When Joseph Pilates immigrated to the United States and founded his signature strength training technique in the 1920s, he emphasized a holistic, interconnected approach to physical well-being. Pilates focuses on core strength, proper alignment, and full range of motion. The exercise form has experienced several renaissances in the last century, but has remained a tried-and-true method in more recent decades as people have come to recognize and respect the science-backed technique that personifies the song, “Dem Bones” (“The hip bone’s connected to the leg bone!”). All of our body parts are connected and any imbalance in one area can impact everything else (#everythinghurts).
While the Pilates technique can help anyone strengthen, lengthen, and realign their skeleton, the method became a cross-training go-to for dancers and athletes alike. It is wonderful supplementary training to optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury. Linda Farrell brought Pilates to Broadway Dance Center over 20 years ago, and her classes (along with the many other fitness classes here) train students to become stronger and more thoughtful dancers.
Linda grew up on Long Island, taking ballet classes throughout her childhood. “I loved to dance, but I never had any professional training or desire,” she explains. Always an athlete, Linda also played softball, ran track, and served as captain of her high school cheerleading squad. “I didn’t have a typical trajectory into the fitness industry,” admits Linda. After high school, she earned her BA in Economics from the State University of New York in Oneonta and took a sought-after job as a bond analyst on Wall Street upon graduation. “After work, I would take adult drop-in ballet classes,” says Linda. “My colleagues would go to the bar, but I would go to the barre!” Linda wasn’t happy on Wall Street. After three years, she quit her job and went off to get her MBA in Marketing from Baruch College. “I was in grad school full-time,” says Linda. “But I still took my ballet classes at night at Broadway Dance Center. It felt like home.”
Even though ballet was her sanctuary, Linda found herself getting injured again and again. “I had a very weak core and loose ligaments that made me prone to spraining my ankles,” she explains. “My doctor recommended Pilates and I immediately fell in love with it. I noticed a difference in my body in just one month.”
But private Pilates lessons were not cheap. So Linda got an idea: “I thought, maybe I can merge my love of Pilates with my MBA to start my own business,” she remembers. Linda became Pilates certified in 1995 and not only started her own business, but also quickly took the New York scene by storm. She was the first Pilates teacher at Equinox in 1996 and then approached Broadway Dance Center about adding a Pilates class into their curriculum soon after. BDC co-owner, Allison Ellner, actually inspired the name of Linda’s own business. “She gave me the nickname ‘Linda Fit’ and I liked it, so it stuck,” she laughs.
All the pieces began to connect for Linda. “I always liked teaching–I tutored French in high school and economics in college. I enjoy explaining material and helping students discover and implement the knowledge themselves.”
“My own journey of taking dance, getting injured, and healing with Pilates brings a unique perspective to my classes at BDC,” Linda explains. “I understand the dancer’s body, the importance of alignment, and the keys to injury prevention. I try to supplement what dancers are doing in their ballet, jazz, and other training. My class is done mostly on the back, so dancers can get off their feet and find their body alignment in a different way.”
No matter where you take class, the core techniques of Pilates will be the same. But Linda’s Pilates class at BDC keeps the focus on the dancer. “My classes are a bit different at BDC because it’s not about ‘Do you want to tone your triceps?’ It’s about ‘This is how your body–your instrument–works. Do you want to be a better dancer?’ It’s amazing to see my students apply the technique and put it into practice to improve their dancing and strengthen their bodies.”
Not long after she began teaching at BDC, Linda’s students started to ask if she had a certification program because they resonated with her teaching style. “I initially directed my students to other programs until the lightbulb went off,” she recalls. “Why not create my own program?”
Linda began her own teacher training program in 2004 and has taught over 60 trainings since. The intimate training of just 8-10 students include 6 sessions over the course of 3 months to allow ample time for students’ observation and practice hours. Training sessions take place in Linda’s personal Pilates studio in her Harlem apartment, but international students have also been able to participate virtually. “Once there was a blizzard here in New York, and we (myself and six students) were Skyping with a student in the sunny Dominican Republic, and another 6 hours ahead in the UK!” recalls Linda. The training culminates in an exam which includes short answer and essay questions. “The written test really gauges if the student did the work, knows the information, and can apply it,” Linda explains.
Once certified, Pilates instructors must complete continuing education workshops every couple of years. “Just like being a doctor or a lawyer, you can’t practice in a vacuum,” says Linda. “It’s important to keep up with the latest research and trends so that you’re not going into the classroom stale.”
What qualities make a good Pilates instructor? To Linda, they include patience, kindness, and understanding. “Knowledge and communication are important, too,” she explains. “But everybody learns differently, and a good teacher can teach to anyone.”
Dancers who want to become Pilates instructors have a leg up due to their body awareness and kinetic/anatomic understanding. “Teaching mat Pilates is an ideal career path for dancers,” Linda notes. “You don’t have to be confined to the schedule and responsibilities of a Pilates studio. Your hours can be flexible and the work can be done anywhere–a dance studio, a gym, or even private lessons in peoples’ homes. With Pilates, dancers can utilize their knowledge in a meaningful job that extends beyond their professional dance career,” Linda says.
The hardest part of her job? Doing it all. “Owning your own business is a lot,” Linda admits. “I’m the teacher and I’m the business manager. I teach the classes, update my website, plan trainings, manage social media, organize my schedule, film videos, write recommendation letters, and fit in my own continuing education.” It’s certainly a lot, but Linda clearly loves it. And if you’ve taken her class, you know first hand the passion she has for her craft.
“When I was on Wall Street, I was criticized for being too diplomatic, not aggressive enough, and for socializing with people in different levels of the company,” Linda recalls. “Those negative qualities in the corporate world became my greatest ones as a teacher. My weaknesses were really my strengths. You’ve got to find your fit in life. It takes perseverance, but it’s worth it.”