Following the Yellow Brick Road to Pilates…Backwards

Sometimes you’ve gotta see the wizard and walk a bit before your heart, brain and courage can catch up. At least that’s how Alexia Simmons finally found her footing as a Pilates teacher.

By Alexia Simmons

I have a confession to make. I’ve followed my yellow brick road to becoming a consummate Pilates instructor and studio owner backwards: I had already seen the wizardry of Joe in a flash of passionate glory during my first lesson decades ago. Even though I never had the chance to work with Joe, I intuitively knew that he was a methodically brilliant, hard-working inventor and health visionary from Kansas, rather than the confabulated myth used by so many to administer panaceas.

As in any passionate odyssey, the hallowed destination is always fraught with flying monkeys of doubt, witchy little thoughts of commercialized heresy and even poppy fields of complacency that, by degrees of disengaged rote, lull one into the cultish hype of a messianic Oz. My journey, one ruby slipper at a time, has traveled through this very same acreage. I suspect it is similar for many other Pilates apostles.

Here I will (at least pretend to!) dispense with the metaphors—and actually relate my experience.

I admit that my oh-my-gosh! teen-girl crush on Joe, though matured and tempered throughout the decades, has materially remained emotionally intact. I often pore through his writings, patents and photos in rapt transfixion. Joseph Pilates was a genius, a Da Vinci of movement, a prodigious scholar of idealized total health. This is steadfast gospel to me.

But let’s admit it: A girl’s gotta make a buck in the Pilates world, too. As a business owner, binging on commercial application, client base metrics, marketing, etc., can drop some crazy little houses of ambition on top of a career of logically proven results. I have discovered myself at times—especially since starting my own studio—impatient and doubtful. Doubtful if the method as I learned it was really fulfilling its comprehensive billing, if there might not be something to the going-viral pitched myriad arrogations and supposed improvements which have catapulted the creators into lucrative heights. In my rather pedestrian, faithful execution of Joe’s system, I knew my wide demographic of clients was progressing just fine, apace in its own way, session by session. But still…

And then I awaken from this poppy field of haze and remember the ruby slippers Joe gave me, recounting:

Years ago I was briefly employed by a studio that administered one of the “new and improved” Pilates system repertoires, deploying nonauthentic equipment predicated on the blueprint of Joe’s Reformer. I struggled at the foreign feel of this studio, trying to make the system I knew fit in with that brand of equipment and style of Pilates. I then earnestly endeavored to teach this system in compliant determination. I mean, I was cognizant that some of his directly trained disciples themselves have adjusted his system toward a goal of better results; but I just couldn’t help but simultaneously wearing out my brain, wondering the degree of insult Joe would have taken to this affront of his lifelong work.

Hey, I make no apologies for keeping my ruby slippers on Joe’s road. But nor am I tossing buckets of confrontation at others. This is confession, my experience.

I observed the other teachers, their instructions and deviations from Joe’s Bible. I watched with intent to learn, compare, understand…not criticize or dismiss. In the end, this empirical skip through a different Pilates canon flooded me anew with the golden recognition of affirmation: Joe is Pilates and Pilates is Joe. From his brilliant inventions to his scholarly devotion to total health, his work was the systemic architecture of a man who had solved total-body and spiritual fitness for centuries to come. In an impassioned flash, I affirmed that—of course!—his original method changes bodies and is just fine the way that it is!

Some things are done right the first time—so much so that even other improvement-oriented diasporas can retool things and still maintain remarkable degrees of authenticity that work for their needs. Toes, arches and heels, oh, my! I was even able to make a living for a time in an alternate circumstance, if only because of the incomparable brilliance of his original system and its very real, practical roots in even the most ordinary of Scarecrow, Tin Man or simple human body from Kansas or anywhere else.

Alexia Simmons is the owner of Pilates Perfect Studio on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she teaches the classical Pilates method to all age groups and abilities. She is an adjunct lead teacher trainer for Core Arts Pilates in California. Alexia recently collaborated with the Museum of the City of New York to create a community Pilates Mat Series program. In her previous capacity as director of education of a NYC-based Pilates teacher-training program, Alexia developed the syllabus and established unique guest workshops with luminary Pilates figures. She maintains regular attendance of seminars that feature renowned industry leaders, specialized Pilates education, physiology and anatomy courses, as well as national conferences. For more information, visit; follow Alexia on Instagram (@pilatesperfectstudio).

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