A t Sarah Aldrich Pilates, bodies get toned, strengthened and revitalized above gleaming hardwood floors and under cheery overhead lighting. In the afternoon, rays of sunshine wend their way through a dense downtown cityscape and into big, west-facing, second-floor windows at this corner of Elm and Orange.
Sarah Aldrich has earned this corner. Teaching here since September 2013, she’s been chugging along in New Haven since 2009. All these years later, she has an experienced staff of 10 people offering about 14 classes a week.
Pilates may sound newfangled, but it’s been around for nearly a century. The exercise regime was created in Germany during the 1920s by fitness instructor Joseph Pilates, originally for the purpose of rehabilitating soldiers. The method uses “slow, focused movements,” explains Aldrich, to restore posture, improve flexibility and gain strength, tending to result in a longer, leaner body.
Classes at SAP take several different forms, all described in detail on its website. Basic Pilates principles are introduced in Mat 1 & Mat 2. Three tiers of Reformer classes, making use of the special Pilates exercise machine of the same name, are also offered. Ballet Barre sessions entail a mix of traditional ballet moves and Pilates mat work, and Total Barre classes combines Pilates, dance, cardio and strength training. Pilates Flow incorporates stretch and balance work with “yoga-style flow set to mellow music,” and there’s a Prenatal Mat class for expecting moms. Private sessions are also available, including for those rehabilitating from injuries.
All classes require pre-registration and there are a number of payment options: one session is $18, a five-pack is $80 and 10-pack goes for $140, with special pricing for grad and undergrad students at any local college.
Pilates’s origin as a therapy for soldiers bristles against its reputation today, seemingly viewed by default as a females-only exercise regime. SAP fights that stereotype, with its website cleverly asking in its Frequently Asked Questions section, “Isn’t it just for chicks and ballerinas?” No, the answer goes; Pilates “can help anyone who wants to feel strong,” asserting that even football teams are using its methods.
Feeling strong is what it’s about, and for those used to the fast-paced, sweaty world of cardio-based workouts, Pilates might feel strange at first (Aldrich urges newcomers to try at least five sessions before making a judgment). Movements can be incredibly subtle, but intense. To an outsider, a class might look like nothing more than students lying calmly on mats; but at that moment they may be working a specific stomach muscle through tiny, controlled exertions.
Aldrich, an avid runner, became a near-instant devotee when she took her first Pilates classes aimed at healing a series of foot and ankle injuries. Once looking to get a Master’s Degree in English, instead she got her Pilates certification through the Kane School of Core Integration in New York City. She says she loved the “hardcore” biomechanics and anatomy training she got there, admitting, however, that the process “really kicked my butt,” even compared with her undergrad education at Brown.
She loves empowering her students to be more body-aware, too. Other perks include working with her all-female staff, “a bunch of smart, curious, cool women,” says Aldrich, as well as teaching in a small city, where people from so many backgrounds, leading such different lives, can get together to better themselves, united by place, and by Pilates.
Sarah Aldrich Pilates
50 Elm Street, New Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.