Hashtag Pilates

Should you join in? Anula Maiberg breaks down the #pilates phenomenon.

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So, let me break this down.

• Being pro “weird” isn’t anti-tradition.
• No one is confused.
• There’s a thing called “scrolling.”

If you haven’t been on Instagram lately—or ever—and you’re faint of heart, I advise you to stay away. A search through #pilates will leave a staunch traditionalist reaching for the smelling salts. Get your fainting couch ready, grab a drink and start scrolling through some mind-bending stuff. Ninety-nine out of 100 posts will be variations upon variations on all apparatus, props, animal and mineral, daring and benign, level of ability, music, filter, outfits your imagination could never dream of and then some.

I’ve started viewing these little one-minute videos as short art films. From the Fellini-esque to the Michael Bays of the iPhone age, these are well-known, Instagram-famous and totally obscure movement enthusiasts. I would venture to guess, based on zero actual research, that most of the frequent posters (read: once to several times a day) are fully certified Pilates teachers who have actually attended reputable schools. Many of them most likely go to all the continuing-education courses they can, and have some form of Pilates-based business.

Here is my point: They’re not confused.

Now, I’m not defending nor slandering. I don’t know if putting a Bosu on a Chair on top of a Reformer on top of a goldfish bowl is a great idea. I don’t know if it’s advisable to hang off the safety strap of the push-through bar or create a fort out of Therabands and call it #pilates. I have no idea. My gut is telling me that these posts (and I have not met everyone who has ever posted) are posted by people who, on some level, KNOW that what they are posting isn’t within the classical vernacular.

My opinion is that Pilates is now a language with many accents, slang words, subcategories and dialects looking for expression. Like all languages, we want to evolve it to meet the demands of the era it is in. Historically, languages that don’t go through some form of change from original conception tend to die. Like Latin (which is dead) or Hebrew (which I speak) needed to adapt to the needs of its most frequent users. At some point, the grammatical syntax of a language is agreed upon, basic words are “invented,” and then it has to move forward. I know for a fact that there are words for things (akin to movement patterns, philosophical conclusions, medical advancements, etc.) that Hebrew just doesn’t know what to do with. So it borrowed and borrowed and kept borrowing, until a person born in the 1930s speaking to a teenager today has trouble understanding each other even though they live in the same country and are technically speaking the same language.

Long story short: Most of these Instagram posters aren’t confused. Some have most likely studied the classics and chose to expand the limits of the language. They are curious movers. They are hungry for an exchange of ideas. A community that isn’t fueled by anger or past resentments (most don’t even know what these resentments are, nor do they care. Some don’t even have a Facebook account and don’t know or care about “the forums”). They just want to noodle around in their studios and show what they came up with. A kind of poem or a lab experiment. Some are good. Some are darn terrible. But they are showing the work. They’re getting weird with it. They compliment each other and cheer. Do they think they are perfectly honoring the archival images? Absolutely not. Do they think they’re hurting anyone? Nope. Are they unintentionally insulting an entire world upholding what was passed down to them as the only way to honor the practice? You betcha.

Multiple times this year alone, I’ve been called irreverent. Only online, of course, because in person, that would be awkward. Also if anyone spoke to me directly and asked me about my education, they would quickly realize that not only is that an untrue characterization, but it’s also no longer the point.

When the Megaformer/Fitformer came to peak popularity a couple of years ago, it seemed we all felt panic-stricken and waited for the backlash that really never came. The Lagree method is going strong—and bothering no one. I can count on one hand how many full-time “traditional” Pilates instructors I know who’ve actually tried a class. A lot of drama based on pictures alone. I went to a bunch. I still dabble. It’s a thing. We all got used to it.

As an avid student of the dead science of Semiotics (the study of signs), calling something an apple that isn’t, in fact, an apple doesn’t make it such. But when I say the word “apple,” we can all imagine what it looks like, probably draw some simulation of it on a piece of paper and write the letters that spell it out. #pilates does not make it Pilates. Hashtag Pilates is a collective thought. If that is irksome, just scroll on by.


Anula Maiberg is a graduate of the Kathy Grant Heritage Training Masters Program led by Cara Reeser. Anula is passionate about upholding the traditions and principles of Pilates while being able to update and personalizing them for the needs of her students. She also feels strongly about volunteering her time to the LGBTQ community, and believes Pilates is a wonderful movement modality and a tool for healing in a supportive environment.

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