Q & A with Karen Clippinger – Pilates For Dancers

by Anthony Lett

AL: Thanks for joining me. I want to ask you a few questions to give potential students some insight into your course Pilates for Dancers. Before we start, can you tell us briefly about your  unique history and how you used this to create your course?

KC: My masters in Exercise Science, training as a dancer, 20 years working with dancers in sports medicine and clinical settings, as well as my extensive university experience of teaching courses for dance majors related to anatomy, body placement, injury prevention, and Pilates all provide me with an expertise that facilitates my passion of blending current scientific understanding with practical applications that will help the dancer better understand their body, improve technique, and reduce injury risk.  I have had the pleasure of working with many professional dancers/performers from companies including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Mark Morris, and Cirque Du Soleil, and so know the importance of trying to help a dancer work with a problem while minimizing the disruption of their rigorous training and performing schedule, or helping a dancer return to full dance if an injury has required training modification.

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AL: First off, is the course open to anyone? What kind of background should a student have who would like to attend? Do they need to have BASI training? Does the course specialize in Classical dance only, or other forms of dance also?

KC: Participants should have Pilates experience. The program is designed for Pilates instructors who want to work with dancers, figure skaters, or gymnasts. It is also appropriate for dancers who have had regular Pilates experience on the apparatus. It is not required that participants be BASI trained.

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AL: What kinds of exercises do you cover in the course? Is it standard repertoire with adaptations for classical dance?

KC: A majority of the exercises are dance-specific repertoire (mat and Pilates apparatus) that I have specifically developed to help improve key areas such as extensions, arabesques, turnout, and ankle-foot control. However, many other exercises are variations on classical exercises, designed to further a dance-specific goal. While some of this repertoire is primarily appropriate for dancers, figure skaters, and gymnasts, other exercises can be used with general populations for fun and variety.

AL: Can you give us one or two examples of exercises for this clientele?

KC: One example of a novel exercise would be the performance of a movement similar to a side developpe on the reformer such that the higher ranges are resisted. This exercise works on both the proper hip positioning and muscle activation that will effectively increase how high the leg can be raised to the side.  An example of a modified classic exercise would be the addition of lifting one leg and the opposite arm when performing prone back extension on the trapeze table. This addition is to help dancers develop the specific use of the back muscles used in dance movements such as the arabesque. Research suggests that the closer we can replicate the goal movement (dance movement in this case), the better the chance of transfer of gains to this goal movement.

AL: Are the key principles of postural alignment similar for the general and dance population?

KC: Some alignment principles such as the use of a neutral pelvis in various movements are similar for the general or dance population. However, many dance alignment directives are different and are based on the aesthetic goals of a certain school of training or choreographer. For example, many schools of dance prefer a more ”lifted” upper spine and positioning of the foot with the weight more inward than used for the general population

AL: Am I correct in saying that you look at Pilates exercises to enhance dance performance?  Do you look at “cross training” also, where Pilates might be used to prevent the occurrence of overtraining or muscle imbalance that may develop as a result of dance training?

KC: The focus of this course is the use of Pilates-based exercises to enhance dance performance. This has come from my years of experience where dancers come to me with requests to improve specific dance skills and these dancers would not return to me and dance teachers would not continue sending me students if they did not see improvement in a relatively short period of time.

However, common imbalances related to dance will also be presented with examples of novel or classical exercises provided that can help prevent perpetuating these imbalances. In addition, the use of a balanced Pilates program for dancers who are recovering from an injury will also be discussed.

AL: Do you look at Pilates for injury rehabilitation for dancers?

KC: Many exercises will be provided that can be used to help prevent common dance injuries, as well as help with the return to dance after injury. However, scope of practice will also be addressed, and the importance of dancers and Pilates instructors who are not physical therapists working with qualified medical professional who will direct the rehabilitation process.

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AL: At the completion of the course, will students be able to conduct classes that specialize in Pilates for dancers?

KC: Participants will be provided with many dance-specific exercises that they can integrate into their classic Pilates programs. They will also learn a sample dance-specific reformer program and mat class.

AL: It’s a four day course. Is there anything else that you would like to mention about the content of the course that I haven’t touched on?

KC: In my experience, many dancers initially come to Pilates to improve a certain area. However, in the process of working on this area they often come to value the system of Pilates as a whole. This workshop will provide participants with exercises, cues, and an understanding of related technique that can be used to help a dancer successfully achieve their dance-specific goals which is essential in having dancers return for more sessions and discovering the full benefits that Pilates can offer.

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AL: Thanks for joining me Karen. I know that your courses are a success worldwide and we look forward to hosting you again at BASI headquarters in Costa Mesa from November 12 to 15, 2015 inclusive. It is unique opportunity that I am sure many will take advantage of.

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