The sisters learned the exercise method through their dance careers, which they began in Youngstown.
By LAURIE M. FISHER
BOULDER, Colo. -- Amy Taylor Alpers' and Rachel Taylor Segel's passion for Pilates started long before the fitness technique became an international exercise trend. Since 1990, the Youngstown natives have combined their talents as dancers and teachers in their Boulder Pilates studio.
Now, they have expanded their audience as authors of "The Everything Pilates Book," published last month by Adams Media.
"Pilates is just something dancers know about. I heard about it in 1975 when I went to New York to study for a summer," Alpers explained. "Rachel started dancing at age 5, and I followed in her footsteps, dancing at age 3."
A passion for dance
The sisters remember dance lessons in the 1960s with Statia Sublette of the Youngstown Ballet Company in the former Knights of Columbus Hall in downtown Youngstown.
Later, when the company was renamed Ballet Western Reserve, the daughters of Dr. Bernard and Priscilla Taylor danced in many "Nutcracker" productions at Powers Auditorium. "We were full steam into ballet," said Alpers. As teenagers, they taught less-experienced dancers.
"I remember one performance when I had several roles in Nutcracker," recalled Segel. "I had mono [mononucleosis], and BWR director Michael Falotico literally carried me down the metal stairs between roles so I didn't expend any extra energy."
After graduation from Liberty High School, Segel earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Colorado and a bachelor's in dance from Loretto Heights College in Denver. She performed professionally with the David Taylor Dance Theatre and Brent Mason and Company. Segel taught ballet and directed the dance department at the Arvada Center for the Performing Arts for nine years.
In 1976 Alpers attended the Juilliard School for Dance in New York City after graduation from Liberty High School. She danced with the Garden State Ballet in New Jersey. "I had foot surgery when I was 20, and went back to school to earn a BA in dance and MA in dance history from New York University," she explained.
Alpers taught at several New York City studios for 10 years. In 1987, Segel joined her sister in New York and taught at The Alvin Ailey School.
"One of my desires when I moved to New York from Colorado was to study Pilates," Segel said. Together they studied with Romana Kryzanowska, a prot & eacute;g & eacute; of founder Joseph Pilates.
"We got hooked quite quickly," Alpers said. "We would go three times a week for two and half years," added Segel. They received Pilates teaching certification in 1989.
How it works
"Pilates is so intelligent; it is so correctly created. It is just right, and you start to feel that in your body. As a dancer you are profoundly aware, to your detriment, of all your idiosyncrasies, bad habits and problems. Pilates doesn't make you feel bad about it. It helps you address those things instead of ignoring them or being victimized by them. It's not about how you look, which of course is what dance is. It is how to get the best out of your body," Alpers explained.
"It is very graceful and body-mind oriented," added Segel. "Even though I had been a dancer all my life, teaching ballet, I really knew a lot about how the body should move. When I did Pilates I saw how weak I was. This is very intriguing and challenging to me. There were clients in Romana's studio who had been doing Pilates for 20 to 30 years who were in their 70s and 80s. They were phenomenal, like gymnasts. They could do the most difficult exercises and chat while they were doing them. If Pilates can do this for you at that age, there is something powerful here," Segel said.
"Pilates is not something you have to give up, like dance," Alpers said, acknowledging Pilates as a career-transition opportunity. "It was as fun to teach as dance but was for more people."
In 1990, the two moved to Boulder and opened their own studio, The Pilates Center. Here, they developed a teacher-training program that has more than 175 graduates.
The rigorous training requires more than 850 hours of study. Alpers taught in Israel as well as traveled across the country teaching weekend workshops through The Moving Center, another business owned by the sisters.
"We established ourselves as teachers of teachers, with the understanding that whole entire point was to help people be healthy and had nothing to do with making money for us. Of course we hope it would be successful, otherwise it couldn't continue. We always did it because the more people we could teach well would, in turn, teach others properly," Alpers noted.
Recommended as authors
For years, Alpers said, the sisters were encouraged to write a book about Pilates. But when Kevin Bowen, president of the Pilates Method Alliance, recommended the two to the publisher of the Everything Series, the sisters were convinced the timing was right.
"From the start, we set out to write a book that was going to have considerable amount of depth of knowledge. The book includes history, philosophy and an overview of equipment. Many of the other books on the market just show the mat work," noted Segel.
"Our book is trying to tell people Pilates can't be done properly alone in your house from a book. It is essential you find a decent teacher. Here's how you find a decent teacher. Here's what a decent teacher ought to be able to do. Pilates is a full system and utilizes a lot of equipment. It can only give you the profound benefits if you are doing it the way it was designed to be done," Alpers said.
Both sisters attribute their success to the support of their families: Segel's husband, Len, and daughters Olivia and Eleanor, and Amy's husband, Richard, and children Nathanael and Lily Alpers.