When I was introduced to the Pilates Method in 1992, I took to it immediately and certified with Romana Kryzanowska five years later. In the very first lesson, I realized that all of my previous training and experience had prepared me for what would be my life’s calling – teaching and practicing Pilates.As I began teaching Pilates, it was evident how impactful it was for my students as they safely and effectively strengthened their bodies. What I didn’t expect was the reaction of many students. They said a lesson with me was like having a spiritual experience. From my perspective, every class is an exchange of energy from teacher/mentor to student/seeker. I believe that when a teacher and her students listen and work with each other, we experience beautiful music of the body.
My approach to teaching incorporates skills I’ve learned along the way: Gymnastics — my students have confidence in my abilities to assist and cue them in their movements. Dance — the smallest of misalignments noticed and corrected. Yoga — clear, pertinent and meaningful explanations of biomechanics. By having the benefit of instruction utilizing these three combined disciplines, I was born to move, just weeks after my birth, I turned myself over – it was my first gymnastics trick.students are able to deepen their workouts,and with the challenging and sweaty work involved in mastering Pilates, as well as the mindfulness and commitment to every exercise, the possibilities of body and mind improvements are endless and they often decide it will become their life-long practice. It’s a joy for me to be part of this process and witness the development of the inside-outside philosophy my students learn to embrace.
My vision for the future was Joe’s vision: That his method will be accepted and embraced by every public and private school. And perhaps there will come a time when instead of teaching only general sports at school, a special class devoted to the wellness of the whole student will be offered. Can you imagine beginning the school day with a bit of Contrology to allow the students to settle in, calm down, breathe, stretch tight limbs and then be prepared to learn? As Joe said, the entire world one day would practice Contrology and I do see that day approaching.We start early with grade school children and use the Pilates method to foster self-awareness and self-discipline. A strong work ethic develops and carries over into other facets of life. Joe also envisioned his method in all hospitals. Even if there is already an existing orthopedic rehab program, Contrology will enhance it. And it’s not surprising professional athletes and dancers motivated by the need for longevity in their careers have embraced his method, especially when healing from injuries.
When another dancer introduced Darien Gold to the Pilates method in 1992, Darien felt an immediate connection to the work and soon after, began studying with Romana Kryzanowska, a star disciple of Joseph Pilates.
As a professional dancer and dance teacher, the Pilates technique was a natural for Darien. She spent the next few years incorporating Pilates into her dance classes while completing her classical Pilates program then certifying in 1997.
Drawing on her prior gymnastics training, Darien combined her disciplines and began teaching in her Hollywood, CA apartment. As her practice grew, mostly by word of mouth, she moved into a larger space and invested in a Cadillac, additional reformers, chairs and barrels.
Three years later, another move — this time to West Hollywood above the famous TOI Thai restaurant on Sunset Blvd., and named this larger commercial space, Studio Darien.
Darien would go on to produce two award-winning Apps and four DVDs and helped to prepare newer teachers for a career in the Pilates field.
After fourteen years of running and operating Studio Darien, Darien’s “inner compass” told her it was time to expand further and to the dismay of her Los Angeles clientele, moved north to Sonoma County in 2013 and opened this time, a home studio. The peaceful countryside encourages students to experience what Joe Pilates meant when he referred to his work as, “The complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.”
Because of Covid, Darien shifted her in-person classes and workshops to an online class format and has students in the UK, Europe, Asia, US and even the Isle of Man where Joe Pilates was interned during WW1.
The Pandemic has not only given Darien the unique ability to reach students worldwide, but her Podcast “ALL THINGS PILATES” continues to attract listeners with her insightful interviews of people in the Pilates community.
An invitation in 2018 took Darien across the pond to England where she taught classical Pilates to both classical and contemporary Pilates instructors.
The following year, she worked with the officers and fire fighters of the Santa Rosa Police and Fire Departments and her class quickly gained popularity because of the improvements in core strength and mobility the attendees were experiencing.
Longtime teacher Darien Gold is now sharing her deep knowledge of the method with a wider audience via a radio show and podcast. By Anne Marie O’Connor
Five Minutes with DARIEN GOLD (the full interview is below)
HER FAVORITE APPARATUS
It’s a tossup between the Cadillac and the Wunda chair; both appeal to the gymnast in me. The Caddy is the ultimate for stretching and strengthening, while the Wunda chair requires amazing balance and control. But I also love using the Jumpboard on the Reformer—it’s one of the best ways to strengthen the feet!
HARDEST MOVE FOR HER TO MASTER
I’m not sure I’ve mastered any of the repertoire because I’m too much of a perfectionist, so I continue to practice and learn. Horseback on the Reformer was particularly challenging, however, especially trying to remain in a high C curve and creating a lot of “daylight.”
THE MOVE SHE REALLY HATES
Hate is a strong word, but there are a few super-advanced exercises I can’t do on my own. Yet. But Pilates is a lifelong discipline so I still have time.
WHO INSPIRES HER AS A TEACHER
Other teachers who love what they do and are generous with their knowledge inspire me. One of those teachers is Sonje Mayo, whom I watch on Pilatesology. I’m drawn to her cueing, timing and rhythm—it’s a dance thing.
FAVORITE BRAND OF CLOTHING FOR PILATES
I like the feel of Athleta leggings and tops and wear them often. But because I have a Reformer and Chair in my home, sometimes I wake up with an idea and I try it out in my PJs!
HER MOST SATISFYING MOMENT AS A TEACHER
I had a client who was a 19-year old stripper. She was in constant pain due to a severe case of scoliosis which began in her childhood and had only worsened with her job. At the end of her first lesson, she said in a stunned voice, “I’ve had back pain every day of my life, and right now I have no pain.” It was a powerful moment for me and when she left, I couldn’t hold back my tears. It emphasized again how much I believe in this work.
PILATES STYLE: Tell us about your childhood.
DARIEN GOLD: I was born in San Bernardino, CA, then when I was 10, my family moved north to Capitola, which at the time was a very small town outside of Santa Cruz. At age 12, I watched a girl practicing gymnastics. I instinctively knew I could master the sport, so I started taking gymnastics at school. By the time I graduated from Capitola Intermediate a year later, I had won the trophy for Best Girl Athlete. This accolade was followed by two different high school coaches asking me to join their varsity teams—track and field and softball. It was a huge compliment for a 9th grader, but my love was gymnastics. I trained at the Santa Cruz Gymnastics Club for up to four hours a day, came home, ate dinner, went to bed, then back to school the next day until it was time to train again. As a quick and strong gymnast, I competed at a level that could have led to a college gymnastics scholarship, but the universe had other plans. As an adjunct to my gymnastics training, I studied ballet and jazz to help refine my floor exercise routines. But in dance class, I could make mistakes and not be ridiculed. Eventually, my allegiance shifted and when I was 18, I sat my parents down and told them I wanted to study dance in New York City.
PS: So you moved to New York?
DARIEN: Yes, but I soon learned that dance in New York was on a completely different level. It was clear I needed to continue with ballet to work on my technique, so I studied it with Finis Jhung and Liane Plane. Then I discovered the Horton technique and the Alvin Ailey Dance Center, where I studied for a number of years. To support myself throughout the 1980s, I rented studio space and taught dance and even choreographed for an all-male strip group. Meanwhile, I performed with many small modern dance companies. There were lots of rehearsals for performances that didn’t pay much. Then one of my dance teachers, who was choreographing a show in Miami in the late 1980s, asked if I wanted to play a part in it. I said, yes—it was a substantial role and it paid a lot more than what I would have made in New York. Also, I really needed a break from the city that literally never slept. I ended up living in South Beach across from the ocean. It was quite a change from NYC.
PS: How did you end up in Los Angeles?
DARIEN: That Miami gig led to a choreographing opportunity in Los Angeles, and I ended up staying there, dancing with a modern dance company. Later, I worked as a stunt woman in the Robin Williams’ film “What Dreams May Come”.
PS: How did you discover Pilates?
DARIEN: In 1992, a fellow dancer asked if I wanted to be her partner in a semi-private Pilates class. As most people did back then, I asked, “What’s Pilates?” She replied, “Just come with me, you’re going to love it!”
PS: What was your first impression?
DARIEN: Thinking we would have our lesson at a dance studio, I was very surprised to meet her at a Beverly Hills home. We entered through a side door into the kitchen, then into a hallway that led to a large living room with a number of people swinging, balancing and stretching on equipment that was similar to the apparatus at the gymnastics club. It felt like I’d come home. That first experience was life-changing.
PS: Where did you do your teacher training?
DARIEN: I started Romana Kryzanowska’s program in 1994. It was held at Performing Arts Physical Therapy in Los Angeles. It took me over two years to complete because there wasn’t a place to practice and do our hours back then. Finally, Zoe Hagler agreed to let us apprentice at her Pasadena studio. I visited New York to work with Romana a number of times, and in 1997, on one of those visits, I tested out with her.
PS: What was Romana like?
DARIEN:She reminded me of my gymnastics coaches, only nicer. She commanded the room as my coaches did, but never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. She just kept encouraging me to work harder and I did – for her and myself. Romana would return annually to LA to teach the continuing education workshops for her certified teachers. One time in 2007, Romana approached me and quietly said, “You’re doing real Joe now.” Those five words lit me up and gave me the confidence to keep moving forward on my Pilates path.
PS: Do you remember any of her words of wisdom?
DARIEN: Romana stressed safety at all times. I learned practically from the first day that my foot must always be either on the Reformer footbar or anywhere else a student needed my support. Safety truly is the first thing to learn as a Pilates instructor.
PS: When did you first start teaching Pilates?
"Teaching movement is as natural as breathing to me and Pilates was the next level to perfect my overall teaching style and technique."
DARIEN: After I bought my first used Reformer in 1994, I began teaching out of my Hollywood apartment. When I later moved to a larger home in North Hollywood and then to an even larger home in Glendale, I bought more apparatus and acquired more clientele. Actually, I’d been teaching since I was 14 years old (my first student was a 7-year-old budding gymnast whom I taught how to be safe while practicing various tricks). Teaching movement is as natural as breathing to me and Pilates was the next level to perfect my overall teaching style and technique. PS: Why did you decide to open a studio in a commercial space?
DARIEN: As my clientele grew, I knew I needed an even larger space. In 1999, there were few Pilates studios in Hollywood, so I found a place to rent on Sunset Boulevard. The area still had an unsavory element then that I witnessed every Saturday morning. Arriving early before class, I was met by street walkers near my Gardner Street studio door. Occasionally, I’d have to stare down a pimp because his scantily dressed ladies stood near the very door my clients had to walk through. I had a fantasy of saving these prostitutes by teaching them Pilates and then encouraging them to become Pilates professionals instead!
PS: What made you decide to move to Sonoma County?
DARIEN: After 23 years in Los Angeles, spending too much time in my car, I stopped growing professionally and lost interest in city life. Not to mention, at least in the classical Pilates world, there were too many chefs in the kitchen and a lack of camaraderie and mutual support that I longed for. So in 2013, I moved to Petaluma in Sonoma County in Northern California, which was one of my smartest decisions. My spirit felt more peaceful, and my practice opened up in ways not possible in Los Angeles!
PS: Where do you teach now?
DARIEN: A month after arriving in Petaluma, I started teaching at a yoga studio where no one had ever heard of classical Pilates and had no idea how demanding it was. But as a few brave students took my class and felt the results, my class gained many converts from yoga. A year later, I built a studio on my property, took all of my apparatus out of storage and created a very peaceful studio where I’ve been ever since. Currently, I also teach at Internal Fire Pilates in Mill Valley and at Soulstice Mind + Body Spa in Santa Rosa.
PS: How did you start doing your radio show, All Things Pilates?
DARIEN: When I moved to Petaluma, I was the only classically trained instructor in town; other instructors only offered contemporary Pilates. I hoped that one day I’d have the opportunity to educate the public about what is and isn’t Pilates. That opportunity came in 2017 during a local business mixer, when I met John Bertucci, who at the time was the executive director of KPCA Petaluma, a local radio station. But I was also interested in developing my voiceover skills and so inquired about becoming the station’s voice for its PSAs. John instead suggested I develop a radio show about Pilates, which led to a program on which I interview various Pilates experts and health-care practitioners.
PS: What is the focus?
DARIEN: Besides highlighting the various approaches to Pilates, my guests talk about the apparatus, books they’ve written and what it takes to be a studio owner or teacher trainer. Another goal is to showcase lesser-known teachers who are equally qualified and skilled as those featured online or at Pilates conferences.
PS: Where is it broadcast?
DARIEN: All Things Pilates broadcasts from KPCA in Petaluma; you can also listen to it online at kpca.fm and on local Sonoma County radio, 103.3 FM.
PS: Why did you decide to do a podcast?
DARIEN: A friend of mine, Sonia Lopez, the owner of Body Evolutions Fitness, said the world needed to know about me, my show, and that I had such a great voice that I needed to “repurpose” my radio show. At first, I was resistant because it meant another learning curve as I was still trying to develop my interviewing style and writing and audio-editing skills. But Sonia kept chipping away at my resistance and with her nonstop encouragement, I jumped in.
PS: Who are some of your favorite guests so far?
DARIEN: I’ve had many, like Roberta Gratz who spoke about her late husband, Donald, and how early on their friends encouraged him to sell Gratz Industries’ Pilates business because “Pilates would never take off.” Jack Lanham, the owner of Studio Jacks in Seattle, talked about teaching Pilates from the male perspective. Howard Sichel, DC, the founder of Power Pilates, was a fun interview not only because of his chiropractic and Pilates knowledge, but he’s someone I could have a beer with! And I can’t leave out Amanda Altman, Pilates Style’s exercise editor, whose enthusiasm I loved!
PS :Anything interesting you learned that you didn’t know before?
DARIEN: I learned that although Mr. Pilates taught his method to the first-generation teachers, they had their own interpretation and those interpretations were not all the same.
PS: I heard that you’ve been working with the Santa Rosa police and fire departments.
DARIEN: Yes, I had sent a proposal to Jim Jarvis, the wellness director for the Santa Rosa police and fire departments. I outlined the benefits of Pilates for first responders, who endure tremendous mental and physical stress. It led to my teaching a one-hour mat class for police and firefighters, all of whom had back issues. Jim told me everyone felt so much better by participating and some even downloaded my apps!
PS: Tell us about your personal life.
DARIEN: I have one hunter/killer panther looking cat. I love hiking, Pickle Ball, cooking and partner dancing.
By Marjolein van Sonsbeek
When another dancer introduced Darien Gold to the Pilates method in 1992, she felt an immediate connection to the work and soon began studying with Romana Kryzanowska, a Joseph Pilates premier disciple. Certified in 1997, Darien has been teaching classical Pilates ever since. Her deep understanding of the Pilates method developed out of her extensive background in high level gymnastics and her eighteen-year professional dance career.
In the beginning of her teaching career, she bought a used reformer from one her students and began teaching out of her apartment. A later move to a larger home allowed her to purchase more apparatus and teach more students. Eventually, she opened her first commercial space on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, aptly naming it Studio Darien. Fourteen years later she moved to a more tranquil environment, and now teaches in her home studio in Sonoma County. The peaceful countryside insures not only a great workout for the body, but elevates the mind and spirit as well. Darien also teaches her challenging and ever-evolving mat classes in various locations around the area.
Twenty-four years of Pilates dedication has garnered Darien many accolades. Pilates Style Magazine named her Intermediate Mat DVD in 2010 and the Advanced Mat DVD in 2012, in the magazine’s “Top 10 Best DVDs” category. In addition, Darien produced and starred in the very first classical mat Pilates app, Studio Darien Pilates, and two years later, she produced her second app, Studio Darien Advanced Pilates. Now, not only are her newly redesigned apps available for Apple devices in the App store, but also for Android users at Google Play. It is Darien’s hope that her two apps will assist the novice as well as the experienced Pilates practitioner and help keep them on the classical Pilates path.
1. What makes a Pilates teacher, a good teacher?
“Any teacher, Pilates or otherwise, listens to her/his students, for students teach the teacher, even as they are learning what the teacher is teaching them.”
I have learned so much from my students although I doubt they are aware of it. Many times I’ve had a lesson planned, but something happened in the course of that student’s day, someone got hurt, wasn’t feeling well or something was troubling the student. I had to adjust quickly to give an effective lesson, but still stay mindful about the possible issues that could arise. Other times, if I give an exercise which doesn’t really feel right to the students, I aways encourage them to let me know. As a result, sometimes what they come up with is a more effective combination and something I hadn’t even considered.
2. I often hear that in gyms “Pilates” is taught without many of the original exercises such as The Hundred. What do you think about that?
“Romana used to say that bad Pilates was better than no Pilates.”
Initially, I was horrified to hear Romana utter those words, but I’ve come to agree that just moving the whole body is better than not moving it. Interpretations of the Pilates method taught in gyms are often limited in scope, often leaving gym members wanting to learn more. There is a plethora of reading material online, and perhaps a website like mine, may speak to those who want a more comprehensive experience.
3. What tips do you have for new Pilates students?
#1- Be smart about your choice of teacher and studio. Find out about the teacher’s philosophy, education and background. Does he or she still practice? Can the teacher demonstrate the exercises?
#2 - Wear appropriate attire such as yoga pants and a close fitting top. The teacher must see the body, which is difficult if the student is wearing baggy clothes. Also, loose fitting clothing may get caught on the apparatus, and long hair should be tied back.
#3 - Don’t eat before class. Many times clients would come to my studio right after a meal and their insides couldn’t handle engaging their muscles.
#4 - Take a few moments when arriving for your class to clear your mind, and prepare mentally for your lesson. A few deep breaths will help.
#5 - Consider purchasing my basic DVD, The First Seven, where you will see different clients practicing the basic mat exercises. When you step into a new studio, you’ll feel more confident being familiar with the vocabulary, cueing and technique.
Note: For those students already practicing Pilates and are learning the intermediate and advanced mat repertoire, please consider using my 2 apps when you are unable to get to class or are traveling. Both apps are available in the iTunes store and Google Play.
4. What do you tell people when they ask, “What is Pilates?"
“You mean there are people that don’t know about Pilates?”
I used to have a car license plate frame that read, “What’s Pilates?” as I was always asked this question, but that was in the early 90’s. Now, you can hear Pilates referenced on TV - if only Mr. Pilates knew! When a person asks me to explain what Pilates is, I say, “You mean who was Pilates?” and at that point I share a brief history about Mr. Pilates arriving in America ready to impart his brilliant ideas. Surprisingly, many, many people don’t know this method was developed by a real person. I talk about the effectiveness of his mat exercise routines and his apparatus inventions designed to allow the body its full range of movement, as well as correcting imbalances arising from improper body mechanics. Finally, if time permits, I’ll give a 5-10 minute lesson on the spot, as I love giving impromptu lessons.
5. How can you tell if a student is making progress?
“My eyes tell me.”
When I teach a student, I constantly assess his or her physical and mental awareness and acuity. Often, I say little because the student is focused on the exercises and I don’t want impede the flow of the lesson. One of the quickest ways to notice if a student is progressing is by watching how he or she transitions from one exercise to the next, and the amount of energy devoted to each exercise. In the beginning, a student may be tentative and slow, but once the exercises begin to make sense in the body, the student puts, invariably, more of him or herself into each exercise. The student becomes more alert and present. For me, it is always a pleasure to see the changes and transformation!
6. How does Pilates differ from yoga for example?
“Pilates and yoga are very different yet, there is room for both disciplines.”
Joseph Pilates borrowed postures from yoga and included those postures in his program, but as soon as he added a spring-loaded piece of equipment, then it became his work. Unlike yoga which is mainly practiced on a mat, the Pilates method uses specialized equipment. The apparatus is designed to correct imbalances often overlooked deep within the body. Yoga puts a lot of attention on opening the shoulder and hip joints, whereas in the Pilates method, the main focus is on breathing correctly while lengthening and strengthening the spine. Mr. Pilates often said, “You are as young as your spinal column.” It doesn’t matter if the shoulders or hips are tight, as stretching on the Cadillac is a perfect remedy for a tight body as are the Ladder Barrel and the Guillotine. The focus is on stretching from deep within the body, and with the accompanying breath, the body is oxygenated, the muscular system is nourished, and the joints open naturally, without force. People who practice Pilates are always working to find balance between stretch and strength without going outside the body’s frame.
7. Can you tell us about one of your student’s their first lesson?
“A nineteen-year old stripper walked into my studio.”
In the early 2000’s, a young woman came to my studio because she heard from friends that Pilates was good for back problems with which she struggled her entire life. Only nineteen, she had back pain everyday. As we began to work, she shared with me her life as a stripper and how the high heels she had to wear further compromised her back issues. She also told me about her newly DD breast implants which surprised me because when I looked at her spine, as I always do with first time students by having them walk forward and backward for me, I saw that she was plagued with severe scoliosis. “What kind of doctor would put you through that type of surgery with a spine like yours?” I asked, but she had no answer nor comment. Her first class proved to be quite a revelation for her as she followed my instructions quite well and when we finished, I asked for feedback as I always do so I can do a better job the next lesson. She stepped off the Cadillac and stood quietly. Then she turned to me and said, “I’ve been in pain my entire life, and this is the first time I feel no pain.” Well, you can imagine how I flew up to Cloud 9, just knowing that my love of this work and all of my studying and training was paying off!
8. Since your studio was in Hollywood, CA, did anyone famous ever take lessons from you. Would you tell us a story about one of them?
“Kobe Bryant was my client.”
Kobe was referred to me by Barrence Baytos, his neuromuscular therapist. When Kobe began inquiring about Pilates and who he should work with, Barrence told Kobe there was only one person in Los Angeles that he would recommend, and that was me. When Kobe began his studies, there was already an ease between us because of our mutual respect for Barrence. Kobe always came to class with his personal trainer, Joey Carbone, and the three of us got on quite well. I approached lessons with Kobe just as I did with the other athletes I was working with. But Kobe was different. He had a built-in physical understanding about how his body functioned, just as a professional dancer has, and I was able to give him very specific cues, even nuanced ones, which he completely understood. His ability to integrate the work in his body made him a pleasure to work with.
9. What is your main advice to future Pilates instructors?
“Remain a student at heart.”
Stay curious about the body. In the beginning you have to eat Pilates 24-7 because the work is so extensive. But after 5-10 years, you can lighten up on the regular Pilates meals, and just keep Mr. Pilates’ ideas close to your heart. Don’t be afraid to give impromptu lessons. You will excite and inspire your delighted students and potential students, who in turn will energize you and keep you wanting to learn more and give more!
10. How did you get such a strong body?
“Ah, now you’re asking about my early days!“
A few weeks after I was born, my mom says I dug my heels into the bassinet and turned myself over which I guess new-borns aren’t supposed to do. I consider that my first athletic feat! In grade school, I played sports with the boys. In fact, one boy’s baseball team asked me to be their pitcher. By the age of twelve, I had gravitated to competitive gymnastics and excelled on most of the apparatus and, especially, I loved that I could be expressive with the floor routines I choreographed. My best events were the uneven parallel bars, and vaulting with which I was a fast, quick runner and the strength of my upper body allowed me to have high amplitude on my dismounts. During this time, I also practiced horse vaulting, similar to vaulting in the gym, but on a live, moving horse! I competed in high school gymnastics and helped to win many medals for my school, but just as I got ready for college and a possible scholarship, the dance bug bit me, and bit me hard. Off to New York City I went. After eighteen years as a professional dancer, I was introduced to the Pilates method. It entered my heart and my life and all I had done before had primed me to transition to my current status as a Second Generation Pilates instructor. So to answer your question, playing sports, competing in gymnastics and my dance career, helped me develop a strong body, but the Pilates method is what keeps me healthy and strong.
11. Besides your newly dedigned apps, what other projects are you working on?
“All Things Pilates, a radio show for Pilates lovers.”
I’m very excited about my new project - my own monthly radio show. Not only will it be live on the radio, it will stream on the internet, which means many of my international students will be able to tune in as I broadcast live on my Facebook page. They’ll also get the opportunity to call in to my show for the segment, “Ask Darien.” Pilates falls into two main categories: Classical and Contemporary. My show will present both approaches, and also, feature guests who will share their Pilates experiences. In addition, guests from various disciplines will be interviewed such as a pelvic floor specialist, a chiropractor and more…stay tuned!