Originally appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal
As jazz music drifts into the room, Darwin Prioleau slowly moves her taut body in sync with the mellow beat. The graceful movements of the Kent State dance professor are punctuated by the clank of metallic pulleys.
Her movements seem to be a form of artistic expression rather than
an exercise session.
Prioleau is practicing Pilates, an exercise technique that simulaneously
strengthens and stretches the muscles to create a toned body without
A marriage of weightlilfting and dance, Pilates (pronounced Puh-LAH-teez)
is an exercise method that uses a series of floor work movements
with pulleys and springs on boards to add resistance. It consists
of more than 500 exercises using five major pieces of equipment
that were designed by Josef Humbertus Pilates in 1926. Pilates was
a sickly child whose drive toward wellness helped him to become
a gymnast and boxer, as well as a health expert
Although dancers have practiced Pilates for decades, the method
has been used among nondancers in exclusive spas and health clubs
mainly in coastal areas of the United States. It has been an especially
big hit in Hollywood where Madonna, Vanessa Williams and Sharon
Stone reportedly use the exercises to maintain thelr sculpted bodies.
Now, Pilates is sweeping through Northeast Ohio.
“I think down the road, every gym will have this,” said Tom Smith
of the Tom Smith Pilates Studio in Akron. His friend, Troy McCarty,
has two studios in the Cleveland area with a third one in the works.
The Pilates workout is likened to yoga because it pairs a system
of breathing with mental concentration on the movements of the body.
The underlying theory is that most forms of activity only work muscles
that are already strong, while ignoring those that are weak. Pilates
is designed to increase the overall strength of the body, adapting
to individuals of all ages and fitness capacities.
Dancers use the workout techinique to restore balance after favoring
one side of the body when landing from jumps and to gently strengthen
the muscles when recovering from injury.
The technique first came to the area a year and a half ago when
McCarty opened up White Cloud studios in Lakewood and Cleveland
Heights. McCarty plans to open another studio in Chagrin Falls near
the end of this month because, he says, the demand is greater than
McCarty encouraged Smith to start up a studio in Akron. Smith,
an associate dance professor at the University of Akron, was already
familiar with the exercise technique. As a professional dancer,
Smith was taught by Martha Graham, one of the first dancers to use
the Pilates method. Smith took the advice, purchased a Reformer
(a Pilates exercise madline) and began teaching sessions in his
Fairlawn home in March.
The Tom Smith Pilates Studio took off, growing from five to 40
clients in a few months. At the end of July, the business moved
to a full-floor studio on Merriman Road in Akron with a larger staff
and more equipment.
“I couldn’t pass this up. I’m making a killing,” says Smith, who
has been thrilled to have a constant flow of dients.
Susan Masturzo, a physical therapist with Summa Health System in
Akron, uses the exercise method with her clients and has witnessed
its increased popularity. She says Pilates is great even for people
who are not in a physical rehabilitative program because it works
muscles that are usually neglected.
Masturzo explains that there are two types of muscles, stabilizers
and movers. Most people tend to use only their movers, especially
while lifting weights or running. Despite the number of repetitions
they do, certain fat deposits just will not go away.
“You can do 100,000 sit-ups a day,” she says, but you’ll still
have that “poochy thing under your belly button” unless you use
the stabilizer muscle in the abdomen. Pilates exercises put such
muscles to work without having to repeat a motion more than a few
times. The form is the most important component of the exercise,
keeping the stomach sucked into the back and the spine tall and
Pilates exercises help to create a central “powerhouse” of a strengthened
abdomen, lower back and buttocks, with the belief that strength
radiates out from the center of the body.
For example, rather than strengthening the legs by lifting weights,
Pilates exercises focus on controlled movements of the legs while
keeping the back pressed into the floor and the abdomen tight. The
result is learning how to move the body in sync rather than isolating
certain muscles, which users say improves posture and inereases
Prioleau, one of Smith’s clients, demonstrates the technique. During
her workout, while pulling against the resistance of the straps
attached to her wrists and ankles, she conforms to the proper Pilates
form. She never holds a movement in place or strains her muscles,
but she still gets the results of a sculpted body.
As Prioleau glides on a rotating seat attached to a Reformer, which
resembles a rowing machine, she gracefully shapes her body into
various artistic positions. She jiggles into a position called the
“snake,” gyrating her hips in the air. For “the tree,” she uses
her hands to crawl up her legs toward her toes. Finally, Prioleau
forms “the mermaid,” with her legs strapped down as she lifts and
twists her torso upward.
Smith’s clients say they are satisfied with the results.
After three months of Pilates exercises, Karen Soini of Ravenna
believes she looks better at 44 than she did when she was 27. Soini
has been a fitness buff her whole life. She has tried everything
from Jazzercise to body sculpting, but found that heavy exercise
made her bulk up, overwhelming her 4-foot-11 frame. Pilates exercises,
however, have increased her strength while giving her long, slim
muscles. Soini says she has never been happier with her body.
“I tend to sit straighter, I tend to walk a little bit taller and
I think I look leaner,” she says.
Smith promises results to his clients after five weeks of 10 hour-long
sessions. After 30 sessions, he says, they can expect to have a
whole new body. Smith explains, however, that Pilates is not a miracle
worker. The exercise must be teamed with a good diet and aerobic
activity, he says. When the combination is complete, the prize to
be won is a firm and toned body – even in those stubborn areas –
without difficult grunt work
Physical therapist Masturzo says Pilates is helpful for anyone
who wants to be physically fit.
A mother of two, Masturzo said she was finally able to get a flat,
hard stomach by using the Pilates mat work Now pregnant with her
third child, Masturzo is confident she will be able to regain her
figure. She believes that many women would line up for such results
and is working on plans to offer mat classes through Summa’s Women’s
Resource Center this fall. White Cloud studios will also offer the
floor work come September. The mat classes, averaging $8 a session,
are an inexpensive alternative to the training on the equipment,
but with the same results.
Another alternative to the private training – which can cost up
to $100 a session – is the Pilates takeoff being sold for $71.82
on QVC, dubbed the Performer after the Reformer.
Soini started out on the QVC version and explains that the Performer
is good for a beginner, but can’t be used for quite as many exercises
or bring about such dramatic results.
“Having been on the true Reformer; there are things about my (QVC)
machine that I’ve found lacking,” she says. “But, having never tasted
real ice cream you’d never know what you’re missing.”
Machine costs $2,800
The real thing costs about $2,800, but as popularity increases,
the prices should decrease. Lindsay Merrithew, president of Stott
Pilates Studio, an international certification center which supplies
Pilates equipment, says a home version, costing between $800 and
$900, will come out in November.
Cuyahoga Falls resident Pam Tokes, who has worked with Smith as
part of her weight-loss reglme, for about $30 a session, says it’s
worth every penny.
“If somebody told me that I could pay a certain amount and loose
two sizes, I wouldn’t hesitate,” she says. Tokes has lost 20 pounds
since starting the Pilates training in March and can’t believe how
much more defined her body has become.
In addition to the physical changes, Soini says she can feel a
difference radiating from the inside.
“You feel good about yourself long after that hour-long session,”
she says. “Even if the mirror doesn’t reflect the best body in the
world you still have the sense of having done something good for