The Dance Of The Client / Teacher Partnership - Jenna Zaffino

The Dance Of The Client / Teacher Partnership

When I first learned about Ron Fletcher’s Rolodex, I was intrigued.  In its hay-day, The Ron Fletcher Studio For Body Contrology was THE studio to see and be seen at in Beverly Hills.  People like Nancy Reagan, Ali MacGraw and Candice Bergen were regularly seen breathing, contracting and articulating their bodies towards Hollywood standards.   

I remember thinking to myself “I wonder why those starlets no longer practice?” One day, I got up the courage to ask Ron this very question.  His response? “Well sweet-tart, it takes two to tango, you know?”  And I did – boy did I know! 

When I began my teaching career, I was passionate, attentive and interested – qualities I still possess in my work today.  Looking back, I definitely over-delivered.  I was going to be the one to teach my clients how to do the Pilates and how to love it as much as I did.  I took on full responsibility for their ultimate success or failure and this weighed heavily on me.  It was like Dancing With The Stars.  I was the expert, leading the dance and they were following.  All of my energy went into the act of leading.  For many of us, this arrangement can work beautifully, until a very small whisper in our ear begins to shout: “I am doing all of the work, here!” 

Now, I just felt the ”proverbial hackles” of Pilates Pros across the Internet go up.  Let’s take a breath together and break it down.  If you’ll humor me for a moment, look back up at the previous paragraph and count the number of times I used the pronoun “I.”  I’ll wait… 

Nine.  Eight sentences and nine “I’s.”  What’s wrong with this picture? Some may say that I should have been working harder to get the client to progress quicker.  Some may say that I didn’t trust enough in the method.  Twenty  years of full-time teaching later, I know that when I feel like I’m carrying more weight than my share, it’s usually because I’ve neglected to set expectations with my partner.   In short, I have focused too much on the “I” and forgotten about the “we.” 

I believe our role as movement professionals became misunderstood when we were placed in the category of “service provider,” rather than “movement educator” or  “coach.”  Service providers are an organization, business or individual, which offers service to others in exchange for payment.  Even on my worst teaching day, that definition doesn’t hold a candle to what I do. When my plumber comes to fix my garbage disposal, I don’t get down under the sink with him while he explains every step.  However, when my client comes into the studio, you’d better believe I am meeting them eye-to-eye, moving, inspiring and educating to the best of my ability. My role is to offer movement support that translates to their entire life, even if our relationship only lasts a few sessions.  I am not a service provider.  I am a teacher.  But, in order for my clients to achieve all that they desire through Pilates, I must also be their partner and establish the guidelines for partnership within our teacher/student, coach/client relationship.  

This is not the easiest thing to do in our industry.  Many of us get stuck in the “razzle dazzle” of the first few sessions, doing our best to “prove” to the client that what we have to offer is “worth it.”  It can be like pulling someone up to dance to “Time Of My Life” and having this amazing Patrick Swayze lift sequence in your head only to find out that their dance vocabulary is limited to the Hokey Pokey.. 

Because. You. Never. Actually. Asked. Them. To. Dance. 

This exhausting engagement can make getting to the true work of the method difficult. But what if your dialogue in the first session sounded something like this: 

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to work with you.  Here are [all of the studio’s particulars – scheduling, payment, communication, policies, etc.]  

Before we begin moving, I’d love to establish a mutual understanding of our roles in this new “relationship.”  

  • My role as a teacher is to move you through a series of personalized sessions that progress from one to the next.  I find that having a standing appointment each week helps us achieve consistency and therefore progress. 

 

  • I respect the hour that we have together, therefore will plan to be in studio at least 10 minutes before our session.  It would be helpful if you would plan to do the same.  If I’m finishing another session, please use the extra time to warm up, mentally prepare or review the work we’ve done so far.  

 

  • I’m a huge fan of homework. The more you practice, the more the work sticks.  I suggest bringing a notebook each week to our sessions.  This way, you can record some “reminders” for yourself to help you practice outside of the studio.

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  • I’ll be using different communication skills to tap into the way you best process information.  It is really helpful to know when a cue or hands on correction is working for you and why.  

 

  • It’s natural to come in with tangible goals like weight loss, toning and the like.  To begin, our sessions will focus on helping you build strength in your foundational skills. This doesn’t mean “easy,” it just means specific.  A strong foundation will help us both in navigating through the steps to reach your larger goals.

 

  • I’d love to hear about some of the expectations that YOU have for our work together

 

This is the stuff of the most successful relationships I’ve had as a Pilates Pro.   To show up for collaboration, even when a leader is present, is nothing short of SATISFYING!! Refreshingly, it is not always me who holds the leadership role and I’ve recognized that I have as much to learn from my clients as they do from me! I believe this clarity has come from acknowledging the value of the work I do as a Pilates Professional when I am at my best.  If I desire to experience more of THAT work during my week, I have to have the courage to ask for it. 

Call it maturation, call it evolution or simply call it standing up for my profession. This shift in perspective helps to create the space for my passion, attention and interest to be present within our sessions without draining me.  I’m creating an environment where I have given value to our collaboration in addition to my client’s flat abs.  I’m taking my professional role more seriously, because I respect it and desire for my clients to do the same.  I’m also sending an invitation to my clients to expect more from me as a professional and offering an opportunity for them to show up more for their movement practice.  

I’m not immune to the fact that relationships may change or even end as a result of this shift in session dynamics.  In these instances, I will remind myself of the love I have for my work, the respect I have for myself and think of these transitions as  “graduations” rather than  “divorces.” I desire more partnerships in sessions and know that it will take some effort to make this happen.  I also believe the dances that will develop out of this shift will transcend space, time and energy because I’m “woo-woo” like that.  But most of all, I know that “It Takes Two To Tango,” and I’m ready to dance.  Are you? 

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