Recollected and Written By: Risa Sheppard 

The Initial Interest & Meeting Ron Fletcher

People often ask me how long I’ve been teaching and how I got my start in Pilates.

I love the look on their faces when I tell them I was first introduced to Pilates in 1975! “I didn’t know Pilates was even around in those days,” they typically respond while looking at me in astonishment. “What was it like back then?”

I go on to tell the story of Ron Fletcher, my mentor, and how he had studied with Joe Pilates in New York.  Of all the “elders,” he was the only who took his work west and opened his studio on Rodeo Drive in beautiful Beverly Hills, California.

I had just graduated UCLA with a degree in Theatre Arts. Determined to be an actress along with the millions of other young girls, I was intrigued upon reading about this unique approach to exercise. It didn’t hurt to mention it was filled with celebrities and industry people alike!

As an actress, I had studied theatrical movement, and reading that Ron had been a Martha Graham dancer made me more excited to explore.

Needless to say, I took to the work like a duck to water, and within a short period of time, Ron asked if I’d like to work and teach for him! You see, in those days, there was no such thing as “certification.” As a colleague and friend from Ron’s studio said one time, “We learned by simply absorbing.” Being there almost every day taking Ron’s famous floor work series, seeing how he worked on the reformer, and listening to his every word—that was how we learned. We were able to feel it in our bodies first and experience the joy of movement.

What Pilates Was Like Back Then & My Evolution

In those days, one visit was $10.00 and a series of 10 was $100.00. That was simply the price of admission. The client, or student as Ron preferred to say, could stay all day if they wanted.

There were no private appointments. There were no reformer classes. Clients would come in,

hop on a reformer, do the routine which was adhered to the ceiling so they could read it lying down.

We, the teachers, would simply walk the floor and help anyone that seemed to need help. There was never one client to the teacher. We all shared—even Ron! When the reformers got too full, we would bring them all into the other room and give them a mat class.

At the time, I was known as “killer Charissa.” I became known for my tough mat classes (all learned from Ron), and when we needed more space for clients. Ritchie, the office manager, would whisper in my ear, “Go get ‘em!”

It’s fun to think of those days. Never could we have imagined how big the name “Pilates” would become. Of course, we only knew it to be “Body Contrology” as Joe had called his method, and Ron followed suit. (I think that we should still call it that. That really is what Pilates is all about: control of the body.) This is what Joe believed in so much, which is why it had been passed on to Ron, and then to me.

How I Became “Certified”

My colleagues and I became fast friends. (Diane Severino, Michael Podwell, and Carol Monico and I keep in touch to this day—and we are all still teaching!) I, being the youngest, was known as the “kid.” (Ha, imagine that.) At the time, I was in my early 20’s, and they were (*gasp*) approaching the ripe old age of 30. But having an example like Ron was inspirational from day one.

Soon after I had been working there, answering phones, and making appointments, Ron turned to me and instructed me to help client Ben Vereen on the Reformer. Ben was a huge Broadway star as well as a famous singer and dancer. “Moi? You want me to work out Ben Vereen?” Nervous but confident in what I had learned from Ron, I did so (—I guess you could call that my “certification”).

Ben could not have been nicer, and my confidence as an instructor only grew. I later appreciated Ron “throwing me in the water to learn to swim.” To this day, I like to throw students into the water when I know they are ready, even if they don’t think they are. It helps build confidence early on.

The Best Decision I Ever Made

My decision to quit acting all together and focus on my Pilates career came early. As is well known, Ron attracted a wide array of movie stars, directors, and producers. I was always aware that any of them could “discover me” and make me famous. I am so fortunate, I soon discovered that I enjoyed teaching and getting the immediate rewards of seeing a client transform their bodies and attain a happiness that they perhaps had not had before.

Plus, I knew I was darn good at this, and was finally happy I had found my darma. And I still feel this way some 45 years later.

Our West LA Pilates Certification Program Can Be Your Guide to Making Dreams a Reality

We know Risa’s story resonates with so many. So often, we go through this life believing that we can’t do what we love as a career. But, as Risa and her colleagues have shown us, this could not be further from the truth. If you’re ready to take your dream into your own hands to make them a reality, our West LA Pilates studio is here to support! Our Westwood Pilates teacher training program is designed to give you the confidence and skills that Ron Fletcher once passed on to Risa! Don’t wait a second longer! Jumpstart your career and do what you love! After all, you only live once.