Thoughts on ‘A Movement of Movement’

January 23, 2017 — 3 Comments

8219041This is part review (I hope it’s helpful), and partly and attempt for me to analyse why I felt so frustrated and, ultimately, irritated by watching “A Movement of Movement’.

It’s a long film, 73 minutes to be precise. I note that, via Facebook, Siri Dharma Galliano (never short of a pithy remark), who participates in the film, suggests that it could be edited to a “tight thirty minutes”. I found myself wondering why we were seeing footage of the nice lady getting her child and buggy into a taxi, for example. Maybe this is showing ‘real’, or ordinary people who do/teach Pilates.

Everyone involved plays nicely – there’s a little bit of ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ but there’s no name-calling (or foul language)

It’s a great marketing opportunity for Balanced Body, and the Pilates Method Alliance. (And the claim that whether you use traditional or modern apparatus makes no difference goes unchallenged.)

It’s quite a lot longer than it needs to be. I think I may have already touched on that. Apologies.

It is nice to see lots of footage of JP, especially the multi-screen bits of him strutting his stuff in the Catskills.

There are some confusing messages:

It seems to be broadly agreed that there are a number of ways of doing the exercises (so there’s no single correct way) but there’s also a warning that, without a teacher to show you how to do the exercises “correctly”, you could hurt yourself.

Shortly after one of the interviewees declares that Joseph was so sickly as a child that he nearly died, there’s reference to him spending a lot of time as a child lying in the woods watching animals. I know that ‘he was a very ill child but knuckled down and healed himself and became a paragon of health and fitness’ is a good story, but my understanding is that there’s no evidence to support the sickly-child mythology. (And this was the man who wrote “I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life.”)

There are some inspiring stories. Sadly, they get swamped by lots of footage of interviewees practicing Pilates (and some other movements that look a bit like Pilates).

The film seems to be supportive of the 1990s lawsuit outcome – it is a good thing that ‘Pilates’ is now a generic term. There is no dissenting voice.

From watching the film I couldn’t work out what the filmmakers intentions were – what the purpose of the film was. It doesn’t seem to be intended as a pure celebration of the work of Joseph Pilates, nor is it a biographical work. I did some research and read that the directors intention was to create a film that does for Pilates what ‘The Endless Summer’ did for surfing, or ‘Dogtown and the Z-Boys’ did for skating. To quote the website:

The one thing that all of these films have in common is a compelling story about something that came along and changed the world forever.  Pilates has changed the world.  We are living in a historical movement, a phenomenon of human experience.  The movement is about us, it’s about today, and it’s about exploring our full potential, but what does that mean? That is what A Movement of Movement is.”

Unfortunately I don’t think that their own question (“..but what does this mean?”) is answered by the film. Perhaps part of the problem is that surfing, skating and other sports are quite different from Pilates. My understanding is that Joseph meant Pilates to be the practice that helped you be better at the things you love to do – surfing, skating, skiing, you name it. It’s not meant to be your favourite pastime or activity – if it is, maybe you missed the point. And I think that’s where the film falls down – it’s misunderstood its subject matter.

If you believe that:

the outcome of that (in)famous lawsuit was 100% positive;

that Pilates apparatus evolves and new apparatus should be added;

that there are many different versions of a given exercise, all equally valid;

there are no dissenting voices to these views;

And you enjoy watching people practicing Pilates on a terrace while the sun goes down and the sea softly laps on the shore – this is the film for you. I hope you enjoy it.

(As I said above, frustrated and irritated….)

3 responses to Thoughts on ‘A Movement of Movement’


    As always Mike, a brilliant repartee on your subject matter, I always enjoy reading your blogs!

    I haven’t actually seen the doco myself but have seen the shorts and that felt like enough for me even though I am a somewhat obsessed Pilates practitioner. I felt even in those brief snippets that the full viewing was going to fall short of telling the true story of Joseph Pilates and the greatness of what he created in the authentic Pilates method.

    I often question the historical correctness of what is written about Pilates as there seems to be skint evidence and much myth about what he did and experienced as a child/young man. What we do know is that he created something unique, that is universally accessible for people from all walks of life and he had the great intention of making the world a better place through personal responsibility of health and mobility.

    The debate about the authentic method versus a modern Pilates workout will rage on until the end of time with those both fore and against each method (and those methods within the methods) and many fence-sitters in between. If may inject my two-cents worth I’d just like to say that if you haven’t experienced the authentic method for yourself you must do so just to feel the difference in your body. From my experience it is remarkable!

    My early training was from several different reputable modern Pilates schools but mid-last year I started training in a Romana Pilates studio and I feel like I am practising a whole different technique. Is this the way Joseph Pilates intended it to feel? I don’t know, it certainly is Romana’s way and the intention, strength, focus, flow, everything about it feels different and my body is happier for it. I never imagined the differences could be so vast, in that subtle Pilates way. Is this method better than modern methods of Pilates? For my body I think yes but for someone else’s body I cannot not say. Is what I was practising before still Pilates? That I might question now based on my new experiences practising something that is rigidly protected, the tradition passed on with great accuracy from true devotees who dedicate their lives to maintaining exactly what Joseph Pilates or the original elders taught them. And given some of the appalling classes I have experienced under the name of ‘Pilates’ I can understand why traditionalist are protective about the name. But in saying all this I am a mover, and if giving the name Pilates to a good Pilates inspired class gets someone new active then I think I can be flexible in my thinking….or am I fence-sitting? I just don’t want to invoke rage from parties on either side of that fence because I respect all methods.

    As for the equipment….whoa, it is very different! A Gratz reformer versus other brands, that is a whole different sensation. I’ve used all of it and Gratz makes me work so much harder. I’ve found other equipment does too much of the work for me, the carriage ride is too smooth (even though this is often a marketing point) and the set-up/dimensions/springs (not sure exactly what it is) makes those last few centimetres of bringing the carriage home an easy ride, nice if you are feeling a bit lazy. Don’t expect a smooth carriage ride from the Gratz, nor expect the springs to bring you back to home on their own. Expect to work for the machine not the other way around, you have to fight for the control, it’s not designed to make the work easy which is what I love about it. And the execution of the exercises, the sensation of muscle activation and control when using the Gratz, that to me now is true Pilates. This of course is just my opinion but again I encourage people to try for themselves, the experience is worth it just to know for yourself.

    One last remark I’d like to make in relation to the confusing message of how to do the Pilates exercises ‘correctly’. I did a private class with Blossom Leilani Crawford a few years back, in my early years of Pilates having completed a ‘modern’ Pilates certificate. She directed me to do the Elephant and I said with some embarrassment and confusion ‘which version, I have learnt a few’. She said in her beautiful encouraging tone, ‘I don’t care just show me what you’ve got, as long as you are moving’. To me that was a God-blessed relief! Although I feel a distinct difference in learning the authentic Romana Pilates method I also acknowledge that you just have to move…and own that movement!

    Thanks for the review Mike, and the opportunity to contemplate all that Pilates is…or isn’t lol!


      Thank you,
      The ‘Pilates inspired class’ is a tricky fence (tightrope, maybe), I agree. There’s a lot that I teach that isn’t Pilates, but it’s generally done in pursuit of helping people manage Pilates exercises better/more easily, and that’s how I justify it to myself. In the ned we all have to do our best to teach the person in front of us in the most effective way that we can. AND if we sell ourselves with the name ‘Pilates’ then I believe that work should be our destination, at the very least. To make a film about Pilates that ignores these kind of individual or wider conflicts seems a whitewash.
      I agree absolutely with your comments on the apparatus – my suspicion is that, if you say the type of apparatus doesn’t matter, you probably haven’t used Gratz (or similar).

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