New Castle News

October 15, 2013

Crash Course: After trying Pilates as part of accident rehab, city native now teaching around the globe

Renee Gendreau
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — When Pilates instructor Stephanie Iervoline West tells her students to “work what works,” she’s speaking from experience.

A 2001 graduate of New Castle High School, West was majoring in dance performance at Kent State University when an auto accident left her with a broken back and pelvis. Determined not to let her injuries slow her down, she returned to campus and began doing what exercises she could in order to earn participation grades in her classes.

“It was just my natural reaction not to go ‘woe is me,’ but instead say ‘OK, now what can I do,’” recalled the 30-year-old West. “Nothing is guaranteed or constant, and, yes, I could be disappointed, but that wasn’t going to change anything.”

As a form of rehabilitation, one of West’s professors suggested she try Pilates, a system of exercise developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates designed teach awareness of breathing and body alignment as well as strengthen the core and abdominal muscles.

After a year of physical therapy, West returned to performing, earned her bachelor’s degree in dance and for a brief period had her own company in the Cleveland area — but it was Pilates that prevailed.

 “My injuries left me with a different appreciation for movement,” said West, who became certified and began teaching mat Pilates while in Cleveland. Another year of intensive training certified West to teach on all Pilates apparatus.

Now, what began has rehab has taken Frank and Diana Iervoline’s daughter not only to New York City — where she has been a classical Pilates instructor with Power Pilates for nearly six years — but also around the world. West, accompanied by her husband, Roger, who works in corporate crisis management for J.P. Morgan, recently returned from Japan. And, earlier this summer, West journeyed to South Korea.

During those two trips, she worked as a teacher of teachers, certifying new Power Pilates instructors.

“In Manhattan, I teach clients full time, but about a year ago I became a teacher of teachers and Power Pilates’ person who travels back and forth to Asia,” West explained.

 “Luckily, classical Pilates is set in stone, like ballet, it’s a done deal. A little bit gets lost in the translation, but classical Pilates is a system of 2,000 exercises with the names all spoken in English. So, if I say we’re going to do ‘the 100’ they know that exercise and it’s half the battle. Now saying ‘arms,’ ‘legs,’ ‘up’ and ‘down’ can be a different story,” noted West, who worked with translators.

“You learn to keep your teaching clear and concise. You learn what the necessary words are and you keep it simple,” West said, adding that Pilates is a popular form of exercise in the countries she visited.

“Asian culture craves form and function and attention to detail, which Pilates provides,” she explained. “In America we tend to see more of a hybrid form of Pilates, confusing the classical with dance or yoga.

“We only teach classical Pilates, true to the traditions and forms of founder Joseph Pilates. There’s not a need to make into something else.”

In December, West plans to make a return trip to the Asian countries.

Until then, she will be busy pursuing a master’s degree in exercise psychology, working on her blog-style Web site, www.workwhatworksbywest.com, and helping her Power Pilates students, especially those limited by new or existing injuries.

“It’s a shift of mind, you have to stop focusing on what is wrong, and instead focus on the 99 percent of you that is strong,” she explained. “It’s about finding what works for you.

“Pilates worked for me, but it’s not for everybody. If it’s not something you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life, then it’s not going to be sustainable.

“But whatever you end up doing, you have to give yourself the win. You can feel sorry for yourself, but, literally, that won’t change a thing.”