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Google “Ron Fletcher” and you’ll turn up an impressive resume that tells ofa successful dance career and collaborations with Hollywood luminaries like Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich. You’ll also finnd accounts of his injury, which led him to a lifechanging encounter with Joseph Pilates - a visionary who advocated a radical approach to fitness and wellness: pilates.
Like many of us, Ron had thought that the pilates machines looked like “medieval torture chamber machines”. That was during the post-World War II era, when people didn’t even know where their core was. More than 50 years later and pilates has become one of the fastest-growing phenomena in Singapore. How much has changed and how has Ron put his stamp on his mentor’s work? We spoke to the very vocal first-generation teacher when he was in town.
Q: People are still unclear about pilates. What exactly is pilates?
People have a lot of misconceptions about it. Pilates is a movement programme. not an exercise. Contrary to what people think, it has more to do with the mind than the body or anything else. The movements themselves have a therapeutic aspect in tandem with the pilates work. If the routines are done correctly, the rehab part will come naturally.
Q: How has pilates changed since your first encounter in the 1940s?
Today, the pure, classic pilates from Joseph's original repertoire doesn't exist anymore. Pilates is now bastardised. I hear there are close to 20 studios teaching it in Singapore alone! I've been to certain studios and they're so palpable. There are some that gave a sizzling vibe, while others just made me want to blech. I had half a mind to set fire to some studios where I was conducting workshopsl That said, I think dancers make the best teachers because they know movement inside out and that'sessential to what pilates is.
Q: Pilates work started out with machines. How did your version evolve from it?
It is based on the concept ofworking out the low pelvic area. This is done by "bolting" the pubic bone back to the tailbone and centring the body - from the feet to the top ofthe back of the head - into correct alignment. I adapted Joseph's classical work that uses equipment like the Reformer, so that they could be presented on the mat or floor effectively. I created pieces of movement rather than a series of exercises. My aim is to have every vertical body work on the floor - seated, standing or moving across the floor - relate to work on the equipment. Then, I add a breath pattern to each piece, stressing both the aesthetic and therapeutic aspects ofthe work. Today, I have developed (and am still developing) the Fletcher Floorwork, Towelwork and a whole syllabus on Percussive Breathing.
Q: What do you want students to go home with after each lesson?
I start every class by teaching how to stand, be still and rejoice being in that space. I tell my students we're not going anywhere until you learn to stand still! Youll be surprised that people don't know how to stand still. It has to do with our hectic lifestyles these days. We have been so busy running around, lugging those dreadfully heavy handbags that we forget how to do something as simple as standing straight.