How Heather Andersen Traded In Her Ballet Slippers for a Pilates Reformer

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If you’ve ever been to a Pilates class, there’s something that usually sticks out about the instructor: the elegant, graceful steps reminiscent of a prima ballerina. And that’s because many Pilates and new-wave fitness instructors are often retired dancers. New York Pilates founder and 2019 Estée Lauder partner, Heather Andersen, knows the story better than most: After a couple years of dancing in professional ballets in New York and Portland, a recurring ankle injury led her to reformer-based exercising, where she eventually found her calling. While living in Portland, she started working the front desk at Pilates and Gyrotonics studios in exchange for the free classes she found necessary to rehab her ankle, and it was there that an instructor told her she should teach.

“When I started doing my Pilates certification, it completely transformed my dancing by teaching me proper alignment, by creating balanced strength,” says Andersen. “I think it’s so easy to look at the shape of a movement versus understanding the biomechanics of it, and you just have so much more power when you are working in really healthy biomechanics.”

Andersen soon realized Portland wasn’t for her and returned to New York, where she’d spend the next few years of her life paying her bills through teaching Pilates and fulfilling her artistic pursuits by dancing in an array of performances from ballet and opera to performance art at the Bushwick Star. There’s a lively and rebellious side to Andersen that she wears proudly, and after four years of teaching in sterile Pilates studios, she wanted to open her own space that reflected her personality. And that’s exactly what she did. In 2013 Andersen launched New York Pilates and almost overnight she had a cult following.

Turns out she knew exactly what people were looking for in their exercise classes: A place that was just as loud and fun as she is. But Andersen soon learned that wasn’t all that would be required to run a successful business of her own. Though she knows the art of managing people is a neverending journey, she tackled the financial ins and outs of running a multi-studio fitness brand and how to trust your instincts as a businesswoman. Then, of course, COVID-19 happened, shutting down her studios and forcing her to lay off all her employees overnight. But if life has taught Andersen one thing, it’s learning how to find opportunity where she least expects it.

The pandemic has allowed her to focus on expanding into new platforms (hello, NYP World, the online platform she and her partner-husband, Brion Isaacs, have been wanting to develop for years) and also reflect on how she wants to live her life. Part of that is through taking care of her skin. As a fitness instructor, she spends so much time thinking about the health of her muscles and cardiovascular system, but her skin is just as important. “Your skin is the biggest organ in your body, so I think it’s very logical to also be thinking about how you’re taking care of your skin in a similar vein,” says Andersen.

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