Maya Kitayama: Could you briefly discuss your training and performance background?
Carolina Czechowska: I’m from Stockholm, Sweden, born and raised. I went to the Royal Swedish Ballet School from age 10 to 18 and moved to the United States after graduation to attend the Boston Ballet School as an upper division student. Later on I was accepted into the Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet Program, which I did for a year. After that I moved back to Europe, danced a little bit professionally and then I actually quit dancing completely. That’s along the lines of how I found Pilates. There was a Pilates studio down the street from where I lived and I always had an idea of what Pilates was, that in retrospect was not accurate at all. We never had Pilates at school, which was very bizarre for a professional ballet school. Long story short, I finally walked into the Pilates studio and discovered a whole new world. I was certified the first time in Stockholm, at Pilates Scandinavia, and that brought me to New York—I was still not dancing at the time—to Brooke Siler’s re:AB Pilates certification program. I worked in New York for two years, with two certifications, and then I moved to San Francisco and started teaching at the Pilates Center of San Francisco/ODC and at former Dharmaspace Pilates Center. In the middle of all of this, I was encouraged to start dancing again, after a three year break. In 2011, I was offered a position with Garrett + Moulton Productions and I’ve been dancing with them ever since, amongst other projects like Tino Sehgal installations at the Berkeley Art Museum and RAWdance.
MK: What is one thing you hope to communicate to your students?
CC: Full body awareness, and that is channeled into how my students live their lives. I try to help them become mindful of how they keep themselves and their bodies throughout their day. Since I most likely only see them once a week, the rest of the time when they’re out there in the world, they need to be conscious. I want to condition students to have a functional mindset about exercising, well-being, and health.
MK: How have Pilates and teaching personally affected you?
CC: Pilates in general has dramatically changed my life, and mostly because of the awareness concept I was speaking of earlier. It helped me realign my body, stay injury free, but mentally it also made me trust the process of a method, which in itself taught me patience and overall calmness. I’m discovering more with everyday how sticking to the classical Pilates method and trusting it—because it’s so well-composed—is a formula that is sustainable.
MK: Do you notice a difference in approach between the younger and older students?
CC: It really depends on a few factors; focus, interest and maturity are the more prominent ones, but it’s hard to generalize. If you have a professional group of young dancers, their focus and their mindset can be much better than an older person who has an office job, just to use a harsh example. It really depends on the group, but I think you work with the body you have in front of you and you figure it out as you go along. It is the mind that is very important, because Pilates is very challenging and requires a lot of focus and attention.
MK: Do you have a specific moment or memory that you found particularly inspiring or noteworthy?
CC: Too many to share! I always feel very accomplished when a student tells me “I’ve had pain for many years, and now I’m pain-free.” It’s incredible when the Pilates method has affected someone’s life to the extent of them waking up every day and feeling no pain. That’s my goal, that’s what I want to do, make sure that people are as healthy as they can be, and that in itself will transform the psychological well-being; you’ll have a happier life if your body feels good.
MK: What sets ODC apart from other dance schools and centers?
CC: The atmosphere is very pleasant; it’s warm and supportive. I’ve travelled a lot; as a young ballet student I went to many summer dance programs and have seen dance centers all over the world. ODC is different, there’s a really nice energy in the building, it probably has to do with the broad variety of classes and levels, Rhythm and Motion, the ODC company, other rehearsing companies, and the school. What I like about it is that it’s not judgmental, it has a spirit of creativity and it encourages growth.
MK: Any other thoughts that we haven’t touched on?
CC: I hope that everyone coming here can see what a fantastic array of styles and classes ODC offers. Especially the younger kids. I teach Pilates mat in the school, the Dance Jam, and am very happy to share my knowledge with them. I wish I had Pilates at their age, it would have certainly changed my career and my dancing tremendously. However, it’s never too late to discover the benefits of classical Pilates and embark on this wonderful lifelong journey.
Carolina Czechowska teaches a 9am Pilates Mat Challenge class on Wednesday mornings, and she is available for private sessions and training through the SF Pilates Center.