Laura Falcone, a former showgirl who opened the EFX show with Michael Crawford in her dancing days, conducted a session showing how Pilates can be integrated into a skater's training regimen. After 15 years as a professional dancer, she decided to teach Pilates, and has been working at the Las Vegas Healthsouth facility for three years. For the past two years, she has worked with pair skater Amanda Magarian, who demonstrated the moves as Falcone lectured.
Pilates is a system of stretching, strengthening and breathing invented by a German gymnast to improve body awareness, balance and agility, and integration of core strength (the smaller muscles supporting your spine and pelvis). For female pair skaters, it helps to create a beautiful line and strengthen the upper body, while making the lower body more flexible. Pilates is good for rehab, but even better for injury prevention. It's not a weight-bearing form of exercise, so it's something people can do to stay in shape while recovering.
Most Pilates classes involve mat work, so Falcone brought some other apparatus to show the attendees. The main apparatus was called a "reformer," which is big enough so it can hold your whole body when you lie down on it. You can slide the carriage back and forth by exercising various muscles, or attach rubber tubing for resistance. By incorporating various springs, wobble boards, and other devices, you can work every muscle group in your body.
Magarian demonstrated basic skater mini-exercises. Lying face-up on the reformer carriage, she did "hundreds," an exercise for basic abdominal control (like sit-ups). Then she stood up and did forward lunges, one foot on a stable ledge and the other moving the carriage back and forth, while adding armwork and choreography. This helps keep skaters' thighs looking good, because it works the hamstrings as well as the quads, elongating the muscles and preventing that bulky quad appearance.
Magarian returned to lying face up on the carriage, hooked her feet through the handles of the pulleys, and Falcone took her through working every muscle group in her legs -- moving them in a V fashion, holding them in stag position, holding her arms out to the side so she can't stabilize herself with her hands but must use only her core muscles.
Every exercise that Magarian did looked smooth and very slow and controlled, but as she assured us, "It's not as easy as it looks!" The audience volunteers soon found this out, as even the most trained athletes wobbled on their first attempts to do what Magarian was doing with such upright control. Magarian said that the first time she was tested at a Team USA camp, they warned her that her ankle weaknesses put her at risk for injury. After a year of Pilates, they tested her again and could hardly believe that they were the same ankles -- the exercises had stabilized her muscles that strongly. Falcone added that you forget, inside those stiff boots, that the skaters might not be getting adequate ankle exercise.
Magarian then practiced jumping form while lying down on the carriage, which was outfitted with springs. As she pushed off from the board and landed on it again, all while lying down, the exercise taught her to keep her knee aligned on landings. She demonstrated push-ups with her hands gripping a stable bar, her feet moving the carriage back and forth. She then astonished me with two unbelievably difficult moves: standing with one foot on the carriage, moving it back and forth, while all her weight was on the other foot standing on a completely unstable surface resting on ball bearings. Talk about core strength! The other move involved placing the edge of her feet on the carriage (facing), then holding herself up with her hands at her sides and slightly behind her gripping the bar (like a gymnast on the pommel horse), lowering herself into an L position and moving the carriage -- working her triceps -- then doing it while only one foot is moving the carriage and the other is extended before her.
I have seen Magarian do triple jumps and hip lifts with somersault exits plenty of times, but somehow seeing her do these Pilates exercises was much easier for me to understand, and I felt new respect. Not only was her core iron-solid and her form beautiful, but she was so well-trained that it was like seeing a demonstration of the pure thing that the human body can do. Which brings me to the issue of beauty.
The PSA conference is a gorgeous blend of humble, everyday teachers and the rare lively beauty that comes from a career in the performing arts. I first noticed this quality last year, when I saw the remarkable Jill Shipstad Thomas (a presenter at this year's conference -- reports to come soon). It's not that her face isn't pretty; it is. But her beauty is due to something entirely different from regularity of features. She radiates. Her posture is vividly correct. She never hides. And there were other coaches everywhere who possessed the same knowledge of the secret of beauty: my roommate from last year, Eliska Hahn, whose combination of power and porcelain is reminiscent of Nicole Kidman in "Moulin Rouge"; or the doe-like Dorothi Rodek-Cassini. These are women who will only grow more luminous as they become older.
Magarian, at 17, is beginning to exhibit that quality -- a beauty that isn't dependent on youth -- and I think the Pilates has something to do with that.
I did get to talk to her about the break-up of her pair partnership with Jered Guzman, and what she is doing now. I know it has been widely reported that she is trying out with Paul Binnebose, but it is not that exactly -- they are skating together as friends doing what they enjoy, not as people thinking about pairing up and competing. Both she and Guzman feel that the split was for the best. Magarian is staying in Las Vegas for now, and traveling periodically to Colorado Springs to take from her first coach, Irina Vorobieva, to keep up her skills while she searches for a new partner. She teaches some students, has begun to do some modeling work, and has recently finished high school. She has a serious interest in studying marine biology when she's done with her skating career, but for now, she thinks she will take some university science classes during the summers. As for her skating itself, it sounded like she was going through a phenomenal period of personal growth, skating perhaps better than she ever has. She described a new love for expressive footwork, saying she feels as though she could choreograph herself a new program every day right now. More power to her.