Where Are They Now?
From passionate dancer to passionate Pilates teacher
How Sook Fun Chen, Body Harmonics Certified Teacher Trainer and Education Partner, fuels her passion for teaching
In this, the third article in our Where are they now? series on Shoptalk, we learn more about how Sook Fun Chen positively affects the lives of others through her Pilates studio and school, Movement Matters, in Bali, Indonesia.
“It all comes down to passion. You need to be passionate with movement, you have to be passionate in helping people.”
—Sook Fun Chen
Out of the dance world and into Pilates
The dance community arguably “discovered” the work of the Joseph Pilates at his New York City studio back around the 1960s before it ballooned in popularity in the early 2000s. The method of exercise devised by Joe and his wife Clara Pilates became popular among dancers for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, its focus on developing core strength, correcting muscular imbalances, and preventing (or rehabbing) injury. As a result, many Pilates teachers hail from the dance world to this day.
The story of former professional dancer, Sook Fun Chen, has a similar origin, except that in her case, she “discovered” Pilates miles and miles away from New York City. Singapore to be exact.
“… I danced for about 20 years [in Malaysia, Singapore and China] … I started teaching ballet when I was 17 … and retired when I was 33. I started teaching Pilates 22 years ago, and I’ve been teaching ever since,” says Sook, 47, who moved to Bali, Indonesia in 2012 to open Movement Matters Studio.
Committing to “the work”
Sook’s journey to opening the first fully equipped Pilates and movement studio on the “Island of the Gods” and ultimately becoming a teacher trainer and Education Partner for Toronto-based Body Harmonics is long, winding and spans several countries. When it comes to teaching Pilates and movement, she says, “You’re either all in or out. You can’t be half in.” While this is advice she offers readily to her studio staff and teacher training students, it’s a philosophy she’s obviously put into practice throughout her long and successful career.
Sook first trained with her Pilates mentor Ms. Shamini in 2000 in Singapore where she earned a certification with Pilates International Training Center, Australia. After that she went on to certify with STOTT Pilates (Toronto) before becoming a Balanced Body (California) master instructor and finally completing dozens of Body Harmonics Continuing Education and Train the Trainer courses to become a Body Harmonics (Toronto) teacher trainer.
And these are just her Pilates credentials. Sook is also a bodywork practitioner trained in Rolfing Structural Integration and the Gyrotronic Method. So, to say that Sook eats, breathes and sleeps Pilates, movement and wellbeing is almost an understatement.
“I really find joy in teaching people,” says Sook. “Now, I know I’m not being very humble but I think what we [teachers] do here … helps people in living a better life … One of the factors that keeps me going [is that] if I don’t do this, who else is going to help my clients? It’s just a question I ask myself.”
Finding and maintaining balance
This level of commitment and drive might have you wondering: “How does she find time for everything?” For Sook the answer seems to lie in her ability to be present and intentional—skills that no doubt come from experience and practise. She’s intentional about being in the moment with her clients, intentional about “leading by example” and inspiring her team to be “all in,” intentional about spending time with her 14-year-old son and making regular trips to the beach “to decompress,” and even intentional when it comes to her hobby (yes, believe it or not, she has time for doll-making!).
In explaining how she applies this same intentionality to teaching clients, she says: “I think you have to be present with the body in front of you. It’s not easy to do because we [teachers] get tired, but when you stay present with the body, and if something doesn’t work with the body at that moment, you have to think about something else.” In other words, she says, it’s about staying present in order to be able to be creative and make a meaningful difference.
Even so, after checking out her long list of credentials and learning more about the disciplined team of instructors she’s developed and the extensive Body Harmonics Education schedule she keeps, I have to wonder if maybe she’s managed to find more hours in the day than the rest of us. Like maybe she’s turned Bali’s time zone (12 hours ahead of EST) into a competitive advantage?
Turns out she kind of has. “I started with doing almost all of the Continuing Education courses with Deena [Osborne] on Skype. We were Skyping almost every weekend … for about three years … at 12 midnight, or 11pm. And by the way, she [Deena] was really fantastic,” offers Sook.
Passion for Pilates, mentorship and sharing
All kidding aside, when asked what kind of advice she might give to others, the fuel that drives pretty much everything Sook undertakes becomes pretty clear. “Passion,” she says. “It all comes down to passion. You need to be passionate with movement, you have to be passionate in helping people. Because that’s what drives you to the studio every single day. I always tell people that the day you find that you have to drag yourself out of bed to work and to see clients, you may have to rethink if this is for you.”
But passion can be hard to sustain for decades, which leads me to wonder how Sook has managed to stay inspired and passionate during her long career. According to her it’s because she’s continued to learn, to seek out great mentors, and to share her knowledge and skills with others.
“ Margot [McKinnon] is my greatest inspiration,” says Sook. “She’s probably the best mentor that I’ve ever had. And probably the best teacher that I’ve seen out there. And because of her I’m inspired to help students. So I see her as my role model. I look at how she treats her students. How she talks to me and how she talks to everybody. And I always keep that in my head, my mind when I’m training people. So she really is my biggest inspiration
Watch the full interview with Sook here.
Learn more about teacher training with Sook here.
Check out Movement Matters in Bali here.
Thinking about becoming a Pilates & Movement teacher? Take Sook’s self-assessment first!
A Pilates teacher training program is right for me if…
- I am committed to becoming a confident and competent teacher
- I am committed to learning movement
- I want to use Pilates and movement to help myself and others move better and achieve long-term benefits
- I have benefited from practising Pilates and want to help others do the same
- I am very interested in helping others
- I care for others’ well being
- I am ready to embark on a learning journey that will open up my world to vast knowledge in movement coaching
- I’m serious about becoming a teacher and willing to invest 100% of my focus and energy into the learning process
- I understand that if I do the above, I will be financially rewarded as a teacher
Learn more about becoming a Body Harmonics Certified Pilates & Movement Teacher here.