Teaching Tips #1: Your Voice
by Theo Botha Your voice is the music to a Pilates class. How you use it sets the tone, marks the mood and provides the rhythm to the class and it is often the primary factor that determines if you keep your clients engaged and motivated.
Imagine an instructor teaching a class in a monotonous tone with a voice that has a nasal sound to it and the cues are so generic you are sure you've heard it all before. Very much like a song sung by monks. Would you go back for more?
After many years of evaluating students’ teaching, the one aspect of teaching Pilates that makes me sit up and get excited is when a student takes the floor and his/her voice conveys confidence, certainty and authority. You can literally see how the clients’ body language change in front of you and that the air is filled with charged energy and anticipation.
And who says you need to cue all the time? Moments of silence in a class can give it gravitas and have a much bigger effect than motor-mouthing through cues. Silence builds anticipation, creates an expectation in movement similar to that of moments in a horror movie or football game. You just don’t know what is coming next.
Here is an example: “ … and hold (silence), and hold (silence, silence) … and only now lower your chest, head and arms.” In addition to anticipation, moments of silence also give clients time to process the cues and act on it.
Many exercises we teach have different dynamics and rhythms. Again, your voice is the tool that will determine the contrast between dynamic movements versus slower, more controlled movements. Think of hard rock vs classical music. Exercises like Hunderds versus the Pelvic Curl, Hamstring Pull 1 versus the Roll Up, Swimming versus Basic Back Extension, and then movements like Single Leg Kick versus Swan Prep. All of these examples have a difference in timing, pace and dynamics, and you with your voice is the CONDUCTOR, leading the group or client to the sound and pace of your voice.
Have you ever heard the cues "boom" or "pah, pah, pah" or "te, te, te, te"? If so, you probably have attended a class with BASI Pilates Founder and Owner, Rael Isacowitz. Sound effects like these do not say anything, but it is probably the most effective cues to convey the rhythm or dynamics of a movement using your voice. It certainly gets the rhythm going!
All of the above will be meaningless if we don’t address volume. My best advice on the matter is to fluctuate your tone and most importantly the volume you instruct with. Try whispering a cue next time and see how intrigued your clients become as it is so different, and be assured they are stretching their ears to make sure they hear you. But please don’t try that all the time..
Fundamentally you would like everybody to hear you clearly without sounding like you are shouting out cues like a sergeant major. The opposite is also true, cueing too softly and timidly often translate into an instructor that sounds uncertain about the direction of the class.
Also note that when you are nervous your voice will raise an octave and you will cue at a much higher pitch and much faster due to the change of your breathing pattern and your heart beating faster. Calm down, breathe (just like you cue your clients) and warm up your voice just like you are warming up to start teaching.
Let your voice be heard and remember this quote by Dianna Hardy, “It only takes one voice, at the right pitch to start an avalanche.”