On mostly Fridays, but sometimes Mondays, I’ll post an interview with someone who knows a lot more than yours truly about specific marketing and publicity topics. This week, my Pilates instructor Jeanette Palmer on keeping students coming back to her classes, on why yoga gets all the good press, and on teaching and marketing to different ability levels. The problem with doing this interview is, of course, that she now knows what I’m thinking about when I’m supposed to be “deepening” my “C-curve”.
Ballet-trained at the Boston Conservatory of Music, Jeanette Palmer enjoyed a successful career on the musical theatre stage, including Broadway, New York City Opera at Lincoln Center, and Radio City Music Hall. Overlapping her career as an actress/singer/dancer, she has accumulated over thirty years of teaching experience in the fields of movement, dance and fitness, and now teaches Pilates full time in New York City. Jeanette is on the adjunct faculty of the Graduate Center at CUNY, is the Pilates instructor to the Women’s Swim Team at Columbia University, and conducts weekly Mat classes to the Metropolitan Montessori School’s faculty and staff. By special invitation from the Cirque du Soleil, Jeanette had the honor of guest teaching an afternoon of Pilates workshops to their “Quidam” company while they were in Philadelphia. As the Senior Assistant to the creator of LindaFit Pilates, she co-leads Pilates teacher-training certification programs four times a year in New York City.
How long have you been teaching Pilates?
I first began teaching a “Pilates-based” exercise program, called IM=X Fitness Formula, eleven years ago. Some of the sequences are identical to traditional Pilates … but some are different, variations on the theme. After about three or four years of teaching IM=X, I started integrating more of the traditional sequences … and, gradually, phased out the IM=X c completely. — Now, that’s where I am: I teach Pilates.
Which is more difficult to get students for: group classes or private sessions? How do you market yourself differently for group classes vs. private sessions?
Well … the first question is not an easy one to answer. In fact, it’s almost a “Trick” question, and here’s ‘why’: When I teach ‘group’ classes, I work for someone else. I teach at a gym, a private school, a graduate school and, until recently, a dance studio. So, my ‘group’ classes are promoted by the organization that hires me … and, over the years, I’ve seen a DIRECT correlation between marketing and class size. The Gym where I work is ALWAYS putting the word out about their facility and the classes offered. As a result, my classes there are ALWAYS packed! The Graduate Center used to publish an extensive bulletin advertising their ‘Continuing Ed’ classes, and my classes grew and grew to the point where we were turning people away. Then about two years ago, they stopped publishing the bulletin … and we’ve been scraping by ever since. New Dance Group, on the other hand, NEVER did any marketing and the classes remained TINY. (BTW, I finally got fed up and resigned, months later they went out of business!)
Now, my Private Practice is another story all together. I have never done any advertising, what-so-ever. My entire private practice has come to me through word of mouth. The only thing I’ve ever done that might be considered ‘Marketing’ was to throw a “Client Appreciation Event” about five years into my practice. It was a lovely cocktail party.
One more thing on the subject of attracting private clients: When a potential client approaches me, they are almost always concerned about a previous injury or chronic condition. Or, they tell me that they have a very specific goal in mind. — So, in our initial ‘interview’ I explain to them how I will custom tailor the workout to fit their specific needs and goals.
How do you balance making group classes challenging enough to all ability levels so that students keep coming back to learn more, but manageable enough that students aren’t scared off and don’t return?
Practice, practice, practice! It’s taken me YEARS to come up with a system that, if you don’t mind me saying so, works perfectly.
It’s a combination of things:
- I let new-comers know that that they can rest at any point and that pain is a warning signal to STOP.
- I set up EACH exercise so that EVERY student can execute the moves ‘safely’.
- From there, as the students are performing the exercise … I build on the basics and add challenging variations for the more experienced students.
- Finally … if demonstration is required for the beginners, I have my advanced students do the demonstrating so that they can keep moving and challenging themselves.
Similarly, how do you handle constructive criticism of individuals? One day in a class I was in, you suggested a woman attempt a deeper position, and she argued back that she couldn’t (and never had) done that. You were very polite and said, “oh, well, I thought you had before”, but it occurred to me that when adults are in a class out of their own free will, criticizing someone can be awkward for the instructor. How do you deal with that?
Well … I don’t think of it as “criticizing” my students. I think of it as giving them corrections. I think of it as “teaching” … so, usually it doesn’t feel awkward at all. To me it always feels like I am ‘helping’ them … and, in fact, sometimes it feels like I am ‘saving their lives’!
Also, for the most part (unless I am having a particularly bad day) I feel LOVE for my students … and have the utmost respect for them. So, whatever anyone can do, at any given point in time, is usually O.K. with me. It’s all a process.
I feel like yoga is trendier – or at least more widely-known – than Pilates. How and why did that happen?
Hmmmm. That’s a good question, and I’m not entirely sure … except to say that Yoga has been around for a LOT longer than Pilates. — Also, when Joseph Pilates first brought his method to NYC, it was taught in private one-on-one sessions. So … very few people either knew about it or could afford privates sessions. It wasn’t until VERY recently that Pilates was offered in a group class setting.
Do people ever come in and say, “I read about Pilates in X publication”? If so, what are some of those publications. Dance magazines? Yoga magazines?
Yes, I suppose they DO say that, on occasion. Yes, now that I think of it, absolutely! In fact, my students often cut the articles out and bring them to me. (it’s quite sweet, actually!) But the publications mentioned have been more mainstream like Shape, Fitness, Cosmopolitan, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc.. And more recently, of course, Pilates Style Magazine, which is a relatively new publication.
There are tons of anti-smoking commercials on TV. Anti-drugs, anti-drunk driving; I even keep seeing commercials that are pro-corn syrup, which drive me nuts because who really cares if corn syrup won’t kill you. You don’t see physical fitness TV commercials, though, or very many print ads for fitness eithe
r, beyond ads for private gyms. Are there not-for-profit pro-fitness service organizations in the US? What about organizations that promote mind/body forms of fitness like yoga and Pilates?
Another very interesting point! I never even noticed the lack because, as a fitness professional, I receive so many ‘professional trade publications’. From where I stand, it seems that the word is not just out there, but “In your face”. Your question makes me realize, of course, that this is not true.
I’m not up on all the organizations … but one does come to mind: IDEA Health and Fitness Association. www.ideafit.com
Do you know if Pilates (or yoga) is ever taught in public schools? Do you think it should be?
Perhaps Yoga has made it into the public schools … but, as far as I know, Pilates has is not, yet being taught there. And yes, I do think that it would be beneficial for the BASICS to be taught in that arena. Maybe the best way would be to apply the Pilates Principles to all
forms of exercise.
Are Pilates DVDs (or podcasts) more popular than group classes? Are at-home DVDs sufficient, or do you think a teacher is necessary?
Well I think the ‘Idea’ … the ‘intention’ of working out at home with a DVD or Podcast is more popular than a group class. But in my experience, few people have the self discipline to stick to the routine or work themselves hard enough.
And I DO think that a teacher is necessary when one is first learning the technique. At home DVDs, etc are fine for the experienced practitioner. (but even the pros should check in with a teacher from time-to-time. There’s no replacement for having a pair of eyes watching you, making minor adjustments to your form here and there)
If you had to name one thing, what is it that keeps students coming back to your classes?
Honestly … Passion