From ballerina to movement maker: A conversation with Ellen Fielding

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"I wanted to go into theatre when I was younger, but this has become my opportunity to have my own stage."

So, who are you? I mean… well, right now, my life is kind of split into three parts. I don’t want to say I have three careers, but I just can’t pick one thing to do. I spend a third of my time teaching movement classes (which I love). I’m an illustrator, and I work as a crisis responder on a suicide prevention line. Art, movement, mental health - that’s the very bare bones of who I am.

 

Do you remember when you first fell in love with movement? There really wasn’t a time in my life where I wasn’t doing some sort of physical activity. I grew up dancing, playing sports, and doing gymnastics. I have a lot of physical energy to get rid of, so it’s always been an essential outlet for my mental health.

When I was young, I started dancing, which introduced me to rhythm, so now I use a lot of music-driven stuff in my classes. We always move to the music.

 

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But I guess it all really stems back to when I graduated from university. I started working at a pilates studio. It reintroduced me to learning about my body. It’s super anatomy-based, and it basically sparked me to want to teach.

 

How does everything you do intertwine and make you, you? It’s really all about interacting with people. I love connecting with people, especially voice to voice. Even now, when everything is virtual, we’re not in the same physical space, but we’re still co-creating and sharing space.

 

Where does art come in? Oh man, the art stuff … I don’t really know. I literally just can’t give it up. When I started studying more about anatomy and bodies, how they work, I changed. I used to only draw buildings, but now I draw bodies and the inner workings of how our bodies work. It really influences my classes, too, because we’re basically walking textbooks.

 

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We didn’t learn anatomy in school growing up. We had random health classes, but nobody explained how our metabolism or nervous system works or the difference between muscle and fat. Being a movement teacher, people are always asking me about things like body composition, and I want to know enough about what people are asking. I love learning about it and then my learnings are reflected in my art and my classes.

 

The shift from a movement student to teacher? I started, then started doing it more than doing it every day. It just became my practice. I’m an extrovert - I love talking in a full room, so it was natural. I wanted to go into theatre when I was younger, but this has become my opportunity to have my own stage. I use my physical energy to bring out people’s life, shift the mood, and there’s really just so much opportunity for creation. It’s a real creative endeavour to put together a class. I love choreographing things, and I really just like to talk, so it all just made a lot of sense.

 

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There’s kind of a stigma around pilates. How do you really create a welcoming environment? Pilates started being very elitist. It’s a very thin, white, former dancer kind of thing. Like, look up pilates on Instagram. You’ll find a bunch of people doing things that are literally physically impossible to most. But that’s so not it. It’s just not the point.

I like to make it as non-intimidating as possible. Everything is put in terms that make sense to people. Pilates is so technical, and it can be off-putting to go in as a beginner and hear all these terms. Like “What is a pelvic floor? I don’t know.” So, I introduce it as something that you can use every day. Like, the pelvic floor is involved in breathing. And this is why breathing is important...

 

Why is movement so beneficial? I always use my parents as an example. They recently started doing it, and it helps them stand better. It prevents so many things that happen when we get older that we think aren’t preventable.

I realized how beneficial the practice really was when I was introduced to the pre and postnatal movement. So, understanding what to do if someone comes into a class when they’re pregnant or after they have a baby. Really, just learning how to accommodate our bodies during the entire process. It’s all just such practical knowledge, but my friends who are mothers have to seek out this kind of specialized knowledge, and it tends to be really expensive. I feel like it should be accessible to more people and simplified. That way, even people who aren’t planning to have children can just understand how the abdomen works, your breathing, your nervous system.

 

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Has virtual teaching been challenging for you?

It’s difficult, but because of this year’s nature, it’s also been a really cool opportunity to connect with people in new ways. A lot of people didn’t do online classes before, but now it’s so convenient. We can all just get out of bed and open our laptops and do something we love. It’s really nice to just have my Zoom room. It’s my studio. There’s only one thing to keep track of, one system to learn, one list of people. It’s almost easier to connect. It’s so much more streamlined.

 

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Do you feel like you have more freedom now that you’re not attached to a studio?

I have so much more freedom now to experiment with classes and get the proper feedback I need. Rather than before, where a studio owner would eavesdrop and then pick apart my practice. I just feel like it’s all very honest and direct right now. I get feedback directly from the people I’m connecting with.

 

Are you forming real connections, even virtually?

I’m literally inviting people into my space. It’s weird. I’ve never broadcasted anything from my home before. It’s nice, though - I think people have appreciated the familiarity of seeing people’s homes. It felt like a giant sleepover at the beginning. We’re all in our spaces, and you can really take the movement with you. You can move in any room you want to. You just do your own practice and explore on your own, together.

 

What does wellness mean to you?

Your right to exist. Your right to live how you want to. Wellness doesn’t look the same for everybody. There’s a narrow idea of these crunchy granola type people who eat vegan diets and get up at 7am every morning. And that’s great… if that’s your jam - cool. But, that’s not really what wellness is to everybody. I think it’s turning into you. Figuring out yourself - observing what’s working and what needs to change. It’s a collection of tools to make you feel well and get you to the next day.

 

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What inspires you? I take so many different classes and experiment with different types of movement. Every modality and every technique has its own version of a squat, for example. It’s all about building it into your class in a unique way. I love seeing how people’s brains interpret things in different ways. It really doesn’t get boring. There’s always something to learn.

 

Go-to song?

Oh my gosh. I have so many. Making playlists is one of my very favorite things. Hmmm, I’d say anything by Prince. When Doves Cry is my go-to for anything. If there’s a gap to fill... It’s just like, ok, When Doves Cry.

 

How’s being an entrepreneur treating you? It’s hard because of all the logistical things that you have to take care of. But it’s really lovely to feel like it’s just me. It’s been nice to have something to call my own and have people respond to it positively. There are so many other fitness instructors who are going solo right now too. So we’re all islands, but we’re all islands in the same little bunch. We’re all independent, but together. It’s nice to have people who know what it’s like. The freedom has been tremendous, though. I love making my own schedule and just doing me.

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