An Interview with Risa Sheppard…

Risa Sheppard

By Laurette Ryan

Recently, I had the great pleasure of meeting 2nd generation teacher Risa Sheppard. A Pilates teacher with amazing energy and love for the integrity of the work. So Pilates friends – if you haven’t had the same pleasure -yet…. here she is!

LR :  How did you discover Pilates, Risa?

Risa: It was 1975. I had just graduated from UCLA in theatre arts, and was an “ingénue” actress here in Los Angeles.  I had studied dance and  drama, but was not a professional dancer.  But I loved to move. I was cast in several plays that required me to “move” well. I heard of this thing called “Body Contrology,” which Ron Fletcher had brought out from New York. He had studied under a man named Joe Pilates. Ron’s studio was in Beverly Hills, above the Aidea Grey salon. Lots of celebrities, such as Ali McGraw and Katharine Ross, were coming in to get in shape. I was intrigued. I tried it, and I loved it. I felt like a dancer, without being a dancer. I still wanted to be an actress, but I fell in love with the work, and within a short time I was asked by Ron to teach. I was just thrown into the water, so to speak. I started to be more successful as a teacher than as an actress. Although I had acted in soap operas, I started to perform on television even more, as a “fitness expert.” I had found my niche.

LR: You’ve been in the field a long time, what do you think of Pilates surging popularity? What are the benefits and drawbacks?

Risa: The surging popularity of Pilates has been good for my business, but I have also seen its drawbacks. The benefits are that people have become very aware of Pilates and are looking for ways to do it. For a long time in my early career, no one had ever heard of Pilates, mostly thinking that aerobics and Jane Fonda were the only things synonymous with fitness. Now, at least in Los Angeles, there is a Pilates studio on every corner. People don’t know that they don’t know. Pilates, or as I still prefer, “Body Contrology,” is “about movement, it is not just an exercise regimen.” But some studios are indeed making it just an exercise program, making it like “aerobics” of the 1980s. It has become about making people “sweat” instead of making people move well. “Control of the body” has lost it’s meaning in today’s fast-paced society. We must maintain the control or else we just repeat the mistakes of the past. Our bodies become injured if they are not trained properly, and it can give Pilates a bad name.

LR : Do you have a favorite exercise?

Risa: I love all the movements because they require grace and agility with strength. I don’t really have a favorite. However I always like to include the spine stretch each time I work on the reformer, because it involves most the muscle groups, it stretches the back, and it requires a great deal of control and concentration. I like to say, “You are as young as your spine is flexible.”

LR: You have an interesting approach with your bar, how and why did you come up with that?

Risa: I always liked to open the shoulder girdle, because it improves posture and gives us the opportunity to move our bodies in a three dimensional sequence. I also used the bar, or pole, to help stretch the client and give them the feeling of using a tool that keeps them in proper alignment. About 6 years ago, along with two of my longest-standing teachers, Ann and Jeff Grimaldo, we decided to come up with a mat routine, based on my mat work that I have been doing for all these years. Ann and Jeff are modern dancers, so we incorporated some dance movements in with the classic Pilates and the Sheppard Method floor work. I had a serious surgery about 5 years ago, so we abandoned the work for a while, but recently resurrected the syllabus and began teaching it again.

LR:   What advice would you give to new Pilates teachers?

Risa: Don’t think you know it all. I used to think I knew it all, and have discovered as I matured that I knew less and less, and enjoy learning more and more. Be patient, and don’t call yourself a “master” until you’ve been teaching at least 10 or more years. Learn your craft. Most of all, remember it is about the client, not about you. Don’t try to give them your agenda; it’s about them and their needs.

LR: What has been the impact of Pilates in your life?

Risa: Wow! First of all, it has provided me with a good standard of living for 35 years. Secondly, it has kept me healthy and fit. But most of all, it has allowed me to be of service to others. It is so rewarding to have a client feel better and happier because of your treatment. I’m so grateful to have found this discipline at an early age, and I feel very fortunate to be able to make a living at what I love doing.

You can find out more about Risa Sheppard at:

I’m packing my bags for CA and the PMA Annual Conference, will report back soon!

Laurette Ryan Owner
Balancepoint Pilates


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2 Responses so far.

  1. very interesting interview

  2. Gamma Labs says:

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