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What I Should Be Doing: Teaching Pilates


Sometime last fall I got this amusing email from my friend Debbie Schwarz-Villavicencio: “Hi! I am unemployed!”

As a recruiter, I get lots of email from people on the job hunt, but none sounding quite so gleeful. I could imagine Debbie laughing as she hit Send. For years she had talked about her desire to launch her own business – something that drew on her hospitality background, maybe a catering company or a food truck. This was big news: After 8 years at the Mandarin Oriental, she had finally taken the plunge.

I picked up the phone: “So you did it! What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to become a Pilates instructor.”

Whoa, really? I wondered if this was a real life rendition of Eat, Pray, Love. Had Debbie gone off the deep end? “Let’s meet for lunch,” I said.

Debbie and I go way back. We met at Ammirati in the late 1990s. (Our mutual friend refers to Ammirati as “College with Car Service” because for many of us recent grads that worked on the Dell business, it was characterized by intense work, learning and camaraderie punctuated by late nights and lots of drinking.)

In the 12+ years that I’ve known Debbie, she’s moved gracefully from advertising Account Management to Training & Development for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. But I didn’t see the Pilates instructor thing coming.

JS:           How long have you been practicing Pilates? Why did you decide to get certified?

DV:         I’ve been doing Pilates for 3 years. I love it. It has really helped change my body, makes me feel less anxious and is empowering. As I was contemplating a career change – something that would bring me closer to a truly fulfilled work/life balance – friends and family encouraged me to do something with Pilates.

I started training with Kelly Kane at Kinected. She studied directly under one of Joseph Pilates’ disciples. In the Pilates world, this is a big deal: How close you can get to the original founder of the movement. Each Pilates instructor brings something distinctive to the training. As a medical school dropout, Kelly focuses on anatomy, e.g. what muscle groups are recruited for various exercises.  We had to learn a lot of anatomy as part of our certification.

JS:           What led to your decision to leave the Mandarin after 8 years?

DV:         The Mandarin was a great experience. I started out in their Food & Beverage department, and then worked with most aspects of the hotel business thru my role in Training & Development.

I always had entrepreneurial tendencies. I wanted to do something in the food/hospitality industry – like a food truck – but the idea of raising capital, the significant overhead and labor instability seemed daunting.

What accelerated my timing and decision to leave in September was a confluence of issues; my anxiety was becoming more tricky to manage, my personal goals were feeling very “now or never,” and family needs arose.  It would’ve been difficult to fully address these things without putting a strain on work.

Where I would have normally over-analyzed my decision to the point of inaction, my personal stuff got pushed to the foreground and took priority. Now and in the future I decided that I wanted the flexibility that could only be achieved by being in business for myself.

When I finally took the leap, the universe conspired to help me. All these people came out of the wood work with business and consulting leads. Everyone was very supportive.

[This reminds me of something founder, Tony Hsieh said: The way people can benefit you may not immediately be clear. Just continue spreading karma, putting stuff in the favor bank, doing meaningful and helpful things for other people without analyzing what you get in return. It will come back to you later.]

JS:           How do you intend to launch and develop your business?

DV:         I’ll definitely leverage my connections in the Mandarin network of hotels. Travelers often request in-room yoga and personal training consultation. I’ll make sure I’m on the preferred vendor list.

I plan to do some group and corporate classes to get my name out there and connect with private clientele.  Being connected with the community is also a passion of mine, so I aim to reach out to local schools and after-school programs in hopes of attracting younger people to Pilates.

The style of Pilates that I studied at the Kane School is very useful for athletes with injuries or chronic conditions that are trying to rehabilitate hips, back, core, etc. Pilates is a terrific form of cross-training to help prevent injury and improve performance. I’m reading Pilates for Runners right now, with the vision that I can help athletes target weak areas thru my anatomy-focused approach.


Interested in a Pilates consultation with Debbie? Send her an email

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