Sonja R. Price Herbert joins me to share her Pilates journey, what makes a great Pilates teacher, and the ways she is disrupting racism and white supremacy in the Pilates and fitness industry. Our conversation continues on Pilates Students' Manual here: *http://bit.ly/PSMs3e1*
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For nearly a decade, after shifting from a solid career in social work to a deep professional commitment to fitness training, Sonja has devoted herself to teaching classical Pilates and integrating it with her clients' fitness and athletic goals. Holding a variety of Pilates certifications, including the comprehensive classical intensive training completed in 2008, Sonja also is certified in TRX and Kettlebell instruction.
She is also the founder/creator of Black Girl Pilates which is a platform highlighting/supporting Black/Afro Latina Pilates instructors and Black Girl Fit & Well - a platform designed to curate health/wellness events, workshops, conferences representative of Black women and in 2020 co-founded Melanin Brothers of Pilates with seven Black male identifying Pilates instructors to highlight Black men who teach or take Pilates.
Sonja is committed to Black Female representation within fitness and improving the health/wellness in the Black community through writing, speaking and curating health/wellness events for Black women. She is also a very proud mom two adult children who are both competing athletes.
Find her on Instagram, sign up for her anti-racism newsletter, and check out her webinars and other offerings.
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Olivia: [00:00:00] Welcome to Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and the Pilates community on Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. Today's chapter starts now.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. I am [00:01:00] so excited to be talking with Sonja R. Price Herbert today. If you do not follow her and you do not know her, she is absolutely incredible. She's a Pilates teacher, a writer, a classical rebel, an anti-racism educator and community leader. You can find her on Instagram at @commandofitnesscollective. I will link to all of her great stuff in the show notes. We are going to be talking all things Pilates and Pilates teaching today. So thank you so much for being on the show today, Sonja.
Sonja: [00:01:32] Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited about talking about Pilates, although that's what I talk about most of the time, but, you know, besides the anti-racism, but you know, they all connect,.But it'll be nice to talk some Pilates stuff too.
Olivia: [00:01:44] Yes. A hundred percent. So, first things first, how did you find Pilates? How did this become a part of your life?
Sonja: [00:01:52] Well, my daughter who is now 27, she'll be 28, actually in 2021. My daughter was a dancer for [00:02:00] a very long time. I started her when she was six years old and she danced until she graduated high school. As soon as she got her diploma, she threw the dance shoes away and that was it. But she was dancing at the school called Harlem School of the Arts. And my son was also taking drumming lessons there.
Things people don't know about me, but I was a dance assistant there, for a bunch of teachers actually. And yes, I do have something of a dance background, but I don't really talk about that because I feel like I'm more of a singer and, you know, like musical theater, good mover, that kind of thing versus like a dancer.
But I loved it. One of my friends who I also assisted- he used to teach like level one and two modern- and he told me about this Pilates class. I had never heard of it. And I said, well, who's teaching/ and he said, well, Cynthia Shipley. Well, Cynthia Shipley is my daughter's ballet teacher. So I said, Oh, I love her. So I don't know what this is you're talking about, but what is it about? And he's like, well, it's about your core and all this stuff. And I thought, well, I think I'm [00:03:00] probably good, but you know, I'll give it a try since Cynthia is teaching it.
So I go to the class with him and he demonstrates a couple of times, I'm like, wow, he looks great, you know. But I'm very competitive. So I'm like, Oh, no problem. You know, after two kids anyway, like I'm pretty strong. I feel like I'm good. So I shouldn't have any problem.
Well, that was not the case. I was so disappointed in myself and because I'm the person that I am, I said, I'm going to keep coming to this class and I'm going to master these exercises. And before I knew it, I started to really fall in love with Pilates.
I never really said this on other podcasts, but she had a ballet class that she would teach. And I think I took like a certain level. It wasn't an adult class. I took it with students and I forgot what level it was that I would take with them.
And after class, I used to get this deep, inner hip pain, you know, on my right side. And I was going to a holistic chiropractor at the [00:04:00] time who was wonderful. And the pain went away once I started taking Pilates. I would do it twice a week and I would take her ballet class and then, you know, I'd do my assisting, which was mostly on the weekends. And I was still in social work at the time full-time.
So I went to my chiropractor and I said, Hey, I started taking this Pilates class. I'd never heard of it, but it feels great and my hip pain that I had is gone. And he said, keep taking Pilates twice a week and come to me twice a week. And your whole body's going to change. Well, he was correct. And I thought, what a very smart man, cause I don't even really like chiropractors, but he was a great one. So I kept going.
Later on, I asked her about becoming certified because I was always interested in fitness and I always- not always worked out- but in college I started working out a lot more because I've always had issues with depression and anxiety, and I found that movement helped a lot and it helped to change my moods. It didn't solve it. It just alleviated some [00:05:00] of the pain. So I just kept going, you know, even into my marriage, my ex-husband worked out. And so we worked out together. You know, kids happen and things happen. You kind of stopped working out at the capacity that you were before children.
After we moved from Fort Worth, Texas, cause I'm originally from Texas, to New York City. That's when my daughter started dance training in Harlem School of the Arts, which is a primarily Black school. So I learned with a Black teacher with Black people in a Black school. And Cynthia Shipley is one of the best out there. She, I believe, is a level two, I think, Romana's Pilates teacher, but she is one of the top teachers there at Romana's Pilates.
I started looking for certifications. She recommended, obviously Romana's Pilates. That didn't happen. That's a whole other podcast, but I ended up at Core Pilates NYC and the rest is history. I've been teaching for about 13 years and I really love it.
I got [00:06:00] into teaching Pilates because number one, because I really, really did love it and I wanted to teach it. Number two, because I wondered why my own community didn't know anything about Pilates, because I didn't know. And so I figured, well, I've never heard any other Black person talk about it. I wanted to be able to take something that made me feel great to my own community. So that's what I did in the initial part of my early teaching career.
Olivia: [00:06:26] So that's an incredible teacher training experience because for you, it was a career change. You were established in social work, and then you transitioned to being a Pilates teacher. So what kind of motivated you to shift gears and make Pilates your calling?
Because I know that Martin Reid who was on the podcast just a few weeks ago was also a counselor. So there's a lot of overlaps, I think, in the work. But what, what was the game changer for you?
Sonja: [00:06:56] Well, the game changer was I got fired. [00:07:00] That was the game changer. I have to say, I've been on so many podcasts and it took me a while to actually talk about that.
Actually, the podcast that I ended up revealing the real shift was Muscles to Masses. And I think she may have since changed the name. But we were having a very deep conversation about race and racism, white supremacy, all these kinds of things. We were talking a lot about my life and things like that. And at that point I felt like I was vulnerable enough and felt healed enough to actually reveal that.
Because it's, you know, who wants to say that you got fired, you know? I had never been fired before, ever. And, you know, 15 years of being in social work and really loving it and being there because I loved it, but I was going through a divorce at the time and my work was just failing. And I knew that, you know, my supervisors knew that. They did everything they could and I did too.
It was actually a very nice [00:08:00] break. We actually hugged it out and cried and, but, you know, they still loved me and they still cared for me. So it was actually, I guess it was kinda like a firing, maybe a sending off, kind of. You know, I was still fresh and new kind of teaching Pilates, but I was just like, well, I have two kids to support. I have myself to support. I was in a brand new apartment and so I needed to support myself. So I said, you know, I'm just going to dive into Pilates. And so I did.
I started working for Equinox full-time. I was working for them part-time on the weekends. I was there every day, all day, trying to build my clientele, figuring out who I wanted to work with, who I didn't, making friends with folks there. Because it's about selling. It's about you have to sell yourself. One of the good things I learned from Equinox is how to sell myself. And I found out who I was as a teacher.
Yeah, it was I got fired. And now it doesn't hurt so much to say that anymore because- and this is probably the first [00:09:00] time I've articulated it like this, that it wasn't a firing. It was more of a sending off. So thank you for that because you know, it takes a great interviewer to be able to pull those things out of folks.
Olivia: [00:09:13] Thank you for sharing. I do want to come back to your teacher training because you had also, I would say a unique teacher training experience. How was that?
Sonja: [00:09:23] My teacher training was actually not very Black at all. I was the only Black apprentice, so I was probably one of few, if probably the only, Black body they worked with. I did have a Black teacher trainer who is in my group, Tela Anderson. She's a teacher of teachers and certification teacher over at Real Pilates in NYC. You know, that was it. It was just me and her. She looked at me, I looked at her and we looked at each other and that was it.
Even though I was paying attention to the fact that I was the only Black person and that she was the only Black teacher trainer, [00:10:00] but I was still there to get my certification. I was like, well, when this is over, I'm going to take this to my community.
Now I'm not saying that it was a bad experience because I did make some friends there too are still people that I know today. We still talk, you know, back and forth and things like that. But I think if I had done teacher training now, it probably would have been with another school.
It would have been different because there's more opportunities for me to train with a Black teacher than it was then, at least to me. And although Cynthia Shipley is a teacher trainer for Romana's Pilates, she is only one of the teachers. So I would have gotten to work with her, but not with primarily Black teachers. I probably would have been again, the only Black apprentice, you know, maybe there'd be one other, but that's about it.
But I'd say in this day and age, now, if I were getting certified now, more [00:11:00] likely I would be in a class with Black teachers with a Black teacher trainer today.
Olivia: [00:11:05] There's amazing trainings that I've seen. I know that Lencola on @californiapilates is doing Black to Pilates, which is incredible. Tab Pilates, Tabatha in Chicago, where I am, is doing a training as well. And also I'm in the yoga world. I love Shanna Small, and she's doing a BIPOC yoga teacher training. So I'm loving that, that community is there, burgeoning, growing.
Sonja: [00:11:31] I mean, you know, things change, you know, I've evolved since I was in teacher training. I mean, I've always been for my own community, but you know, you evolve. Your eyes open, you learn and absorb more, you know. The way I saw things then, I don't see them like that now.
You know, I was also still, you know, raising my children at the time. I was married and now not a married woman anymore and my [00:12:00] children are adults. I see the world differently. I see Pilates differently. And my body has changed tremendously since, you know, 2007. It's chunkier, which I love. And, you know, I'm in a menopause stage, which, you know, every now and then I love it. And sometimes I don't, but, you know, you evolve over that time and you change.
It's like, I think for a very long time, we always tried to make people fit into Pilates versus making Pilates fit into them. I'm at that point where I'm relearning or learning how to make Pilates fit the body that I have now, which is again, completely different from 2007.
Olivia: [00:12:46] Knowing all of these things and working with Pilates through a long period of time, what is your secret sauce to teaching? How has your teaching changed? How have you kind of done that change for yourself?
[00:13:00] Sonja: [00:12:59] I have started to, and this was already a skill that I developed in social work, but I'm also that way. So it's like, my personality fits social work so, so well, because I was already sort of like that. You know, I was already a very compassionate person. I wanted to find out how people tick and where they came from, why they acted the way they acted and how, how could I help them? When I became a social worker, then all those skills increase those things even more.
I can't remember where it was. Maybe it was on, I think I might've been talking to Martin Reid. We are, he was doing one of his Freestyle Fridays or Freestyle Wednesdays, one of those. And we're talking about the it factor for teachers. And I said, for me, the it factor is observation. A great teacher is a great observer.
Because as soon as your client walks through the door, you should be looking at them. You should be looking at how they stand as they're talking to you. How [00:14:00] they're moving, taking their shoes off, putting their coat on, all those kinds of things. And you don't have to like stare them down. You can talk to them at the same time and observe.
Thank goodness for the many, the many, many years that I was in social work. I had to observe my clients, you know, I had to observe their body language. So that told me a lot about them. That told me how I could approach them. That told me how they felt. Because they might tell me that, yes, I'm feeling happy today, but their body language tells me something completely different.
So it's the same thing in Pilates. And that is a skill that I continue to perfect over the years of teaching and not even from them walking through the door and standing there and talking to me or whatever, but when they're on the equipment, when they're on the mat. That's important because that tells you what they need. If last week everything looked aligned and this week their left hip is elevated and their right shoulder is up. There's something going on. How do I address that with them?
Sometimes they don't even know that that's [00:15:00] happening. You know, when you tell them, they're like, Oh my goodness, really? And then you align them really quickly. And there's like, this feels very crooked. And it's like, yeah. So we're going to figure out what this is. We're going to choose some exercises or whatever. We're going to get you back aligned and things like that.
And they walk out feeling better and things like that that makes the client feel like you care. Based upon your observation, you're saying, Hey, this is what I think you need. This is what I'm seeing, right. Are you feeling this? And they're like, yes, I'm actually feeling it. You know? And so it gives like this authenticity or this genuine compassion for them when they know that you're paying attention to them.
That to me is an it factor as a teacher, and the rest of those things, like being genuine and caring and compassion for your client, that's how you develop rapport, which is another skill in social work. I had to learn how to develop a rapport with even some of the most difficult clients. And I've had some very, very difficult clients. I was always given [00:16:00] very difficult clients when I was in social work. Somehow I was able to develop this rapport with them. Kind of sorta like that in Pilates, not so much, but sort of, but I'm able to develop this rapport with them.
Yeah, has my teaching evolved over the 13 years, almost 14 years? Yes, it has. I've gone from sort of rote teaching. I think we all sort of did that. Because I felt like, and this is a Sagittarius thing. There's always something more, this exercise just can't, it can't just be just this. And I've always been one of those folks who, again, you know, wondering, well, why, you know. Trying to explore, you know, the whys and the how's and the what's and the when's and things like that.
With that I believe I was able to kind of find ways to help my client achieve the exercise or even letting them know that, you know what, maybe this exercise is not for you, but there's many other exercises that are. [00:17:00] Helping my client feel like they've achieved something. I've had clients that, I'm sure you've had this too, or you've had clients that looked over to the side and they saw this person doing this amazing teaser. And they're like, my teaser doesn't look like that. And I was like, that's fine because you're not them. So your teaser looks like this. Do you remember when you couldn't do a teaser? Well, you're absolutely right, Sonja. I know I'm right. So this is your teaser. My teaser is going to look completely different. We don't have the same bodies. Thank goodness, because we'd be boring. And me as a Sagittarius, I would probably stick a pencil in my eye.
But, you know, helping your clients be okay with them, with themselves, being okay with their body and how Pilates looks on them, you know, and that it's going to be different to me.
That's a good teacher, someone who's observant, you know, with that observation comes compassion and kindness and willingness to change when you need to change. You know, maybe you set up a whole session with them, sometimes it just goes out the window, [00:18:00] but that's not what they need, you know? So you give them what they need and they appreciate it, versus like, you know, you come in and you just run them through exercises. That's not my teaching style.
There's times when you are going to like, let folks kind of move. Sometimes that's just what they need to, but as a teacher, that's a skill that you have to learn. Every time my client comes in, how do I determine what they need? Well, first I have to listen with my eyes. Also have to listen with my ears, but I have to listen and not respond to everything. Sometimes it's better, if I'm listening with my eyes, I'm listening with my ears without response, that everything does require a response or a well and a but. You know, that's how you figure out what your client needs, because if you're not listening to them, then what are we really doing here?
Olivia: [00:18:53] I think that that's so powerful because that's something that you can't learn, I'd say, in your [00:19:00] teacher training, even in the best teacher training. That's really something that comes from maybe past experience if you were in a line of work where you were able to develop those skills, but, you know, we don't really talk about compassion in teacher training or listening to, you know, what your clients don't say.
And there's some observation that comes into play, but I remember my teacher training, it was just like so much panic, trying to remember what spring setting they were supposed to be on and what was coming next, that it took me some years of teaching to actually be in the room with a person. And just like you said, to listen with your eyes.
Sonja: [00:19:41] And those are things, you know, like you said, you can't really teach observation skills necessarily, but you can give examples.
I feel like that certifications have become so rote now. That it's like teach the exercises, this is what you do, perform it, [00:20:00] all that stuff, pass the tests, and then you're done. Versus, you know, what is involved in teaching. I guess maybe, maybe they feel like, you know, well, you get that when you, you know, in mentorship and stuff like that.
But I feel like certification is also a time where you should be mentoring your teachers because these folks represent you, you know. They walk out and they're whack teachers. And what does that mean, you know? That means that your certification is whack, you know.
But I wanted to see more teacher trainings go beyond just the role of exercises, but also teaching you how to connect to your students. One of the things that I say to folks who reach out to me about becoming a Pilates instructor and finding the certification, my first question to them every time is, do you want to teach it or do you just enjoy doing it?
Because there's a lot of teachers out there, and I have worked with many, who I [00:21:00] think really just enjoy doing it. They really don't want to teach. And it's pretty obvious. They burn out quicker. They don't stay in Pilates that long. They're out of there.
Now, granted, yes. Do we burn out? Absolutely we do. Because we see people all the time every day, all day and listen to 50 million conversations and you know, all this kind of stuff. So it can be a lot. But I truly believe that there are many folks out there who are truly just not teachers. And that's something that they have to examine before they actually go into a teacher training.
And it's okay if you just enjoy doing it. There's people who just enjoy doing Pilates. I used to work for the studio called Pilates Challenge and the owner at the time- and she was not a Pilates instructor- but she took Pilates like a lot. She knew, like all the exercises and the spring changes, everything. She knew how to transition. She took it often. She took sessions with all of us. Literally, I guess there was probably maybe like 25 teachers there, maybe. So she took sessions with all of us. [00:22:00] But she was like, I don't want to get certified. That's your job. You know, I just want to make sure you guys have a space where you can teach freely the way that you teach and you can be yourself.
That's one of few, probably Pilates studios that I've truly enjoyed working at. And I mean, for you even including my current one, not that I don't like it there, but it was a different kind of environment.
So, you know, just because you like it doesn't mean that you want to teach it. So you have to figure out, you know, well, do I just enjoy doing it? Maybe I just, I don't know if I want to teach it. And so you just don't.
And if you find out, you know what, this is something I do want to teach, this is something I want to add. You know, maybe I'm going to do it part-time, maybe I might transition over to it as a career or not. Some people don't, you know. They just teach on the weekends and, or teach whenever they can. There's lots of, you know, the girls in my Black Girl Pilates group who don't, you know, they don't teach it full time. You know, they have a full-time job. Some of them are doctors and all kinds of stuff, but they teach it on the side, on the weekends or, or [00:23:00] whatever. They do other things. And that's fine.
But I think that that's the first step in figuring out, do I really want to teach this or do I just enjoy going to the classes and that's it. And that will relieve a lot of the studios have a hell of a lot of headache from teachers who really, truly don't want to be there.
Olivia: [00:23:17] That's true.
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I think that as much as teaching Pilates is about Pilates, it's also about teaching and wanting to connect with students and make the thing that you love accessible and fun and fit the people that you're working with. It can't just be about, you know, this is Pilates, this is what we're doing.
Like I've had Pilates sessions with people and you would say that we did Pilates for like five minutes. We ended with mermaid or something, you know, like, but it's depending on what they need, depending on what's going on, it might be a stretch session. That's okay.
Sonja: [00:24:57] Yeah. And Pilates is not a dogmatic [00:25:00] thing. I think that we've, we've made it very like a religion almost. And there's God, you know. Joseph Pilates isn't necessarily the God, I would say. He is some being out there that created it, but he's not the God, there is a God or goddess of Pilates. And so that is the person that we look to.
Even though she's no longer here, she dictated how Pilates is supposed to go, but that's not how Pilates is really supposed to be, I don't think. I feel like, you know, again, in all the certifications they tell you, Well, give the body what it needs, gives the body what it needs, but then they really don't mean that. You gotta do it, this and this and this and this and this and it has to be in this order. If you don't do it this way, then, you know.
And I mean, that's literally going to drive teachers crazy. Like if I don't do it this way, it's going to be crazy. You know, for someone like myself, who very Sagittarius in a lot of ways, but very, you know, kind [00:26:00] of OCD in a way, that could be a lot. That's not how Pilates, or exercise, really is.
If you look at personal trainers, you know, when they're writing programs, you know, for their clients, the programs are going to be different every time they meet. They're going to progress them, they're going to regress them. Sometimes they're going to stay the same. You know, maybe their warmup will be 30 minutes for the first time, and then eventually, like they can just do a five minute warmup and they're good.
That's the way I feel like Pilates is supposed to go, but it's become so dogmatic. And if you don't teach it this way, you know, you're going to Pilates Hell. And that to me makes it inaccessible to a lot of people because it's so dogmatic. It's so about the Holy Spirit of Pilates and the Jesus of Pilates, you know, or whoever it is that you pray to or whatever. I'm choosing Christian terms, because that's my background, but it's become like that, you know?
So Joseph Pilates, who knows how he would respond if he saw most of the things that are going on. I mean, everybody [00:27:00] thinks that they know. We don't really know. We really did- we'll never know. But what we do know is that he would be happy to know that Pilates is out here the way that it is now, he would be happy about that. We can all agree on that.
Now, how he would respond to otherwise about, you know, how people are teaching. I don't really know. Nobody knows. And I mean, no one. Everybody thinks that they know what Joseph Pilates believed, you know, ate, drank, smoked, everything, but nobody really, really knows Joseph Pilates, but him.
Pilates died with him. So nobody is really teaching anything authentic. You know, we're just all teaching our interpretation of what Pilates is, because even like in our teacher trainings, right. Everybody's different and how they approach the work. I mean, if we are all supposed to like, be like cookie cutters, it would be so boring. Thank goodness that we're not all alike because oof, I don't know if I would have made it, especially with my [00:28:00] Sagittarius mind. I couldn't have done it cause I get bored easily.
I hope that, you know, one day we can get out of this whole dogmatic type of very, like, everything has to go this way. And I believe that that's also the beginnings of bullying too, because things are like, it's so dogmatic. And if you don't pray this way, you know, you got to leave. You don't pay your tithes, you got to leave. You know, it's like that. It's like, it's very cultish and it doesn't need to be.
It's just exercise, folks. That's all it is. At least from what I've heard. That's what I've been teaching. That's what you've been teaching too, right?
Olivia: [00:28:34] Yes. That's what we need on t-shirts. Pilates: it's just exercise.
Sonja: [00:28:38] I might have to do that. Uh oh. Don't take it, y'all. Because that's mine.
Olivia: [00:28:43] I think that would be a good one.
Sonja: [00:28:45] I'll reach out to my sister, Pilates Comics. Let's do it.
Olivia: [00:28:50] Yes. And there's more stuff that you're working on. You are a woman of many hats and many adventures. I've attended [00:29:00] some of your really incredible powerful webinars. And I was wondering if you can share a little bit about what you're offering the Pilates and fitness world right now, too.
Sonja: [00:29:09] Yeah. So in, uh, June, it almost feels like it's 2021 yet, but it's not until January 20th. That's when 2021 is, if you understand what I mean, that's when it's really going to be 2021.
Yeah. So in June I started, not really on a whim. It's been something that was in my heart for a long time, but this became the time. And I started teaching these anti-racism webinars. I was like, well, you know, I've seen what's been going on in the Pilates industry. It's, you know, up until recently, it's really, you know, it's horrible. You know, the 13 years, 13 and a half years I've been in it's been some of the most anti-Black and racist space I've ever been in.
So I, you know, I, I started out with this intro to anti-racism for Pilates instructors and studio owners, and also for gyms. And yeah, it's just kind of expanded from there. And [00:30:00] now I have a little series called Decolonizing Pilates. A friend of mine and I are actually in the process of trademarking that. I think that my whole series, or at least the Pilates series will completely be Decolonizing Pilates as a whole, versus like intro into decolonizing Pilates one, two, three. That will kind of be the brand of that. And I can't necessarily use fitness because one of my good, good friends has Decolonizing Fitness and I think that they may have trademarked it already. So I have to use something else. So that's out.
So I have those webinars going on. I will start those back up in January. And I'm thinking seriously about January being more of a sort of conference style, meaning that I will have a whole day of all of them. So everybody will get to experience all of them in one day. So I'm thinking about kind of putting that together. You know, because I'm Sagittarius and we get bored and we like to create, we like to change things and make [00:31:00] it, you know, make it interesting. So, yeah. So that's one of the main things I'm working on.
I just started a mentorship program for Black instructors who are either interested in Pilates certification or they're going to be in Pilates certification, or maybe they're, you know, just a teacher. And so just to give them, you know, just the things we were talking about earlier, things that we didn't get, I definitely didn't get as a Black teacher, you know?
And although I feel like I had one of the best teachers in the world and she is, but she couldn't mentor me, you know? I mean, she had many other people to mentor. And there were just things that I didn't know, as I went into the Pilates industry, went into fitness full time that I didn't know. Also navigating very white spaces as a Black person and the things that you will experience, and being able to come back to someone who looks like you and say, Hey, I don't know if this was racist or not, but is it me? And then I was like, no, it's not you, you know.
Also, you know, teaching them as [00:32:00] well. And I mean, although I'm a classical teacher, what I've told, you know, my mentees and there's about 11. There's two guys and the rest are women, all ages, which is great. I love it. I want to give them what I did not have, you know, teaching them, not really caring, you know, I don't care if they're contemporary or classical. We're all teaching Pilates. It doesn't matter.
Oh, what I was going to say was, what is not seen in certifications is, there's not very much of talk about the, especially on a contemporary side, but I think this would be all sides, on his original exercises. And why he might have, or probably had came up with those specific exercises and why there's a specific order, that the order has changed. That people have added, folks. So don't get it twisted.
Because what we have been taught in classical Pilates is not his order. That is someone else's order. We all know who that is. I don't have to call any names, but knowing his order, you know? And so I think that that's important. And so that's why, you know, I told them, I said, [00:33:00] Hey, even if you get certified contemporary, that's fine. You're still teaching Pilates, but it is good for you to know the classical work, why he developed it like that, or Joe's work. Let's just call it Joseph Pilates' work, not really classical work, but Joseph Pilates' work, you know, and understanding, you know, the man behind the method. And having folks read, you know, Return to Life. His other book, I don't recommend because there is a very racist comment in there and I just, yeah. But Return to Life is a great book.
I have it, the newest book by John Steele called Caged Lion. That fills in a lot of holes in the history of Pilates, you know, who really was not the Queen of Pilates, to be honest. But you know, was- no shade- thank you, and all that stuff, but was, you know, there's no heiress or air to Pilates, you know, that heir is dead now. God rest his soul. And his wife is dead. So, you know, those were the heirs of Pilates. There's no heirs. We're just messengers of the method.
So [00:34:00] yeah, said all that to say, I'm currently doing that mentorship program. And this is my newest one. That's interesting that you should, I can't remember exactly what you said at the very beginning of the podcast, but I am also going to start a mentorship program specifically for white and non-Black POC to be mentored by me.
The difference with that mentorship program and any others rather is that it will come from a anti-racism standpoint. Because I want to catch these teachers at the very beginnings of their teaching. Right? So before they actually walk into that studio, they've already started to examine themselves because these are the people that have to go in and work with the people that I'm working with in my other mentorship program for the Black folks, right.
So I'm working with the Black people to kind of pick up on that things that they think, well, I don't know, you know? [00:35:00] No, you're not. And then I'm working with the white folks about like, you know, I probably shouldn't have touched their hair or I probably should not have made the statement or how can I make my Black client or my Black coworker feel safe in my presence, you know? I have some things that I need to examine as a Pilates teacher. This is a very white industry. How can I be more of a solution than the problem? And also knowing that even with this work that I'm doing on myself, that I will fall, but all I do is get back up again. Right. And I keep going, because this is a journey. There's no end to this journey. It's just a journey to keep growing.
So I'm very excited about that. And I'm looking for those folks. So now that we're talking about it and I want to get a small, you know, like a small group, because right now I think I have in that group, I have like 11 or 12 [00:36:00] people. So I want to get around that time, at the most like 15 folks, and you'll be taught by me. We'll teach each other. You'll be able to come, you know, ask me questions. You know, we'll talk about the exercises, you know, or even talk about the stuff that you're doing, you know, and your certifications. And we'll talk about the history, especially the history from a Black perspective with Kathy Grant and things like that.
So I think that that's also important for, you know, those white and non-Black Pilates instructors because, you know, they didn't know either really. I mean, they naturally assume that because everybody's white, you know, well, obviously she must be white. She got to be, why not, you know. I mean, we felt the same way, you know, cause we're conditioned.
And so I want to catch them at the beginnings so they can start that examination then. So then when they do come to my webinars later on maybe, or maybe, you know, they own their studio or whatever, they're already kind of there, you know. They've already started evaluating themselves. And they're like, if they own a studio or like, you know, Hey, I've [00:37:00] been trying to do this work and, you know, I want my studio to be, you know, to also be anti-racist as well. That's what I'm working towards. This is how I want my staff, how I want it to go. And so this is what we're doing, so they'll feel sure of themselves.
I'm excited. I'm not so excited because it's going to be a lot of emotional labor, but I'm a revolutionary bitch. So, and I do revolutionary shit. Maybe that should be a t-shirt too. Right?
My poor sister Terricka is going to just be tearing her hair out. Like every time I turn around, she's got a t-shirt thing. Which I do have a t-shirt that's coming out. That's another thing you should know. And I have to put it up first, but I am going to have a t-shirt that says, fuck the Pilates police, but there's a little asterix.
So you could actually kind of wear it and people would be like, is it really that? Yes, it's really that, but it's so me, you know.
Olivia: [00:37:55] That's so awesome. I will link to all of Sonia's incredible [00:38:00] stuff in the show notes so that you can follow her, get on her newsletter list, and stay up to date with all of the incredible work that she's doing in the Pilates community and beyond.
I am going to say the conversation continues over on Pilates Students' Manual. So this is just the first part of my incredible conversation with Sonja. Head over to Pilates Students' Manual. And there is more good stuff, but thank you, Sonia, for joining me on this podcast.
Sonja: [00:38:25] Yes, Absolutely.
Olivia: [00:38:34] Thanks for listening to this week's chapter of Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. Check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual, and be sure to subscribe wherever you listen. For more Pilates goodness, check out my other podcast, Pilates Students' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
The adventure continues. [00:39:00] Until next time.