A Conversation with Pilates Teacher
I am delighted to welcome Allison Birt to the Moving Spirit family! The studio has grown a lot over the last couple of years. In my quest to find a teacher to support this wonderfully vibrant community, it was important for me to find a fabulous person with the right combination of training and expertise, vision and practice, experience and energy. After a long and careful search, I am confident that Allison is the perfect fit. You’ll meet her in class, but I thought it would be fun to ask her a few questions here; so you can get to know her a little! So, without further ado… heeeeere’s Allison!
First, The “Official” Stuff.
Allison Birt, PMA Certified Pilates Teacher/Franklin Method Educator
After a series of injuries prompted her to reconsider a career in dance, Allison transformed her passion for movement as an art into a passion for movement as medicine. In 2001, she began learning to teach Pilates from Dianne Miller, teaching in her studio (Vancouver Pilates Centre) until 2016. A perennial student, Allison has learned from and studied the repertoire of multiple first generation Pilates teachers including Ron Fletcher, Kathleen Stanford Grant, and Mary Bowen. Allison is also a Franklin Method Educator, adept at applying mental imagery techniques to embodied anatomy to create lasting positive change in the mind and body. She loves to collaborate with students to help them discover movement resolutions that will maximize their physical potential so that they can move through their lives with as much ease and joy as possible.
How did you get into dance, and what has it taught you?
I began taking ballet lessons at age 4 and was immediately hooked. I would go on to study modern dance, jazz, tap, hip hop, flamenco, Chinese dance, belly dancing – you name it! I loved everything about it from the beginning: the friends I made, the costumes, the music, the way it felt to move through space and be on stage in front of an audience. It taught me the importance of work ethic, collaboration, and artistic expression. It also opened up opportunities for travel, giving me the chance to train, compete or perform in Winnipeg, Sydney, Melbourne, and Tokyo. I’m grateful that my parents were so supportive of my passion for dance, as it opened a lot of doors for me.
How did you discover Pilates initially, and what did it do for you?
As a 16 year-old ballet student, I found I was having trouble breathing in ballet class, sometimes to the point where I would hyperventilate. My ballet teacher suggested that Pilates might help me to learn how to breathe more effectively. Those initial Pilates lessons were the first time I had thought of prioritizing good body mechanics over aesthetics, and learned that they’re not mutually exclusive – you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice function for expression. When I was 19, I had a series of car accidents that left me with persistent neck pain, and Pilates was a major part of my rehabilitation. I think that’s when I really began to take it seriously and understand just how powerful Pilates can be.
What different kinds of Pilates work have you explored?
I like to view Pilates as an elaborate family tree, with Joseph and Clara Pilates as the progenitors, the first generation teachers such as Ron Fletcher, Kathy Grant, Mary Bowen, Romana Kryzanowska, Carola Trier, and Eve Gentry (among others) as their offspring. I belong to two different branches on that tree.
My original training from Dianne Miller is rooted in the Ron Fletcher lineage. Ron danced for Martha Graham and choreographed for the Broadway stage, network television, and the Ice Capades. The exacting standards, strong choreographic vision, and a penchant for precision that helped him succeed in the dance world underpinned his approach to Pilates and the development of his own body of work. I have inherited those values in my training and they continue to have a lasting impact on the way I teach and practice Pilates.
In 2014 I explored the brand of the Pilates family headed by Kathy Grant. Like Ron, Kathy started out a dancer, performing at the Zanzibar club in Harlem in the 1940’s and in numerous Broadway productions. While she could certainly be a task master in the studio, her approach to Pilates was more playful and improvisational. Kathy’s motto, “one size does not fit all” really resonates with me. She placed an emphasis on teaching the body in front of you, experimenting with and adapting the Pilates method to suit your strengths as a teacher and the needs of each individual you work with. I love how her quirky personality and creative imagery come through vividly in her work.
What does movement mean to you?
From my perspective, movement is life. Movement is baked right in to our development in the womb and in infancy as we learn the physical skills to become self-sufficient. In old age, our ability to move determines our ability to care for ourselves and life full, long, and enjoyable lives. Movement is crucial to our well-being, contributing to good organ function, circulation, hydration, and cognitive and emotional health. In my own life, it has been a means of expression, a source of pleasure and self-esteem, as well as the basis of my livelihood. This is why movement is so important to me, and why I have dedicated my professional life to helping people make the most of the movement that is available to them.
What has Franklin Method work brought into your life?
The Franklin Method has truly transformed my approach to human movement. Developed by Eric Franklin in the 1990’s it uses a mental imagery technique called Dynamic Neuro-cognitive Imagery, anatomical embodiment, and educational skills to create lasting positive change to your body and mind. I love that it provides a clear and practical way of demystifying the body. It takes anatomy out of the theoretical realm and gives you an embodied experience of how your body is designed to function, making all your movements more efficient, dynamic, and pleasurable. In my own body, the Franklin Method has helped me heal the dysfunction in my ankles and lower legs that contributed to the end of my ballet career, find a new freedom in my pelvis that I never knew was possible, and given me new perspective on how just breathing in and out can be a luscious, satisfying experience. It has empowered me to take ownership of my experience in my body, and has given me the tools to creatively heal myself.
I’m thrilled to begin the next phase of my Franklin Method training in 2019. I will be travelling to New York for the third and final level of teacher training which addresses the organs, the nervous system, the immune system and the lymphatic system. I can’t wait to share my new discoveries!
Have you dealt with any kind of chronic or serious injuries or illnesses that you’ve had to work through?
Over the last several years, I have been working with some fairly intense anxiety. A lifetime of perfectionism, an unhealthy body image, and a habit of putting other people’s needs before my own left me completely burnt out and in need of some major life changes. The key to my recovery has been somatic meditation (meditation with a focus on the body), specifically the work of Reggie Ray and Dharma Ocean. A series of retreats and a daily meditation practice have helped me to begin to heal and opened up a whole new world of embodied spirituality that I have found profoundly fulfilling. I hope that this experience will help me deepen my teaching practice, enabling me to approach the body on an emotional and spiritual level, rather than just a purely physical one.
What do you like to do when there’s nothing to do?
I feel fortunate to live in English Bay, right across the street from the sea wall. I love to get out and walk along the water, listening to the sounds of the waves, feeling the wind in my hair, and watching all the birds and marine life. I’m also an arts-enthusiast. I love to attend live theatre, music and dance performances, or take in the latest exhibit at the art gallery.
It is my profound pleasure to welcome Allison to the studio and to share her beautiful “moving spirit” with all of you. The wealth of experience she brings to her new role with us is exceptional. She will help us all elevate our game!
Allison is teaching classes and available for private appointments on Mondays from 3:00 – 8:45 pm, on Wednesdays from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm, and on Saturdays from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm.
Great write up. Would like to connect with you regarding the education of your staff on the Endocannabinoid System and introducing this understanding into your services. Visit the Endocannabinoid Association of Canada under education and see how this is a part of Pilates.