If you ever take a class with Pilates expert Andrea Dusel-Foil, you’ll repeatedly hear her say, “It’s gonna be fun!’…most likely the second before you start an ab-scorching series. And while the burn may demand to be front of mind, Dusel-Foil’s cheerful, knowledgeable and inviting approach will also ensure your time is fun indeed (and challenging and effective, too!).
Originally from Casper, WY, the calm, detailed teacher is also a professional dancer, having performed with MCG Dance, Kinetic Works and Ballet Theatre of Maryland, among many others. A life-long ballet-lover, Dusel-Foil first tried Pilates when she injured her ankle. When she returned to the studio, she found the cross-training had bolstered her dancing so much that she knew Pilates (and teaching it) would be a part of her life from that point forward. Read on to hear more about how she has integrated it into her own life, how she’s helping her clients find alignment and strength and her top tips for new Pilates teachers.
SBS: What path led you to your work in Pilates?
Andrea Dusel-Foil: My professional fitness background started with ballet (along with other forms of dance). I went to college at UNC Charlotte for a degree in dance performance while also training with the professional ballet company in the area.
I was propelled into Pilates when I was dealing with an ankle injury and had to take several weeks off from jumping and center work. I would take barre and then go do Pilates for the rest of class. When I was able to return fully, my balance was better and my jumps were stronger. I knew then that I would always want Pilates to be a part of my career.
The leap into becoming a teacher was a very natural and supported event: I was living in Las Vegas at the time and subbing for the Ballet Department at UNLV. The main professor that I was subbing and assisting for also owned several Pilates studios and ran a very comprehensive Pilates certification. She was a wonderful mentor being a dancer herself, and she helped me grow into the instructor I am today (huge shoutout to Dolly Kelepecz-Momot). Once I was done with my certification, she had me assist her Pilates classes to earn my hours and referred me to my first several paid instructing jobs.
It was wonderful to have a job that supported my dance career and love for movement, and I am grateful every day to have had the opportunity and connections for it to happen as smoothly as it did. I have been able to teach for UNLV, performers of Le Reve, several studios, a fitness app, and now for myself as my own brand/business all while still being able to dance.
SBS: What's your unique approach to Pilates?
ADF: I am super nerdy about anatomy, and I don't believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to Pilates. I will always take the time to look at the body in front of me to see alignment, any differences in symmetry of movement, and I take into account any injuries, muscle tightness or difference in joint mobility.
I believe that any exercise can be adjusted to fit the person I am working with and their current needs. My number one goal when I work with anybody is to help them to reach their goals, whatever they may be, in a supportive and non-judgmental manner. I want them to feel stronger, more mobile and more confident in themselves after working with me.
SBS: What are you currently offering services-wise?
ADF: I currently offer private reformer sessions (both in person and online), Pilates Mat zoom sessions (Tuesday nights at 8pm and Saturday afternoons at 1pm), a Virtual Workout Library (offering a variety of workouts ranging from 10 to 45 minutes that can be done on your own time), and a Tailored Virtual Training Program (this includes a monthly consultation, a guide on how to use the workouts in the library to meet your specific goals, a list of any modifications that may be needed for certain exercises in the workouts depending on injuries, and unlimited email support).
SBS: What style of teacher are you?
ADF: I aim to be a very detailed and informative teacher, so I guess the easiest explanation would be a nerdy teacher! I want to be sure that every client understands why I am asking for an exercise to be done a certain way, which muscles need to engage for that to happen and why it is important (since it is usually challenging to do) to keep that form. If someone comes to me with low back pain, and I am having them work on glute strength and hip extension, I want to be sure they understand why and how that will help. I want to empower all of my clients to feel confident in their movement.
SBS: How has your COVID journey been? What were you doing before and how has it shifted, both professionally and personally?
ADF: COVID has been a real kick in the pants, both in life and in work. Before COVID, I was teaching four group classes per week at Lagree NY, as well as 15 to 20 private sessions per week (all in person) in addition to dancing with Dzul Dance and occasionally filming for the NEOU fitness app.
Personally, it really forced me to slow down and evaluate how much I was hustling all the time. Everything shut down in March, and I had no choice but to take time off and let my body and mind rest. Professionally it forced me to find other ways to connect to my clients to help to keep them on track and moving. My virtual library and Tailored Virtual Program were both created in May when I realized how long things were going to need to be distant.
I had always relied on word-of-mouth referrals to bring in clients, but now I have been forced to look at how I advertise with social media ads and email campaigns while I market my new digital offerings. I have never considered marketing or sales my strong suit, so I signed up for a business bootcamp to get me up to speed and hold me accountable to working for my business. (Rebel Boss Bootcamp with Riley Kinworthy really got me into gear.) I also took advantage of the extra down time I had and completed my NASM Certified Nutrition Coach program.
SBS: What are a few key practices for COVID time?
ADF: I think the most important practice would be to find any way to keep your body moving in a safe environment that you feel comfortable with. I think that we really need to acknowledge the anxiety that a lot of people are feeling and know that different situations will feel safe for different people at different times.
For fitness professionals, I think that having offerings that are both digital and safely in person is a smart idea. I know that there are some clients that will want to stay digital for the foreseeable future. I also have clients that cannot stand anything virtual and prefer in-person. The safety protocols for in-person workouts are of the utmost importance, so if you are looking for an in-person workout, just confirm that all cleaning, distancing and capacity guidelines are being followed.
The last thing I would stress about fitness/health practices during this time is to be gentle with ourselves. Our lives have been turned upside down, and stressing about whether we have worked out as much as we ‘should’ is not going to help us. Know that finding any way to move our bodies and center our minds is amazing. Let’s give ourselves some grace.
SBS: What's your own practice? How has it changed?
ADF: My own practice is a variety of Pilates reformer work, yoga flows, strength training and ballet classes. Pre-COVID, I did all of this in person. Now, I do it from home either self-led or using fitness apps and popping into my friends' Zooms. I also try to get out for a long walk as often as I can to get some fresh air. Luckily, I also get to work out every time I film new content for my library, so that is a bonus.
SBS: What advice would you give to new Pilates instructors?
ADF: I think my main tip for new Pilates instructors would be to relax and trust yourself. When you go in to teach a class or a private, remember why you decided to do this for a living. If you are teaching while being driven by your purpose for doing so, you will be an incredible asset to your clients. Also, if someone asks you a question that you don't know the answer to, it is okay to say, ‘That is a great question. I would like to do more research on that before I give you an answer.’ They will appreciate that you are taking the time to be sure you are giving them solid, correct information.
SBS: What about tips for new clients to Pilates?
ADF: My biggest tip for new Pilates clients is to not worry about getting everything perfect right away. There are so many things to think about (exercise coordination, pelvic alignment, transverse abdominal engagement, breathing, etc.) that it can feel overwhelming at first. Stick with it, communicate with your instructor about how you are feeling, ask questions if something feels weird and know that it will start to feel more natural every time you take another session.
SBS: What advice would you give to clients doing strength training or Pilates for the first time via virtual gatherings?
ADF: My biggest tip would be to please leave your camera on, and try to have it placed where the instructor can get a full view of your alignment. I’ve had several virtual clients ask if they can leave their camera off, because they are shy and worry about other class participants seeing them do something wrong. I always tell them: If it is a difference as to whether you will take the class or not, leave the camera off and turn the volume up so that you can really hear what is going on. I would prefer, however, that the camera stays on. The other participants in the class are not watching the other people; they are focused on their workout.
It helps me tremendously to be able to see you to be sure that you are executing the exercise with safe and proper form. I would hate for someone to take a class for the first time with their camera off and then wonder why their neck hurt for the entire abdominal series and never take Pilates again. If I can see alignment, I can make adjustments for more or less intensity and on form to make sure nothing is overcompensating.
SBS: What’s your approach to nutrition?
ADF: My approach to nutrition is to eat plenty of fresh, whole foods on a regular schedule to fuel your day. If the blood sugar can stay at a steady level, the big energy spikes and crashes can be avoided. Eating on a regular schedule also ensures that our metabolism stays steady, our body doesn't think we’re starving and we can resist overeating less optimal foods due to waiting too long in between and getting that starving feeling.
I always look for nutrient dense foods (lots of veggies and fruits), an adequate amount of protein, fiber to help digest that protein and plenty of water to hydrate. I am all for indulging in a treat, as long as other necessary food groups have not been left out in order to ‘save calories’ for the treat. Skipping chicken and veggies at lunch in order to have dessert with dinner will not make the day more healthy. It will just cause the body to miss out on the proteins, vitamins and minerals it needed from lunch. In conclusion: Please feed yourself!
Bonus tip: Shop around the outside of the grocery store for those fresh foods that are full of the nutrients your body needs.
The best, zaniest part of being Andrea: I really, truly believe that fitness is fun. When you work out with me, you will always hear me say, "Don't worry, it's gonna be fun!" And I truly believe that. I enjoy moving my body and helping others to move their bodies. I am definitely the girl smiling throughout the workout, even when all of my muscles are burning.
Andrea’s SBS Mantra: Be Brave. I love this because there are so many times in life when we are confronted with fear. I can look back at so many events in my life when there were amazing, incredible things waiting for me on the other side of that fear. I think that when we can be brave it allows us to really step into our power and see how strong we really are.
Andrea’s NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Natural Bridge (in LIC)
Splurge Restaurant: American Cut
Nightlife Spot: The Shady Lady in Astoria
Yoga Studio: Yoga Agora in Astoria
Fitness Studio: Lagree NY in Astoria
Fun Activity: Ballet or Dzul Dance Company Class
Calming Activity: Crocheting…I’m working on a blanket!
Online Resources: Move Forward Community (for fitness professionals)
Books: Red Notice by Bill Browder, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis