“He’s mean and he yells a lot.” That was the assessment of Antonio, Jessica’s pilates instructor as rendered by the woman who does Jessica’s hair. So, when Jessica suggested to me that I join Antonio’s class, I said, “No. He’s mean and he yells a lot.”
Actually, Jessica’s “suggestion” that I take up pilates was phrased as, “You need to get off of your ass and do something physical,” so my response carried no water whatsoever. The following Tuesday evening, I dressed in togs that I thought might be appropriate to what I envisioned a pilates workout would be and accompanied Jessica to La Fenice (the phoenix). The 56-year old Antonio greeted us on our arrival, took some money from us and led us to the studio. He is tall and wiry and, as the class began, quickly showed himself to be more limber than I.
We began that first session with a class of only three people (Jessica, our friend Colleen and me), I being the only male and the only student of an advanced age. Antonio took neither of these impediments into account as he soon started heaping “helpful” suggestions on me in his form of English/Italian. “Straight your schiena.” “La testa giu, down head.” “Straight your k-nees.” I struggled mightily to keep my back lodgepole straight, as I was commanded to do and, when I was ordered to lie on my back, point my toes to the ceiling and keep my knees locked, I thought that my ass was going to come apart, though not the way it normally does.
During the whole affair, these contortions being new to me, I tried to watch Antonio as he glided from one position to another and, at the same time, pretend to be doing the same thing. Every 30 seconds, though, Antonio would yell at me to keep my head down on the floor but, when I did, I couldn’t see what it was I was supposed to be doing. It made for an unfortunate dilemma. Finally, Antonio stood up from a position I could not even hope to have gotten into, walked over to me and said, “Scott, your problem is your head.” Jessica began to laugh so hard that tears were streaming down her cheeks and she was ruined for the rest of the class. Even the melancholy musical musings of Enya in the background could not mellow her out.
To my own surprise, I went back to the next class. “Keep your head on the mat,” was my mantra and, with the threat of embarrassment looming over it, my head stayed mostly where it should have. In this second class, Antonio focused on the abdominal muscles and, for the most part, I hung in there. Toward the end, however, with fatigue only moments away, my extended legs began to quiver as I struggled mightily to do what everyone around me seemed to do with ease.
“Scott,” Antonio said in a voice loud enough for the kids playing basketball in the school gym across the street could hear, “Scott, be still. Do not shake.” He then got up, walked over to me and said, “Scott, it is not your fault. You have uncoordinated nerves. This is why you shake. We can make you better. Coordinate your nerves.” Jessica was doubled-over with laughter.
Antonio went back to his mat and lay on his back. He then lifted his legs and, keeping them perfectly straight, set them at a 90-degree angle to the floor and pointing the soles of his feet at the ceiling. He then raised his head and shoulders from the mat and wrapped his hands around his ankles. The really amazing part of this was that he expected me to do it too. However effective his powers of persuasion might be, there was simply no motivating force on the planet that was going to get me into that position. Try as he might to suggest how I was to bend certain parts of my body, they were rigor-mortised in place. I finally said to him, “Antonio, the last time I was able to do something like that I was two years old.” He went back to his mat and didn’t bother with me any more that evening.
Interestingly, though, I do enjoy Antonio’s pilates classes and saw some quick improvement in my performance. I can now bend over and, keeping my legs perfectly straight, touch my knees without screaming. I can also lie down of one of those big inflated balls and breathe naturally without distress. So, with these milestones behind me, I can look forward (though, with head down) to doing a sit-up.