part of me. In some ways I'm always saying it's the perfect thing for me because it's kind of dancey, kind of creative, movement based, teaching, working with people. It's really the exact right thing for me in terms of what my profession is, 'cause I do get to use all of these different parts of me. So yeah, dancers definitely excel at it, but like I said, you can just go borrow from somebody else. Let somebody else work it out.

That's what I would do. I wanna go back to your movement flows. So when you do create these flows to music for Instagram, what is your process like? How do you go about creating 'em? Do you start with the movement first?

Music probably inspires you too. I think it's the music first, and a lot of trial and error and for me to really do it well, I have to be in the right head space, if you know what I mean? So typically I would be... I think having a piece of music on and then just working out. Just going through regular Pilates and then finding a connection of a certain exercise or tempo to the music, right?

And so now I'm like, oh, that works, that connects there. And then just allowing myself to improvise with the music on and I build it out little bits at a time. So the hardest part really, is transitioning from one thing to the next. So you might get, one, two three, four, one, two, three, four. Okay, I got that, but now what?

How am I getting to my knees, and how is it gonna be musical, and how is it gonna be pretty? And what about a string change? And where's the loop gonna go? That's the hardest part, is keeping it so that it can continue flowing. So a lot of trial and error.

And again, I have to be in the right head space 'cause sometimes I'm like, I got nothing. Actually, just yesterday, I was like, I wanna start working on my new Pilates Anytime workout. And I was like, okay. Or I do this too, sometimes. I give myself assignments.

And so this is just really good also. So the way this giving myself a assignments worked originally was, being in a very crowded studio and having too many people, and being like, okay, well there's a chair free. I'm gonna be in that chair for the next hour with this client. And just being forced into a situation where you have to be creative to fill up the time. I have to rethink what is here, and I have to...

So just giving myself an assignment. So I gave myself an assignment, which was, I was gonna try to create a workout just on the box, just on the short box, and having it on the machine the whole time. But it didn't work. So far, it don't work. I get up on there and I was like, yeah, I could do this and I could do that.

But yeah, this looks interesting, but it's not really enough leg work, and this isn't really enough this work. It just felt piecey. It just felt like random things on a box thrown together. 'Cause I don't wanna do that either, right? So it still has to have a beginning and an end, and have a flow and it makes sense on the body.

Just not 10 great exercises on a box. That's just a list of 10 great exercises on a box. That's not a workout to me, you know? It needs to make sense. Exactly so, so far stuck on that.

We'll see. I'll go back to it again though and see if I can get my creative juices going, and find things that fill in all the gaps so I can give one nice cohesive workout on just the box. Yeah. I wanna transition into talking about your student teachers, 'cause you do teacher training too. So when you're working with student teachers, do you encourage them to play with the movements too, or do you instruct them to wait until they've mastered the exercises before they start experimenting?

I do not encourage them to be creative. It's putting the proverbial cart before the ox. It drives me crazy, actually. And I've gotten a lot kinder and gentle as I've gotten older, but I did not wanna see any students doing anything other than modifications of exercises, and then the exercise. I didn't want people teaching variations of stuff.

I didn't want people teaching with props. I feel like, for you to really... Especially now where there's so much distraction, right? There's so much source, there's so many exercises. There's so many people doing so many things and inventing so many things.

I don't think you can enter teaching from there. And I would say, I still say to my students, learn to do Pilates with the basics. Learn to teach with the basics, with a hammer, with a saw and a screwdriver, You have only those three things, you should still be able to build. And then when you find out that there's some fancy electric thing with six things in it, great. But you have to know the basics first, so I don't.

It shows weakness when a teacher's like, I'll just have them squeeze the ring and squeeze the ring. When they're constantly going to new exercises, jumping from one thing to the other, to the other, to the other, it's like, okay, well, you don't really know how to teach that one thing. Really pull it apart, really think about it, try that. What if your client is six feet tall? What if they're four feet?

What if they have a bad back? What if they have something wrong with their neck? How are you gonna teach that exercise to that client? And so once you have your practice, and you know how to teach, then everything else becomes sprinkles on top. The industry's changing so much.

Don't even get me started. I was told 30 years ago that I didn't teach real Pilates. And still, sometimes people will say to me, do you teach classical or do you teach contemporary? And I'm like, well, I don't know. It depends on who you ask.

'Cause I have been called out for not being classical enough and I've been called out for being just so classical. That crafts me up and people say I'm such a traditional teacher. So I think that all of these other things, unless you're taking exercises that are like, I'm gonna call them newer exercises. Let's say all this planking on the short box, right? Which for me, really fills this void of it's a way to do core work.

It's stuff that people feel right away. It's a way they can be in shape. Yeah, people recognize it, they get it, they feel it right away. It is core work. We can teach good stabilization and head position.

We can teach all the Pilates principles and all that stuff. Those exercises come into my work a lot more when the newer exercises, when they're feeling what I perceive to be a lack, a place where there's a void in the traditional work. Everything else is just like, it's not part of the everyday practice, but it's to vary something. It's to bring in something new. That's really important with your clients.

You can't teach your clients same thing every single day. Part of what we're trying to do is a a mind, body discipline and challenge the mind and stimulate new pathways and you can't do that if they're always doing the same thing all the time. And by the same token, if you're constantly bombarding your clients with something new, every single time, just creating that muscle confusion. Every single time, they can never really get to the place where they know and exercise well enough that now they can just breathe with the exercise. And really get to that point where they're creating breath and flow together.

So I think you really need to have the balance of both. I sometimes get teachers here where I'll watch them teach a class and I'm like, every single thing you taught in that class was new to those people. It's too confusing, it's too confusing. It's too much bombardment. I always gotta go through the basics.

You're a dancer, we go to the ballet, we go to bar, we do our tendus and our plies and our batmas, and maybe the batma is a little bit different today, but it still a batma. Same thing in martial arts, you have your basics that you go through and that's part of being a mind, body discipline. And I do believe that for me, the most important part of everything I teach, is that I'm coming from a point of view of this is a mind, body discipline. I don't know if you'd necessarily pick up on that, if you only follow me on Instagram, but it is really important for me to teach a mind, body discipline, not just to teach exercise. And that is different for different people and different places for sure.

Yeah. There's also, going back to how you find creativity or how you can work with it too, because everything you see on Instagram may not look like a mind, body exercise, whereas when you're using the creativity in practice, it really is, so it's a huge difference between the two. Yeah, exactly, exactly. It's just how you approach a movement, how you cue a movement, how quickly you go through, how much you correct, how much you don't correct. And keeping your clients into what their experience is in their body, just colors the whole thing very differently too.

Yeah. So my last question, which you've kind of covered this a little bit, but just to reiterate for everyone watching is, do you have advice for teachers who feel that they aren't creative in the way to come up with new exercises or new variations? Oh gosh. If you wanna be creative... The simplest thing honestly, is to go on to Instagram, but don't just teach it the next day.

Try it on your body, spend time with it, try it, change the angle of the foot bar, change the spring. And then even if that doesn't work, I think also having a really good understanding of your equipment and how.. Taking your foot bar up or down, how it impacts the shape, how it impacts the load is really important. So I think seeing something and then trying it, and then also you have to have an intention for that exercise. What are you trying to get out of that exercise?

What is the point? Is the point that it's just balance? Is it that you're trying to strengthen a particular muscle group? What is it? And so just have that really strong intention with it.

I think that's the easiest thing. Not everybody is good at everything. There are some people that are extremely creative on Instagram, that doesn't mean they're good teachers. It means that they're very creative. Here's the thing, is that you can go to Instagram and use someone else's creativity in your work.

You can't suddenly become a good teacher from watching Instagram, you know? You can only get inspired, yeah. So they're not to be replaced, but it is, my gosh. I used to spend a lot more time myself in the studio, playing around with just trying to be creative. And now lots of times my starting point is something that I see on Instagram, and it ends up not looking like that, but it'll be my starting point for exploring something.

That's great advice. Yeah, I tend to do that myself, 'cause again, I'm not the most creative, but before I worked the Pilates Anytime, I used to use the site to find new ways to use different props that I wasn't necessarily trained with like the foam roller and I would just take an exercise. I was like, oh I could use that. That looks functional, and then I would try it on my body. Try different things with it for probably a few weeks before I actually brought it to a single client.

And then once I started teaching it to clients, then I'd change it again. I know some people take the whole video and teach it, but I usually would take one exercise or maybe two, and just workshop it until I felt comfortable to teach it. I agree, agree. We do have to remember that Pilates is a process, and we teach our clients that Pilates is a process. And then when people come to teacher training, suddenly they think like the process is gone.

Teacher training teaching is also a process. You have to go through that same... Yeah, exactly. That's exactly how I would approach it also for sure. And I also do think that Pilates Anytime is a great source to not only see just on Instagram, like an exercise, but then how you can take that exercise and flush it out to make a full workout from top to bottom for sure.

Yeah. Thank you so much for doing this, Maria. It's so wonderful to have you back on the Pilates Report and can you let everyone know where they can find you if they wanna see you, especially your reformer first? Yes. Well, on Instagram, BodylineLA, and then I have lots of nice things up on Pilates Anytime.

You can always find me here, particularly what I did for the new year last year, where I fused Pilates and yoga and martial arts and dance, that was a lot of work for me. It is super creative, and that will give you a really nice idea, if you're looking for creativity. They're very, very different flows I'm pretty proud of them, but you can always take a look at those. You can find them here on Pilates Anytime. And then of course my studio and we have virtual classes every day.

So you can join our virtual groups any day also. Thank you, Maria. And thank you everyone for joining, and we'll see you next time. (bright music)


Lina S
1 person likes this.
Thank you for the sound advice.
1 person likes this.
I really enjoyed this interview.  Not only was it featuring one of my favorite teachers, it was good advice for a teacher.  The examples she gave were very informative. Your subject matter was so relatable and great advice and solutions! Thanks Gia and Maria!
Kia Imandel
LOVE LOVE! Thanks Maria & Gia!

You need to be a subscriber to post a comment.

Please Log In or Create an Account to start your free trial.

Footer Pilates Anytime Logo

Move With Us

Experience Pilates. Experience life.

Let's Begin