Claire Sparrow

Pilates saved my dance career

I was first a dancer, but in 1999 my chronic knee and back injuries meant I could not dance a step. However, after several months of daily Pilates training, I was pain free, feeling amazing and dancing even better than before. I knew at that point that Pilates was life changing and would be a fundamental part of my future.

I had been doing Pilates unknowingly in the guise of body conditioning for dancers. My official introduction came during my dance studies at the University of Leeds in 1998. Pilates, both matwork and in the fully equipped studio, formed part of our daily dance training.

After training I went on to dance and direct my own dance company in the UK and Canada, teach community dance, and gain my PGCE while teaching and leading the dance programme at Thomas Danby College, Leeds.

Enabling dancers to dance

Pilates came back into my life through training as a Level 3 Personal Trainer, Gym, Circuit and Pilates Teacher. My dance students began to gain the same benefits from Pilates that I had. I watched them build strength and stamina as performers, improved posture and confidence. I was on fire. I set up my first community class the week after gaining my first qualification in 2002. I followed this with a comprehensive programme of training in Mat and Reformer with Michael King at the Pilates Institute doing further Mat. This continued with Polestar, STOTT, APPI and Pilates Umbrella.

Pilates and pregnancy CAN mix

My first child, Arran, was born in 2005 and opened a new chapter in my Pilates life. I found a new understanding of my own body. I trained in Pre and Post Natal Exercise and Pilates with Fit to Deliver and Polestar. How could I, and other women with a small child in tow, do Pilates? Create a class for women with a buggy! I created the fun Pilates and Fitness inspired class Pramercise.

Inspired by my success, I left Thomas Danby and expanded my Pilates business InspiredExercise. I saw a need to have more professional development opportunities in the North. Elizabeth Anderson, founder of Pilates Umbrella, answered my call, and May 2008 saw us launch in Leeds. Our teacher was Pilates elder Lolita Sa Miguel, one of only two people Joseph Pilates certified to teach his method.

Teaching and learning together

I found a kindred spirit in that class. I met Kath Nisbet at the first Pilates Umbrella event I hosted on behalf of Elizabeth Anderson. We immediately embarked on a trip to Canada to train at the International STOTT Centre. The trip cemented a friendship and the potential for a shared Pilates business. We began running Pilates Retreats, Post Natal classes and found our little studio in Meanwood. We outgrew it all within 18 months.

Leeds Pilates Place is born

So in 2010, with my second child Harris still a baby, we moved into our beautiful Leeds Pilates Place studio at Chantry House. 2 studios, 8 Reformers, 3 Cadillacs, 3 Chairs – we meant business! Determined to be teaching at the highest level and constantly improving, we embarked on the next stage of our teacher training with Polestar Pilates UK. We became the first host centre in the UK and worked with the first Polestar Educator in the UK, Alastair Greetham.

Five years on, with child number three Ewan, I am proud that we are a regular host centre and have produced some amazing new teachers. I am also proud to have become a Mentor supporting fledgling Pilates teachers as they start their Pilates life and most recently I have been invited to continue my learning in London and Leeds to work towards becoming an Educator for Polestar Pilates UK.