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What difference does it make when pilates is taught by a ballerina?

A Taiwanese ballerina opens a pilates studio in Singapore.

Freda was involved in a chain collision in 2012 where she suffered from a whiplash injury to her neck. The following year, She met another accident which resulted in five levels of bulging disc and two levels of annular tear and disc protrusion in her cervical spine. She was in so much pain that time and could no longer resume her weekly routine of yoga and jogging. Even dinners that took longer than two hours became quite an ordeal. Her doctor advised her to do physiotherapy and rehabilitation weekly, and with the help of her physiotherapist, she was able to get momentary mobility and pain relief, but each session would only give her a maximum of three days' relief. In late 2013, her older sister introduced her to a 46-year old pilates coach Susan Su Lengowski, which is where things started to change.

Susan began teaching pilates after she was forced into early retirement, and has been teaching for over 10 years now. She is fully certified in all disciplines of STOTT Pilates Level 1 Matwork & Reformer; Cadillac; Chair, and Barrels and the GYROTONIC and GYROKINESIS methods.

Hailed as the first Taiwanese classical ballerina to graduate from the world-renowned Vienna Municipal Conservatory Austria, Susan founded équilibre, a wellness studio located at Rochester Mall (Buona Vista) offering pilates, GYROTONIC and ballet barre classes. The studio was established in 2016, although Susan also co-founded another pilates studio two years ago. Prior to that Susan was running pilates classes from her home studio. She has lived in Singapore for 16 years.

Susan began dancing at eight years old, where she trained under renowned Taiwanese ballerina Huang Bi Lian and Dutch National Ballet member Leon Koning, Ballet Master at Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. At 15, she was accepted into the dance programme at the prestigious National Taiwan University of Arts (NTUA), where she then won a full scholarship to complete her dance training at Vienna Municipal Conservatory Austria, becoming the first Taiwanese to graduate from the institution.

Susan has had the privilege of training under ballet greats such as Karl Musil, famed choreographer and the first solo dancer of the Vienna State Opera, and Evelyn Teri-Berkenhoff, a well-known pedagogue internationally known as a teacher and performer. She performed as a soloist with the now-defunct Four Seasons Dance Company (四季舞团) under the tutelage of the award-winning Gabriela Komleva of Kirov Ballet (Mariinsky Ballet), one of the world's leading ballet companies.

“At our first meeting, I found Susan's empathetic and professional manner very comforting, and was also impressed with her understanding of movement and her constant realignment of my body,” Freda, who is enrolled in 2.5 year-class at équilibre narrated.

After that first session, Freda shared that Susan asked for her permission to work directly with her physiotherapist to develop a treatment plan. She continued taking private lessons with her and within six months felt improvement in her spinal stability, muscle strength, and body awareness.

“The entire rehabilitation process was even enjoyable because the exercises I was taught by Susan were practical techniques applicable to everyday life: carrying groceries, driving, working at my desk etc.,” she said.

Freda is just one of the many clients of Susan who testifies about the success of the treatment procedures being taught by Susan.

The équilibre

The équilibre currently has a teaching team of three. Although Susan is the founder of the studio, she continues to teach from Monday to Saturday.

While there is a fair number of pilates studios in Singapore, very few, if any, are headed by ex-professional ballet dancers. Susan argued that those who practice pilates will know there's a real difference when you're taught by someone who has had that professional training and discipline, and someone who has only been schooled in the pilates method.

According to Susan, classes at équilibre are also very hands-on, which is very different from the standard mode of instruction.

“Instructors are trained to develop an eye for correction and continually correct form and posture so clients can achieve the maximum benefit from the exercises. Clients come to équilibre for the dynamism but stay with the studio for its meticulous method of instruction, she said.

Finally, a key difference is that classes at équilibre are fun and dynamic, said Susan.

“If you look at the trend of fitness classes in recent years (e.g. spin classes, fly yoga, aerobic barre classes), a common factor is that they offer fast and fun classes that continually challenge the body. It leaves the body guessing and it powers change quickly and effectively,” she explained.

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