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How L.A. Gave Pilates a “Bit of a Face Lift”

Pilates is having a major moment in the zeitgeist — just a handful of years after being counted out by a New York Magazine article that labeled it the “Pilatespocalypse”; proving the age-old adage that everything old becomes new again — with the right branding, of course.

Forma Pilates founder Liana Levi — who recently trained Sofia Boutella for director Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon — says it’s not our imagination that the practically ancient exercise is suddenly everywhere. “A new Pilates studio pops up on my Instagram, like, every day,” says the L.A.-based trainer who works with “It” girls like Hailey Bieber, Kaia Gerber and Kendall Jenner. “There was a big surge in the Pilates world during COVID.” She credits the power of social media with leading to a renewed interest in the mind-body practice created by founder Joseph Pilates in 1926 as a response to World War I injuries.

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“It was developed to heal people … it was not this big fun hot-girl workout,” explains Pilates by Amanda founder Amanda Kassar, whose clients have included Sofia Richie and the Stallone family.

But when Bieber, Richie and Bella Hadid began posting their Pilates selfies in the past few years, reverberation was inevitable. A recent Lifespan Fitness survey revealed 238,400 monthly TikTok searches for the term “Reformer Pilates,” with 27.4 million views on related videos.

“I do want to take some responsibility that I marketed Pilates as something that is a cool, young workout,” Levi says of her invite-only, celebrity-driven business. “Pilates is a classical workout that’s been around for so long, but I tweaked it and gave it a little bit of a facelift — so it could have a spotlight, too, among the younger generation.”

Liana Levi - Forma Pilates - Instructor
Forma Pilates’ Liana Levi working with clients.

With five referral-only locations in Los Angeles and New York, Levi’s Forma Pilates is among the fastest-growing boutique studios — and it started as a fluke. “I decided to buy a reformer [a bed-like apparatus that uses ropes and pulleys, offering an array of exercises that can isolate muscles] and by accident created a business,” Levi says, explaining that she’d been taking Pilates for years and had gotten certified for fun; but when the pandemic hit, she left her job working with jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche to focus on fitness in 2020.

“I bought a reformer for my home,” Levi says. “I sent a photo of it to some of my girlfriends. Everyone was like, ‘We have to come.’ They’d come into the studio and would look at me, like, ‘You’re the professional. Teach us. Let’s do a mini class.’ I was like, ‘I’m flattered. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But let’s go for it.’ I started by training friends for fun.”

Levi’s studio also became recognizable thanks to her Forma Pilates’ branded selfie mirror, which she explains came from an organic place. “I love looking at myself when I’m working out,” says Levi. “It allows me to make sure that I’m doing things correctly and I also like to admire myself. Those are my moments of self-love and self-worth. … But the selfie mirror became a big thing because every celebrity under the sun has been photographed in that mirror.” (One of her locations is a spot at her mom’s Holmby Hills home. “It’s still everyone’s favorite studio because it has a dreamy landscape out of the window,” says Levi.)

Adds Boutella of working with Levi, “I love working on my body with Liana because she pushes me in the ways that I need. I’ve been a dancer my whole life and I need a strong person to push me upwards. She also boosts my motivation in ways that works for me and she also brings a lot of joy and spark to the room which makes her space a fun environment.”

Amanda Kassar
Pilates by Amanda founder Amanda Kassar

Kassar also saw an uptick during COVID. “I started zooming with clients who had moved out of L.A. and bought a reformer for their house,” she says.

She began videoing herself for clients to maintain their routines during the stay-at-home mandate. “Rita Ora was doing my videos, posting herself from London. I was like, ‘What is happening?’ I ended up developing an app called The Core Club Pilates in 2021 and started filming like a maniac,” she recalls.

Kassar launched her business in 2017, doing house calls for Vanna White and other tastemakers. “I would start at the top of Benedict Canyon and would work my way down the hill,” says Kassar, who has since opened a home studio with six reformers. One time, she recalls, “I went and got a blowout at 5 am because I was so nervous when Kelly Rowland came to my studio.” Kassar also has started a meal-plan delivery company called Organic Oren; her Core Club Pilates app now features nearly 200 Pilates mat class videos; and she hosts intimate retreats at locations like Susurros del Corazón in Mexico.

A workout class taught by Pilates by Amanda founder Amanda Kassar.
A workout class taught by Pilates by Amanda founder Amanda Kassar.

Whitney Port, who trains with Kassar, says she believes that Pilates is having a moment because “it’s a nurturing workout for women. We’re looking for that hour where we’re really taking care of our bodies as opposed to putting stress on it. The mentality behind Pilates is in line with what millennial women are looking for at the moment.”

Megan Roup is another in-demand L.A. favorite, but she doesn’t strictly adhere to Pilates’ core principles. “Pilates has evolved,” says The Sculpt Society founder, who counts Miranda Kerr and Karlie Kloss among her method’s devotees. “What I’m doing — low-impact sculpt — is the evolution of Pilates. If you’re a traditional Pilates instructor, you’re probably cringing at the evolution, right? Because if you love your traditional Pilates class with Joseph Pilates’ principles, you wouldn’t deter from that. But I do think there’s that natural evolution of it. I’m putting it to music. It’s beat-based and faster-paced.”

The Sculpt Society founder Megan Roup.
The Sculpt Society founder Megan Roup.

Roup has Chanel’s seal of approval. The fashion house tapped her as the “movement director” for their fitness-inspired Cruise 2023/24 show, held last year at Paramount Studios. It included hypnotic Jane Fonda workout-esque visuals that appeared on the runway. One Chanel model recognized Roup from TikTok: “This girl walks in and goes, ‘I know who you are. I do your workout every single day,'” says Roup.

Not everyone appreciates Pilates’ “evolution.” Mainstay instructor-to-the-stars Nonna Gleyzer has been teaching Pilates at her private Sunset Boulevard studio since before many of her contemporaries were in college. “It actually makes me upset that people take Pilates classes that have nothing to do with Pilates, so they get injured,” says the Body by Nonna founder, whose clients have included Natalie Portman, Gisele Bündchen and Kelly Rowland. While she doesn’t call out any competitors specifically, Gleyzer adds: “People take Pilates classes and reformer classes to get in shape, but that person didn’t do Pilates. It’s a workout class with a Pilates apparatus. But Pilates is an art, a method, a technique, and it needs to be done correctly in order to better the body. The trainer needs to know a lot about injuries and know for each kind of individual, what kind of exercise. You want to make sure you’re using the right group of muscles.”

Instructor Nonna Gleyzer
Body by Nonna founder Nonna Gleyzer

Gleyzer’s expertise — which includes Chinese acupressure, lymphatic drainge massage, craniosacral therapy and body realignment — goes far beyond one’s standard Pilates instruction. “I always tell everybody, ‘I’m not a trainer,’ ” says the former Ukrainian rhythmic gymnast who moved to Los Angeles and has been coaching since 1996. “When women give birth, I know how to manually put organs back to normal. The New York Times called me a ‘Pilates witch.’ People have to get MRIs. [But] with me, you don’t. I just look at your body.”

Anatasia Bergman, an L.A.-based model and dancer who has graced international covers of Harper’s Bazaar, began working with Gleyzer in May 2023 after a neck injury. “I read about her in a magazine,” Bergman explains. “As a dancer, I do crazy shit to my body. When I came to Nonna, she opened a whole new world for me. I like that she’s not just a fitness instructor. She has an understanding of how the body aligns. She’s not just about your form and shape. You will have a great shape if you train with her, but she focuses on your inner health, all of your joints, if your spine is in the right place. When I walk out the door, I feel like my posture is better. I feel lighter.”

Among this group of in-demand teachers, instruction can cost anywhere between $250 for a one-hour private Zoom to $300 to $750 per private IRL session; semi-private group classes can cost about $100 over Zoom and as much as $300 in person.

Those looking for more accessibly priced options might turn to juggernauts like solidcore’s Pilates-inspired classes or Club Pilates, the latter of which is the largest studio in the U.S. With more than 900 locations, Club Pilates has several studios throughout California. Single classes range from $25 to $49. Club Pilates memberships, with a price range of around $79 to $359 per month, are also available. Other popular Pilates studios around town include Speir (with locations in Venice and West Hollywood), Humankind (off Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills), L.A. Springs (in Echo Park), and Wundabar (with six locations in Southern California).

While Gleyzer maintains that Pilates is not intended for large groups, she says the practice has long had mass appeal and isn’t going anywhere. “Pilates is not a trend,” she says. “It’s a lifestyle.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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