An Interview with Eric Valdes, Pilates Teacher and Teacher Trainer
by Pamela Debiase
I first met Eric Valdes years ago when I was just an apprentice teacher, and he was one of the certified teachers I observed for my observation hours. One day I was intrigued by some modifications he offered certain clients and when he had a break I asked him some questions about it. Well Eric, being the guy that he is, got me on the reformer and said “do it, feel it”. He answered my questions, got me moving to understand it and before you know it had taught me a full hour workout. My questions were answered and then some!
Eric’s humility, enthusiasm, compassion and desire to build a Pilates community made him the perfect candidate to head up “Contrology Lab” at our studio. Once a month he comes to our studio to teach workouts to teachers, an opportunity for them to dig further into their own workouts and aspire to “master the art of control”.
“The acquirement and enjoyment of physical well-being, mental calm and spiritual peace are priceless to their possessors if there be any such so fortunate living among us today. However, it is the ideal to strive for, and in our opinion, it is only through Contrology that this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind, and spirit can ever be attained.” – Joseph H. Pilates and William J. Miller, Return to Life through Contrology
During my last session at Contrology Lab, Eric had me working on my handstands at the ladder barrel. Going upside down has never been my forté, but watching him execute it with power, strength, perfect balance and what looked like ease (although I know how hard it can be) all at the same time, I thought - wouldn’t all men want to look like that! So afterwards we chatted about Men and Pilates, and here is what came out of it.
Pamela: Women always out-number the men in a Pilates studio. Do you think men are intimidated by Pilates?
Eric: I think people are afraid of change. This fear is not select to either gender. In my experience, generally speaking, women come to Pilates sooner. They understand the benefit and mindfulness of the Method. Women listen to their body more often than men do... they have to. Men tend to come to Pilates when something is wrong, when the wheels are falling off the wagon. I did. Again, these are generalities, not infallible truths. Also, I believe these generalities apply more to western men and women than people outside of the U.S. It's changing, but slowly.
Pamela: It always baffles me how people who don’t know Pilates think it’s a workout for women. If you try it you’ll know otherwise!
Eric: From what I understand, Mr. Pilates designed the work, equipment, and method for his body. Honoring his Greek ancestry and the drive of his Germanic birthplace. After all, he did perform a Greek statue act in the circus. Showing off his ideal male physique... O'Joe.
Pamela: You said you found Pilates when “the wheels were falling off the wagon”. What happened to you?
Eric: In the late 90's I tore my meniscus running. My insurance at the time covered a host of things. One of them was Pilates. A co-worker suggested Pilates as alternative to knee surgery. After a few lessons I was hooked. A few years later, I was laid off as a Set Painter/Sign Writer for the movie industry. I needed a job desperately... Pilates! The rest is all history.
Pamela: So Pilates saved you twice really. Yay Pilates! Do you teach men differently than you teach women? Or is your approach the same?
Eric: I teach men and women the same way. I rely on the Pilates Method to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the individual, the beauty and simplicity of the Method. The Pilates Method does the work for me, not the gender of the client.
Pamela: My weakness is shoulder stability, but I’m flexible in my hips and legs. You always laugh with me in class how we are opposites in this regard. Was flexibility in certain exercises a challenge for you when you first started Pilates?
Eric: My frustration when I first started taking Pilates was with the teachers. Most got hung up on what I couldn't do instead of looking at the whole picture, the whole body. Most of the time I was left feeling defeated. However, my natural bent is not to lay down and die when someone tells me "you can't” or “you won't be able to” do something. Lani Pelino was my first yield sign. She pulled me out of my mind and into my body. She capitalized on what I could do and my body loved it. I am still not super flexible, and probably never will be. I do my best with what I've been given. Which is pretty much where I teach from.
What I understand now, and with the help of knowledgeable teachers, you have to know how to teach the foundation of the exercise. You have to know how to teach the first layers of the work. If you teach the foundation of the movements, you can reach an ideal of each movement/exercise. As a teacher, It's hard to teach fundamentals over and over again. We all want to be entertained and so do our clients. But if you rely on the Method and the journey of your body, it can be endless. The ceiling is removed within Pilates and the fundamentals can be applied to any actions of the body. I believe that was Mr. Pilates intention for his Method.
Pamela: What are some of your personal favorite exercises to do?
Eric: I love it when I don't know an exercise and a teacher gives it to me. I really love being taught. I love short box anywhere. I love any of the barrel exercises. I love the Cadillac and it's offerings too. Swan on the Wunda Chair. The Press ups on the High Chair. Truthfully, I'm a Pilates dork and love it all. I swear.
Pamela: What else do you do for exercise?
Eric: I have been a cyclist for roughly 20 years. I am a former marathon runner and adrenalin junkie.
Pamela: So how have those activities changed for you since you started doing Pilates?
Eric: I have sustained life threatening and non-life threatening injuries to my body. Pilates has been the foundation and glue that holds me. It has returned me back to life, over and over again. I move better as I mature with it... I move better than when I was 20! As long as I practice and apply the principles of this brilliant method, I will reap its benefits. Pilates has become a part of me.
Pamela: Well we certainly feel blessed and enjoy having you teach at Westwood Pilates. Teachers need teachers too!
Eric: I know that I stand on the shoulders of so many great teachers. Too many to name, but here are a few that top the chart! Melissa Quesada, Diane Diefenderfer, Jennifer Rubendall, Lani Pelino, Carrie Macy Samper, Menica Stevenson, Neidra Gabriel, Susan Moran, Allison Gonzalez , Zoe Haglar and above all Mr. Bob Liekins. They all have given so much to me. Without their guidance, instruction and patience I am nothing.
Pamela: Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts with us today.
Eric: I thank any and all who read these thoughts and ideas. I am so grateful and appreciative for anyone who is interested in building community within Pilates, especially the open-minded owners and teachers that work at Westwood Pilates. You are all stars! Now let's move!
Pamela: Oh boy, back to practicing my handstands!