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Getting My Groove Back

Healing to Hip-Hop: Pilates Works––It's for men too, including actor James Naughton



Black Rock Pilates owner Laura Pennock works with actor and Pilates devotee James Naughton to strengthen his arms and shoulders.

Photo by Stan Godlewski

When a friend asked me to join her in a hip-hop dance class at Double Up Dance Studio (DUDS), I said “why not?” As a former champion of Just Dance, I thought it might be the ideal exercise plan for me. But halfway through the first class, my hip felt funny, my arm hurt, my back was stiff, and I wasn’t cutting the rug or the class. While the motivating DUDS instructor Paul Herman expertly choreographed moves for the class—and I felt like passing out— I had an epiphany. It’s time for me to get back in shape.

So, what do you do when your old tennis elbow and a general state of inertia have brought you to this point? Friends had suggestions for me.  Yoga— “it is so meditative, yet gentle and strengthening.” I imagined myself napping in Child’s Pose. “Just join the gym and go,” someone urged.  As if it was that easy. “How about swimming?” Nope, not really a fan of chlorine—or bathing suits for that matter. 

Somewhere in my mental files I remembered reading how beneficial Pilates was, but I’d never tried it.  I decided it was my last hope. A quick Google search led me to the only dedicated Pilates studio near me—Black Rock Pilates. I dialed up owner Laura Pennock and told her my tale of woe. She assured me that I was exactly the kind of person Pilates could help, and she invited me in for a few private sessions.

When you enter Black Rock Pilates, you are met with cheerful people, but intimidating equipment. Machines called Reformers, Towers, Wunda chairs, and a Cadillac make it look more like Christian Grey’s rec room than a fitness center.  But after a few one-on-one lessons with Pennock, you learn the ropes—or rather, the pulleys, the bars, the resistance—which reduce injury risk since you are often just using your own body weight. “Pilates is really intelligent exercise—for any shape, size, or age,” explains Pennock. “It strengthens, stretches, and aligns you.”  Pennock, a former professional modern dancer, knows all about strengthening core and limbs, but also understands, from experience, that injuries often accompany repetitive sports and movement. 

Pilates is a go-to exercise for people who have injuries or are restarting an exercise regime. German-born, Joseph Pilates overcame being a sickly child with gymnastics and conditioning. He invented the eponymous exercises to rehabilitate WWI soldiers injured in the hospital. “He figured out how to isolate muscles, and work the body, one part at a time,” explains Pennock. 

From dancers to athletes to couch potatoes, Pilates attracts followers of all ages. “One of my fittest clients is in her 80s!” exclaims Pennock. And don’t for a minute think you’ll be using the Tower with only women by your side. About 30 percent of Pennock’s clients are men, including actor James Naughton who has been training at BRP for over a year. “I played three sports in college, golf, and then found myself with a rotator cuff injury,” says Naughton. “I feel better every day,” he says. 

An instructor for 20 years, Pennock opened her studio in 2005. Her partner Tara Collins and she own the building at 2889 Fairfield Avenue, which also houses Black Rock Physical Therapy, run by Collins. Not surprisingly, people who graduate from physical therapy with Collins often go upstairs to begin Pilates. “We have a great synergy for making people feel better,” says Collins. 

Dawn Cobb of Fairfield has been coming for over five years. “Pilates helped me after an ankle injury, but I loved it so much I just kept with it,” she says. 

Now as I push away on the footboard of the Reformer, I laugh remembering how this fun equipment once unnerved me. And when I finally returned to that DUDS hip-hop class, I enjoyed it with little pain and pretty good form. Pilates works. 

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