Back in the early 80s, Pilates was largely unknown in London; that was until former two former dancers Dreas Reyneke and Alan Herdman brought the trend to life. Now 80, Dreas continues to improve the posture of Notting Hill residents on a daily basis with his Pilates sessions at his Body Conditioning Studio on Ladbroke Road
I must have walked past it once a week for 30 years, but at last I have a reason to press the bell of Body Conditioning Studio, a small Pilates centre located two floors above a Ladbroke Grove hairdresser: I am here to meet Dreas Reyneke.
Dreas is a master Pilates instructor, an amazingly energetic and nimble 80-year-old who has spent half his life – since 1973 – at this location, although his roots are far from local. ‘I was born and raised in Johannesburg,’ he tells me. ‘I started as a dancer at the age of 11, before leaving university and coming to England. I danced for 12 years at the Ballet Rambert (now known as the Rambert) before spending six years as a classical dancer, and another six years as a contemporary dancer.’
Dancing may have been the impetus for Dreas’s London move, but it was his meeting with Alan Herdman that kickstarted his career. Alan set up London’s first Pilates studio on Homer Row, Marylebone in 1970, having trained in the practice in New York. Dreas started working alongside him, specialising in training dancers.
At the beginning of the 1980s, before the whole Pilates revolution began, Alan and Dreas were its pioneers. And as Pilates’ audience grew, spurred on by Madonna and other celebrities who championed it, so did Dreas’s reputation, bringing him his own band of celebrity devotees. Among them were the French actor Christopher Lambert, who came to Dreas in preparation for his role as Tarzan in the film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, followed by Tilda Swinton for her part in the 1992 film Orlando.
Today, if you google Dreas’s name, one of the top hits is a Telegraph interview with Martin Amis, raving about the benefits of his Pilates sessions at the Body Conditioning Studio. According to the London Fields author, certain moves are excellent for the poor posture worn by desk-bound writers.
Dreas’s popularity – for 35 years he’s had a loyal following – may be explained by his focused approach to teaching. He allows only four or five people in at a time to his apparatus studio in contrast to the diluted attention one is paid from a mat-based Pilates class. These clients see great benefits as a result, he says as ‘using apparatus is easier than mats to work on specific parts, and to integrate all the parts of the body’.
Dreas adds that modern living has taken its toll on our bodies. ‘My clients’ needs change with time for as they grow older and are affected by their work and lifestyle. Pilates takes care of all their phases.’ He is speaking personally having come through a knee operation. ‘Modern day afflictions are due to people’s poor posture from technology and laptops. The old-fashioned Victorian desks have gone and people sit at tables – the upper back goes and then the lower back. The alignment of one’s joints from the feet up against gravity need to be at ease’. Apparently car seats should be adjusted and two pillows at night is bad for one’s posture.
His studio is filled with apparatus used to improve posture and core strength. The Wonda Chair is one of his favourites. ‘It’s great for posture and for the waist’, he says. His two Canadian-made reformers work the legs and the spine, giving a complete workout from top to bottom, while the Cadillac is for stretching and hanging. And, it doesn’t end there. The Swedish-made Body Ess is an economical contraption and is very versatile, while the Kettler machine (pictured) inverts the body. It’s better than just hanging by one’s feet as it supports the back and the body feels very secure, although the blood does rush to the face. Dreas shows me how it’s done with his favourite habit of reading the paper upside down.
Also based at the studio are two other teachers and a therapy room where Craniosacral therapy for mothers and babies is taught by Nicole Ragueneau. In addition to teaching, Dreas has become a known authority on Pilates, penning two books on the subject: Ultimate Pilates: Achieve the perfect body shape and In-Flight Fitness for travellers. He has also produced DVDs for dancers called Dynamic 5th: Pilates & Preparation for Ballet Students and Turning Out Dancers: Advanced Pilates.
When he’s not working, Dreas’s favourite local haunts include the likes of Clarke’s restaurant, the recently launched Print Room theatre and the Gate Cinema.Judging by Dreas’s playful manner, however, he can seemingly relax at any time. ‘One should not lose one’s sense of humour at 80,’ he says, before cheerfully posing for a photo on the Kettler, while reading a copy of The Hill resident.
Having arrived in a stressed state of mind, and been seduced by the positive aura of the two floors, I can see why he’s kept his loyal following all these years.
The Body Conditioning Studio, 3A Ladbroke Road W11 3PA