Pilates Instructor Jennifer Nelsen Combines Traditional, Contemporary Practices

Jennifer Nelson is an Experienced Pilates Instructor at Turner Community Center. Nelson is qualified to teach at the advanced level on all Pilates Apparatus. From left, Jennifer Nelson works with Amy Schettine in a private Pilates session on Saturday, June 22, 2019 at Turner Community Center. MHARI SHAW/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

There are many sounds constantly echoing through the halls of the Turner Community Center during the course of a day. Basketballs ricochet off the hardwood; water from the pool ebbs and flows in small waves against the wall; and metal clashes with metal as weights are used and returned.

Upstairs and down the hall however, a quieter, more focused class is taking place.

It is a Pilates class, instructed by Jennifer Nelsen, a traditionally trained, New York native who is teaching all ages how to take care of their bodies in a different and healthy way.

Nelsen got her start in Pilates instruction more than 10 years ago, and has used her mixed knowledge of both classical and contemporary training to bring a new approach to Pilates to Chautauqua.

“What it comes down to is just a different way to compartmentalize the exercises,” Nelsen said. “We’re just getting people to move.”

Nelsen’s introduction to Pilates was almost entirely coincidental. When she was living in Northern California, she would pass a studio every day on her way to work. Looking for a new hobby, she stopped in to take a class and loved it.

As the sessions grew more frequent, her affection for the workout grew as well. Even when she had an injury that would have taken her out of her routine in a normal gym, Pilates offered an alternative for her to keep exercising.

“I sprained my ankle really badly,” Nelsen said. “I was in a boot; I was on crutches. I could barely walk. And so, I couldn’t do any of this stuff anymore. So, I took a mat class. Mat uses your body weight as resistance, and you don’t have springs for assistance. So, it’s really hard. And I found I could do it without reinjuring my ankle. And that’s when I decided that (Pilates) was something that I wanted to pursue full-time. So, I just dove head first, took some classes and then a training program came along.”

She went on to train under Carol Appel, who learned from a disciple of Joseph Pilates in New York City.

  • Jennifer Nelson coaches Amy Schettine during a private session on Saturday, June 22, 2019 at Turner Community Center. MHARI SHAW/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Since her initial training, Nelsen has taught groups ranging from Olympic hopefuls to breast cancer survivors. She has taught public and private classes in California, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Chautauqua.

When it comes to teaching those recovering from breast cancer, Nelsen said it can be complicated to work around pain and limited movement, which is where Pilates can be useful. 

Nelsen started teaching at Chautauqua in 2015. After moving back from California with her husband, she worked in Erie for three years. The Institution, in the meantime, acquired Pilates equipment and started its own courses. One client, however, had a specific schedule that couldn’t be accommodated by the teacher. Chautauqua contracted Nelsen to work with the client every day for three weeks, and she has been working here ever since.

She is constantly busy, since her returning clients tell friends about the program, leading Nelsen to work 11- to 12-hour days to fit everyone in.

Nelsen even said sometimes she is booked up to a year in advance for classes — but she loves every second of it.

Every new client and new season presents new opportunities for her to teach not only returnees, but new students as well. Nelsen said working at Chautauqua is amazing because of the diversity of people throughout the Institution.

“I’ve had nothing but happy clients who return year after year,” Nelsen said. “And me, I’m lucky enough to do something that I love and get to meet people from all over the country, sometimes all over the world. Clients from England (and) Australia. Chautauqua has a really broad world base that I’m fortunate to be able to do this and meet them. I feel like I have the cream of the crop.”

Nelsen loves sharing Pilates with her students, and has taught people as young as 10 and as old as 87. She hopes for a good season, and as the time goes by, she hopes to expand the program even further to teach Pilates to as many people as possible.

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The author Evan Dean

Evan Dean is originally from West Orange, New Jersey, but now spends most of his time in St. Petersburg, Florida, studying at Eckerd College. Currently majoring in communications with a minor in journalism, he covers recreation for the Daily. An avid canoe voyager and Eagle Scout, Evan loves spending time outdoors and is ready for his first summer at Chautauqua.