Recollections from PAA’s Founding President

Sally Anderson

Sally Anderson

PAA Founding President

Getting started

The PAA originated from a recognised need for support and industry development for the broader profession in Australia. From where we sit now, it’s easy to forget that in 2000 Pilates was not yet a mainstream exercise modality like it is today. We were on the cusp of a massive growth phase.

At the time there were boutique studios starting to open at a steady rate but Pilates was still fairly unknown in the general population in Australia. We all used to work on our ‘party speech’ … you know, when someone asked – “what do you do?”, we’d reply – “I teach Pilates.” Blank stare. And then the one dreaded line that required “the speech” – “What’s Pilates?” (IYKYK)

Today’s younger teachers would probably also find this alarming, but at that time we were still advertising in papers and magazines! There was a fair bit of interest from the media to explore this exercise ‘fad’ that the celebrities were doing – which was how a lot of people got to hear about Pilates. “That exercise that Madonna does”, was a constant phrase. She really did bring a lot of attention to the method back then.

The APMA had already been formed and I was a member, however as an organisation the APMA’s focus was on building and recognising APMA education and wasn’t including other training courses in the marketplace, limiting our ability to grow as a profession. This led to the creation of the PAA.

The initial meeting of the founding members of the PAA were a very broad group, who met at my PilatesInt Studio on Level 4, 61 Marlborough St Surry Hills. We may have been somewhat naïve about what we were getting into in terms of workload and expectations, but we all knew that we had to start to structure standards and support for the profession in order to move from a hobby style industry to a profession with recognition. Bear in mind that the incredible Deborah Lessen and Balanced Body had just led the global industry through an extensive lawsuit, resulting in Pilates being found to be a generic term and the industry now able to promote themselves under the Pilates method banner.

Focus on professional structures

I had been working with Body Arts & Science for many years before returning home to Australia full-time and starting to settle into my profession here. I was in the US with BASI over the end of the 1990’s and had been hearing and seeing a lot to do with the lawsuit which was finalised in 2000. It was a real turning point for the global profession.

I had then attended the inaugural PMA Meeting in Miami Florida, which was extraordinary. Most of the elders attended and were given unlimited opportunity to talk about their life in Pilates, with Joe and Clara, with each other, and anything else. It was an epic meeting. I also met exceptional people who had by then, and have since, contributed so much to the industry and I started to think deeply about how our profession was positioned toward recognition and longevity.

It was also in 2000 that I established my own company, Pilates International, in Australia. The relevance of that being that all these things were happening at the same time. The lawsuit was over, I was involved with the PMA and starting to work with Deborah Lessen and the other PMA founders, and I realised that I wanted to move to providing education that was formally recognised by government so that we could guarantee students an enduring outcome. So, I began to build a training program that could be recognised in perpetuity. All these elements put my focus firmly on professional industry peak body needs and were also factors in my personal interest in helping to found the PAA as a resource and support body for our profession.

I actually can’t speak for others as to why they were so invested at that time, other than to say that I know the whole group involved, who helped to found the association, all felt that we needed to be more cohesive and inclusive, and that we needed to set professional standards for Pilates teachers, studios and training. My memory is of a time that we all felt quite isolated from each other and wanted to create a community as much as a professional industry, and I do believe we all wanted to learn from each other. I know I did. I have a very strong memory on the day of Marda Willey being there – wonderful teacher and a very valuable person who helped shape the association. Marda (Vice President) was very smart about decisions we needed to make, was never afraid to say what needed to be said or identify what needed more thinking about – she was always the pillar of reasoning for me during my terms as President.

Over the years that I held the President role (between 2002-2011) the industry changed a lot. In fact, in great part because of the PAA and the hard work of its committees, the industry changed a lot. It was undoubtedly the biggest growth phase we’ve had until recently in the Covid/post Covid pivoting phase.

Over my time there we undertook major work, including setting up membership structure and levels; supporting the implementation of the first RTO’s and accredited courses in the industry; lobbying for benefits and achieving health fund provider rebates; establishing a continuing education process (formerly CECs that became PDPs) and much promotion and communication to support this work. So much of the bones of the PAA was our work at that time. We also undertook a large scale consultation process with Deloittes toward the positioning of the Pilates profession for future recognition, which was enlightening and productive; led primarily by Lanette Helene (Gavran at that time) who would go on to be the next President and use the consultation outcomes wisely in the next phases of the PAA’s development.

We didn’t run a conference event in the early years but rather incorporated the support of CEP programs run by our community into the structures of the PAA. I believe it was 2011 that PAA took over the Mind Your Body conference from myself, Helen Tardent and Genia Lifschitz who had built and run the event until passing it to the PAA.

Working hard together

It is very difficult to say who specifically did what in the early PAA years as we all worked really hard together. Each of the committee members were outstanding and gave so much to this profession that goes unheard a lot of the time, but to make mention of a few – Catherine Giannitto, and Polestar Pilates both here and internationally, always put time, effort and money into industry development. Cat and I have known each other and worked together extensively over the years and she is a definite force for good in our industry. Despite owning different organisations in the same market, we have relied on each other’s counsel at many stages and remain great friends.

Karen Beattie was also important to the work of the PAA from its inception. Karen had been teaching Pilates a long time by then, having trained firstly with Alan Menezes before finding Megan Williams, who’s studios she then taught in for many years. She had also been working extensively in the VET industry and we relied heavily on Karen’s expertise in the early years of PAA. Having someone who knew professional practices, regulation and compliance so well, and was also a long-term Pilates instructor, was a rarity and a godsend. Karen did a quick stint as President in the middle of my terms, but from memory I think was too busy then to stay in the role. Which brings me to Lanette Helene who followed me into the Presidents role. Lanette had already done a long tenure as Education Councillor from 2007, and prior to that had worked with boards for the Fitness and Recreation industry in Canberra. She brought much insight into board activities and also, following in Kristy Wetherell’s brilliant footsteps, developed a very broad and well functioning CECs support structure. Having Lanette bring her experience and insights into the Presidents role made it an easy transition for me to handover the reins.

The PAA committee members year-to-year did a lot of work on setting basic industry standards and bringing to light the ways in which a profession operates. Everyone on the committee during my time were very valuable to the association. Kerry Etkin as Treasurer did the hard work of getting the financial structures under way, while also being instrumental to association development as the primary clinical expert on the committee at a time when the two fields were not yet as aligned. No matter how much or how little time each person could give, it was a time when having everyone’s voice in the conversations was so important in order to set the structures that we could build on with a long-term focus.

As I say above, we all worked hard together and it is difficult to mention everyone’s achievements, but the unsung heroes of any industry association I think are the Treasurers and Secretary’s, whose work behind the scenes is still voluntary and never ends – budgets, bookkeeping, accounts, minutes and communications. They deserve a lot more thanks than I think they ever get. Here’s to all the treasurers and secretary’s (loud applause)!

In Conclusion

The PAA has lasted for 20 years. That’s both a young association and one that has made a strong mark. If now is the time to find new ways forward, then it is poised well to do so and be a part of some much-needed benefits going forward.


by Sally Anderson, PAA Founding President

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