The curtains open and the ballet will begin for the audience. Back stage prior to the first act, the dancers will have been warming up in preparation for the performance. The warm up is a recapitulation of every bar exercise starting with the first lesson which was demi plié and the port de bras. This proceeds through the advanced skills required to perform for an audience. The dancer must keep the instrument turned like a fine violin. The skills must be perfect and dependable so that every note can be hit on key. This preparation is a workout.
Women gymnasts begin a practice a warm up in preparation for the apparatus. The warm up usually includes a line up on the floor exercise mat. The gymnasts will practice the basic skills across the mat. Without these basic skills at peak perfection advanced tricks will be poorly executed. Without precision and control the gymnast might sustain injury.
When coaches or dance teachers confer, it is the basic skill levels that are revisited. Joe Pilates would have understood this style of preparation and progress because the foundations of these sports and dance were in Europe. Many of the Mat exercises are the warm up and preparation for advanced practice in specialized physical activities.
This does not mean that the Mat work is easy. The mat work prepares all the muscles and joints to move with strength, flexibility and control. Within the Mat are skills that build to prepare the student for the more advanced exercises. It takes years for the rolling exercises to be mastered. In gymnastics the roll to the front springs to standing jumps with full turns and a return to rolling backward. The rolling back might develop into the handstand and pirouette.
Dancers and gymnasts usually retire from the professional career while they are young. Pilates as exercise is a natural choice for continuing fitness. The example of dancers and gymnasts could be expanded to include many activities such as martial arts, yoga, ice skating, running, swimming, as well as many others. All distance runners will describe the zone where every footfall, arm swing, speed, and the rhythm of the breath is experienced with full attention and falls into the “zone”.
One of the reasons that Pilates as exercise is the choice for many, is the inner work out. Mastery of a high end sport or art requires the constant repetition of the exercise to master the execution. The focus is intense and endless. The physical body changes every day. To have full control of the body, the mind must be disciplined and coordinated with the movement. A transcendent space of mind and body is a real experience. One could image transcendence, but the experience is only noticed after it has been achieved.
Pilates as exercise is a workout when done with focus and form. It is an endless process of mindfulness and subsequent joy when experienced as an inner workout as well. Pilates can be a practice that is the preferred workout or it can augment the other activities in life.
It was Joseph Pilates’ vision that one day everyone would do his work. He also hoped that the practice of Contrology would result in more peace and health.