Inside the Pilates Studio: Christina Maria Gadar
by Andrea Maida
In some ways this interview is one of my favorite “gets.” Christina and I have actually never met in person. We do share a similar training lineage, but I know her only through her facebook page and her wonderful videos that she has posted on both FB and YouTube. Her work as a practitioner and her beautifully selected Pilates content clearly reveal a deep devotion and love for the Pilates Method. I simply must get to Florida so I can catch up with this fascinating woman! Family, a thriving Pilates business and “The Flying Squirrel” what more could you hope to find in a Pilates instructor? So I couldn’t resist and I sent her a message…thank you so much Christina for the time and thought that you gave to my questions.
1. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?
Christina Maria Gadar: The standing semi-circle performed on the Cadillac or guillotine apparatus is the most delicious exercise. It encompasses the three most important Pilates skills: deepening the powerhouse, articulating the spine, and opening the chest. The first time I saw it performed I fell in love. To get the most out of it you need to perform it with rhythm, as Romana says: “Do it with music in your soul.” It is absolutely divine!
I also love the “wave” performed with the push thru bar during the squirrel on the Cadillac apparatus because it has made me push myself to develop my powerhouse more than any other exercise in the Pilates Method. For eleven years I convinced myself that I could never perform that “wave” because I was too flexible and didn’t have a gymnastics background. I knew Romana believed I could do it some day since she had me try the preparation exercise for it, but I completely lacked the confidence in myself. I had to develop the mental strength as well as the physical strength and I had to move out of my comfort zone. I recently performed the full version of it (six years after Romana introduced it to me).
2. What exercise is your least favorite? Pick only one.
CMG: I think our least favorite exercises are the ones we need the most. The stomach massage series has been one of my least favorite exercises because it challenges me all over. It truly works every part of the body. I have a funny picture from my first private lesson with Romana back in 2000. I’m in stomach massage position, sitting closer to the edge of the carriage than I ever had experienced before working with Romana. At first glance it looks like I’m smiling, but truly I was using everything (including my teeth) to help me stay upright.
3. What turns you on creatively, mentally or physically about the Pilates method?
CMG: What turns me on about the Pilates method is that you never reach the end. When I was a young dancer I was in such a hurry to become a professional only to realize that my time in ballet school was in some ways better than being a professional. Since the very beginning of my training as a Pilates apprentice I have savored each moment. Currently, my favorite Pilates challenge is working on the Pilates principle of flow (creating the maximum effect through minimum of motion). It is one of my favorite Pilates principles because it requires all of the other five Pilates principles (control, concentration, centering, breathing and precision). It is where the science of Pilates becomes an art form.
4. What is your idea of earthly happiness?
CMG: My idea of earthly happiness is fulfilling one’s potential. I believe Pilates plays a direct role in my happiness. Jerome (one of Romana’s protégés) explained to me that one of the beliefs in Greek philosophy was that to attain supreme achievement you needed energy. Pilates helps you reach your potential because it gives you energy. When you do Pilates very well, you only use 25% of your energy and the remaining 75% of energy goes in a reserve to fulfill your achievements in life. In the words of Joseph Pilates: “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”
5. What to your mind would be the greatest misfortune?
CMG: The greatest misfortune (in relation to Pilates) would be to see people get more sedentary and lose the mobility in their joints. Joseph Pilates observed the natural movement of children and animals. The Pilates Method is nature. It is safe and natural movement done within the frame of the body. Unfortunately people seem to be getting more and more out of touch with their bodies. My goal is to improve the quality of people’s lives through the work of Joseph Pilates.
6. What is your favorite Pilates word?
CMG: My favorite Pilates word is “oom-pah,” a word Romana has used a lot to put rhythm into our movements. I have notebooks filled with quotes from all of my Pilates mentors and my absolute favorite quote comes of course from Romana. I love when she says: “Squeeze the juice out of the exercise, don’t just tickle it!” Her cue makes me go so much deeper into the movement. Performing the exercises (and transitions) with rhythm, accents, and shading adds a whole new layer to the work. Pilates truly is much more than just a workout.
7. What is your least favorite Pilates word?
CMG: Hearing the words “neutral spine” sends horrible chills down my own spine. It reminds me of the tainted and hybrid forms of Pilates that certainly do not measure up to the original intentions of Joseph Pilates. I love what Romana says with respect to all the people who are putting their own twist on Joseph Pilates’ work. Romana just says “make your own name famous.”
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
CMG: I would love a profession that incorporates the Portuguese language because I am so passionate about Brazil (I have dual citizenship with Brazil). I also have a passion for animals, so a profession that involves animal rights would be very fulfilling. In the meantime I’ll have to settle for teaching the elephant, monkey and seal in Portuguese to my Brazilian Pilates students!
9. If Heaven exists, and by some chance when you arrive at the pearly gates Joseph Pilates is also there, what would you like to hear him say to you?
CMG: Romana has said that “Joe is churning in his urn” with all the altered versions of his method that are being taught. My hope is that he would be proud of my commitment to teach his method in its purest form as he delivered it to Romana, and she delivered it to me. Perhaps in his heavy German accent he could say something like: “You verked der bodies vell!”
10. What did you learn today?
CMG: It is true that I am constantly learning (and re-learning when reviewing my notes). My current teaching goal is to use my energy and touch more than my words to communicate with my students. As I was reviewing my notes today I came across a note on breathing through the nose. I’m always telling my students that breathing through the nose works much deeper and that breathing through the mouth is a more shallow way to breathe. I also tell my students that “relax” does not mean “collapse.” But I was reminded today that we breathe through the nose to avoid collapsing in the powerhouse. Just think of the control it takes to lower the wunda chair pedal when coming down from a pull up. The exhale through the nose during the lowering of the pedal does indeed help one stay in the powerhouse.
See Christina in action in an exercise it can take years to master: The Squirrel
I’ll let you know when I get there…
Fitness and health news you can use.
By Hannah Wallace, Sarasota Magazine
Certified Pilates instructor Christina Maria Gadar helps us debunk five misconceptions about the Pilates Method.
Just for women
Founder Joseph Pilates was an avid boxer—as well as a beer and cigar lover. Rumor has it, according to Gadar, that kegs were the basis for Pilates’ original barrel apparatus, and the steel keg hoop inspired the magic circle accessory. Nearly half of Gadar’s clients are male.
“While Pilates is a wonderful complement to yoga,” Gadar says, “Pilates does not repeat poses often, and doesn’t require holding poses for a long time.” Most Pilates exercises are done for three to five repetitions, allowing the practitioner to maintain good form before the body fatigues. On the apparatus, the idea is to keep the springs constantly moving (with control), so that the body is always moving.
Although dancers were among the first to discover Pilates (they use it for conditioning), Pilates can be a well-rounded primary exercise regimen for anyone—“or cross-training for golf, tennis and more,” says Gadar.
“The fact that dancers—who are already flexible—flock to Pilates is proof that this is a misconception,” argues Gadar. In addition to building flexibility, Pilates exercises generate both strength and control.
All the same
“When I was certified in 2000 by Joseph Pilates’ protégé Romana Kryzanowska,” says Gadar, “only graduates of Romana’s program could legally say that they taught Pilates; all other teachers had to label their work as ‘Pilates-based.’” That distinction no longer exists. Be sure to ask about your instructor’s credentials, “not only to gain the benefit that true Pilates can provide,” she adds, “but also to avoid injury.”
We are honored to feature Christina Maria Gadar. Christina is the owner of Gadar Pilates. The studio is located in beautiful Sarasota, Florida. Christina is a dual citizen of Brazil and the United States. She grew up in Massachusetts and currently lives in Florida. At the age of seven she started rhythmic gymnastics. At the age of nine she went to a proper ballet school and never looked back. Her passion was ballet from the start. Although she had very good flexibility and stage presence, she always struggled with strengthening her feet. Over the course of her dance training and career she broke her feet five times. After dancing for John McFall at BalletMet and the Columbia City Ballet, she moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1996 to dance with the Sarasota Ballet of Florida. Her husband is from Moscow, Russia and used to dance with the Bolshoi Ballet. Her husband is now an acupuncture physician and they have two amazing, kind, and talented children along with many furry family members.
Have you studied any other forms of corrective exercise? If so, how was it compared to Pilates?
When I was a young teenager, my amazing mother used to drive a total of eight hours from Massachusetts to New York City and back (in the same day) every Saturday for me to take private ballet lessons from some of the most talented ballet teachers in the world (David Howard, Floris Alexander, Michael Maule, and Valerie Taylor). On the advice of my local ballet teacher at the time (Jacqueline Cronsberg), each ballet lesson in New York was followed by a private lesson with Hilary Cartwright at White Cloud Studio. I didn’t know the name of the method I was doing, I just knew I had the best teacher at White Cloud. Now this method has a name and it is Gyrotonics. This was well before creator Julio Horvath named the system Gyrotonics, before he modified his equipment to be elevated off the ground and before Gyrokinesis was a part of the method.
Although I took Gyrotonics regularly, it feels like another lifetime ago. Here is what I remember of my time at White Cloud: I remember the feeling of muscle soreness in all the right places after each lesson. I remember moving my limbs well outside my frame for many of the exercises. I remember the old-fashioned vibrational belt machine I used before the lessons to get my blood circulating. I remember a New York City ballerina walking across the studio as she repeated: “I feel it. I feel it.” I also remember doing a backbend inside the padded rungs of a ladder, which I now realize was a movement inspired by the Pilates backbend on the Ladder Barrel.
I consider myself fortunate for having had the opportunity to study with Hilary. My only regret is that I didn’t know about Romana during that phase in my life when I was in New York City every week. I tried Gyrotonics many years later after becoming a Pilates teacher and I did not enjoy it, but I attribute that to the teacher. What I remember most from that lesson is that the teacher’s name was also Christina and she said my stomach was the size of Switzerland. Is that good or bad? It is after all one of the smaller countries in the world… My teacher Romana used to say that whatever you do should be done well. She didn’t put Pilates above other forms of exercise. She simply reminded us that if you were going to do something that it should be done right. That saying, “If you’re going to do it, do it right” ended up being my tagline.
Here is my comparison of Pilates and Gyrotonics: Pilates works within the frame of the body, Gyrotonics works outside the frame of the body. Pilates is linear in movement, Gyrotonics is circular in movement. Pilates uses springs for resistance, Gyrotonics uses weights for resistance. Pilates is not a regulated field, Gyrotonics is a regulated field, but Gyrotonics teachers can start teaching the basic systems before having been trained in the intermediate and advanced systems. Like yoga, I think Gyrotonics is a nice complement to Pilates training. I cherish the time I spent at White Cloud but personally don’t feel the need to teach it because I feel Pilates addresses all of my clients’ needs safely and effectively.
How did you discover Pilates?
I discovered Pilates in 1989 while a student at the Boston Ballet School. Barbara Harris was hired to begin a Pilates program for dancers. The top floor of the building had the Pilates apparatus, but my class was only on the mat and it followed my ballet class once a week. I am ashamed to admit that I cut my Pilates classes often. The equivalent of a ballet nerd is called a “bunhead” and that is what I was at the time. I didn’t see the value of Pilates and often snuck into an empty studio to practice my pointe work instead of taking my Pilates class. Fortunately for me, I didn’t always find an empty studio so I took enough Pilates classes to learn the mat routine by heart. Years later as a professional dancer, I discovered the value of Pilates when I was injured. I turned to Pilates in desperation to keep my form while I was unable to dance.
Where did you receive your Pilates education and who were your teachers?
I learned Pilates on the apparatus when I came to Sarasota. After painful Achilles tendonitis brought my dancing career to a halt, I turned to Pilates. Romana Kryzanowska and Sean Gallagher had just opened up a certification studio an hour and a half away from Sarasota. In the summer of 2000 I completed the 12 day intensive seminar (the last one offered outside of New York City) with Roxane Richards Huang. I feel lucky to have experienced the intensive introduction into the apprenticeship because it was very thorough. When the apprenticeship is split into different levels taught by different teachers it is easy for some of the exercises in the repertoire to get overlooked.
When I was a dance student I was always looking ahead, wondering where I would end up dancing professionally. I decided to approach my Pilates apprenticeship differently. I cherished each moment and although I needed to start working again, I made sure that I took everything in and focused on the present. I drove back and forth from Sarasota to Fort Myers every day for five months. I lived in the studio. Master teachers handpicked by Romana came to the studio all the time. I took private lessons from every visiting master teacher. My first exam was with grandmaster teacher Juanita Lopez. My intermediate exam was with grandmaster Sari Santo.
Finally I felt ready to meet Romana in New York City. While there I lived with her grand daughter Daria. Certifying studios outside New York City were still in the beginning stages and Romana was not pleased when she heard I was already in my final stage of apprenticeship and was just now meeting her. I took as many private lessons as I could with her at Drago’s Gym and I observed her teach all of her lessons. She gave me her fussiest clients and I didn’t get frazzled once. I had earned Romana’s respect and I look back at that time as one of the best times of my life. Romana nicknamed me the “Amazon” because of my strength and my Brazilian background. She gave me my final exam personally and it was bittersweet for me because that meant that I had to leave because I needed to start my new career. I made it a priority to continue private lessons with her when she came to Florida and I took private lessons from her when she first moved to Texas. She helped me find my new passion and I am forever grateful.
Who is your Pilates example (besides Joseph and Clara of course…)? What makes him or her special?
Romana Kryzanowska is without a doubt my Pilates idol. She was of course a phenomenal teacher, but what truly made everyone love her was her love of life. She could be tough too. She sometimes hurt my feelings but I knew that she was being honest and was trying to make me better. She had a way to help me loosen up and not take myself too seriously. She had great hands for spotting, she had wonderful cues that rhymed and cues that just made me laugh. One time as I was draped over the ladder barrel in preparation for the swan she said “Have a hangover!”
She made me feel like a family member. She and my Brazilian grandmother were very similar. They both enjoyed traveling, champagne, flirting with nice looking men and they both had a passion (my grandmother’s passion was writing). Romana is still with me in the studio for every lesson. I use her cues, her spots, and tell her stories to all of my students. I miss her and hope she is proud of me.
What person outside of the Pilates world has influenced you the most as a Pilates teacher?
Premier danseur Fernando Bujones shaped the way I teach. He had always been my idol and when he became a permanent guest artist with the Boston Ballet Company I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The first performance I saw him perform live was Giselle. I waited eagerly outside the backstage door after all of his performances no matter the weather (I remember one particularly cold and snowy evening), only to be tongue tied by the time he finally came out. He had been married to Marcia Kubitschek, the daughter of the former president of Brazil so he and my mom spoke in Portuguese while I looked on in awe. I asked him to sign his books and photos for me, and that is about all I could muster. After stalking… uhh, I mean following his career closely, he agreed to be my private coach (no more long drives to New York for my mom!).
Fernando was meticulous in the way he taught. Every movement he taught had to mean something, nothing was thrown away. He encouraged me to strive for excellence and to live my life with integrity, sincerity and class. When I was preparing for a ballet exam at the Boston Ballet school he polished every part of my exam repertoire and then gave me his own exam. He gave me a graded paper after my exam with him that was worth more than the school exam ever would be.
More than a coach, he became a family friend. My grandmother invited him to our home for a home-cooked Brazilian dinner. With all of his traveling he had a solitary life for a while and he said he considered us among his closest friends. When his daughter came to visit from Brazil my younger sister loaned her dollhouse. I distinctly remember him encouraging his little daughter to be more creative in the way she arranged the furniture in the dollhouse. He sought to make everyone reach their full potential of creativity. The highlight of my time with Fernando was when he choreographed “Raio de Luz” for me, a solo set to the music of Clair de Lune.
I had always been a meticulous note taker. I wrote notes after every private ballet lesson I have ever had and have done the same with every private Pilates lesson I have had. I often look back at my notes from my teachers, most especially my lessons with Fernando and Romana. I keep both of their photos in my studio.
Do you prefer a certain brand of Pilates apparatus?
I am partial to Gratz Pilates apparatus. I have worked and taught on other brands of apparatus and really notice difference. The size of the Gratz equipment, the height of the reformer foot bar, the shape of the reformer shoulder blocks all keep the work in the powerhouse and not in the limbs. The springs are strong, but not tight so the practitioner does the work, not the springs. I saved up for each Pilates apparatus one at a time and I love the quality and purity of design of the Gratz line.
Who are your ideal clients?
My job as a Pilates teacher is more than just teaching exercises, it is to inspire my students, but I also feed off of their motivation to learn. I like hard workers that are interested in more than how Pilates will make them look in a special outfit. I enjoy working with clients that appreciate the mind-body connection necessary to perform Pilates well.
I thoroughly enjoy working with professional athletes and artists. I enjoy working with young children and older adults. I enjoy working with business people that have paved their own way. I am inspired by students that do Pilates to deal with the effects of medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and cancer. Overall, I enjoy having clients that appreciate the value of their Pilates training and see the difference it makes in their lives.
What is the most memorable thing that has happened during one of your Pilates lessons?
One of the funniest things one of my clients told me was her excuse for forgetting an exercise. She told me: “I’m sorry. I have murder on my mind!” She happens to be a writer and was working on a book series of historical fiction at the time.
How many lessons do you teach each week?
I teach seven to eight private lessons a day, five days a week during school hours. My lessons are exactly 50 minutes long and I take a 30 minute break after the first four or five lessons of the day. I record each student’s lesson and make sure that it is structured in three parts: reformer and/or mat, accessories, and an ending that incorporates breathing, and/or inversion, and/or spinal articulation.
I teach semi-privates as well even though I have only one of every piece of equipment. To teach semi-privates in my studio I insist that my students know their workout routine well and be self-efficient with the equipment. They need not be the same level, they just need to know what they are doing. I spot one student on one apparatus while cuing another student on another apparatus. Teaching semi-privates keeps me on my toes. The first couple of semi-privates I taught gave me migraines, but now I have a good formula.
Do you believe in teaching a blend of Pilates styles or not?
When I was a dance student I was exposed to the most talented ballet teachers from all different styles. I studied with Madame Tatiana Legat (Kirov training from Russia), Li-Chou Cheng (of China), Jacqueline Cronsberg, Sandra Jennings, and Suki Schrorer (Balanchine style from USA), Mary Tolland (Royal Academy of Dance training), and Fernando Bujones (Cuban-American). I am grateful for the variety of approaches to ballet I was exposed to, but it also made it confusing. Each style has its own approach to doing a pirouette etc.
I recognize that there are many fantastic Pilates teachers that come from different training centers around the world, but I like keeping my teaching style loyal to one style, the method taught to me by Romana. I only take Pilates lessons from Romana’s hand picked master teachers and when there are discrepancies I mark them in my notes. I sometimes get clients who come from teachers with a different Pilates methodology and I just ask my new student to be open to my teaching style. If they want to do an exercise that I was not taught to teach (like Eve’s lunge on the reformer), I simply find them another exercise that I was trained to teach as a substitute (like the runner’s stretch on the rungs of the ladder barrel).
Do you have a YouTube channel?
Yes. I started filming the Pilates workouts on the different pieces of Pilates apparatus after witnessing a “Pilates” reformer demonstration at a Health Fair on Main Street in downtown Sarasota. The teacher had her hair pulled into a lopsided ponytail and sat in one of her hips as she shouted into a hands-free microphone. The exercises didn’t resemble anything that I knew as Pilates. I looked at my husband and said that I was not going to complain about what I had just seen, but instead I would take my reformer to the same Health Fair six months from then and demonstrate what Pilates really is. My videos were designed to educate people about Pilates.
It is hard to pick a favorite video as each one is different. The reformer video was challenging because there were a lot of distractions from people walking by on the street, it was also beautiful to perform my workout under the beautiful canopy of the oak trees.
The mat video was shot on the beach and the saltwater went into my eyes and at the end of the routine I slipped on the wet mat when I tried to stand up from the seal and had to perform the whole thing all over again before the sun set. The wunda chair video was performed at my local park after it had rained. It was challenging to perform the routine on the moist, uneven ground. My book trailer was different from my other videos because it was edited. I had a lot of fun matching the exercises to the music. If I absolutely had to pick a favorite, I think it would be my cadillac video because it was so challenging to perform the routine non-stop with flow. I had a lot of false starts with the cadillac video. By the end of filming my stomach was cramping from having worked so hard.
Can you tell us something about the Pilates book you have written?
My book is actually a workbook called “Pilates An Interactive Workbook; If You’re Going To Do It, Do It Right.” (I would love to have you review it!) It was designed to encourage Pilates students to become more self-efficient. It is also a fantastic reference for Pilates apprentices. It covers the basic and intermediate mat, the mat performed with the magic circle, the weights series, the additional magic circle exercises, the ending wall series and the basic and intermediate reformer. Basically, it covers the most common exercises done in the Romana’s Pilates Method. The information covered in it is timeless. It was published the day before Romana passed away, but her grand daughter has given it the seal of approval saying that it is beautiful, simple and pure and her grandma would have approved of it!
Are you planning to write more books?
I vowed that I would never write another book after my first book. Working full time and being a mother is not conducive to writing a book! I felt more pressure writing a book than I ever did preparing for a ballet performance. I realize now that the difference is that ballet is an ephemeral art. No ballet video can duplicate a live performance. A book however is there forever. I had to make sure that I would still be proud of it years after its publication. That being said, I have decided to overwhelm myself again by writing another book.
This Pilates book will focus on Pilates for young children both with and without the apparatus. It is a Pilates subject that is unprecedented. I was inspired by my work with a seven year old with leukemia and I was faced with the dilemma of providing him the support from the apparatus with the correct modifications to keep him safe. I have been working with young children between the ages of 6 and 11, with varying levels of body awareness and concentration. It is uncharted territory and very different from my last book. Because of the subject matter it will be far more detailed and filled with tips on child friendly cues and each exercise will have a few variations to choose from.
Will you keep on practicing and teaching Pilates? What is your Pilates dream and your goal in life?
I will always teach Pilates. I don’t want to be the manager of a huge Pilates studio. I prefer to stay hands on as a teacher in a private studio. My dream would be to travel to my family’s country of Brazil to teach Pilates at a classical Pilates seminar and to travel to my husband’s country of Russia to do the same. And perhaps teach in other countries as well. We’ll see…