The Pancake Theory: Learning Like Pancakes

madeline black pilates pancake theory 1
The first pancake

How are cooking pancakes analogous to learning to move? In my observations over years of teaching movement, I noticed the process of how people learn a new movement. The first try at executing a movement instruction, whether it is a verbal, visual or tactile one, is hardly natural. It is out of sync, a bit awkward and frankly an uncoordinated effort. I certainly experience this feeling on a first attempt at a new movement skill. So, allow the client to move through the movement without any suggestions for improvement on their first run through. Know it is the same as the first pancake on the grill, throw it away.

madeline black pilates pancake theory 2
Second pancake

The second repetition is considerably better. However, I see the connection of the kinesthetic chain is not completely apparent. Part of the movement is clearer, usually the beginning, but somewhere in the middle the movement becomes disjointed or incomplete.

madeline black pilates pancake theory 3
Third Pancake

The magic comes with the third repetition where the mind and the body coordinate, allowing for the movement to feel coordinated, in the body rather than a thinking action. It is truly a physical and kinetic whole body experience.

What about the pancakes? I love to cook. I rarely eat pancakes except when we are in the redwoods of Comptche, California. There is nothing like eating delicious pancakes on a morning in the woods. When the first batch of pancakes are poured on to the grill, they tend to be cooked unevenly and a bit lighter in color. The second batch is better, but doesn’t produce an even golden brown color that is desirable. The third one is always superior. It is known in our family to wait for the third or fourth batch of pancakes if you want the best ones. We may seem to be polite and offer the first two batches to others, but really, deep down inside, we know the better cakes are coming. And the cook always eats last!

madeline black pilates pancake theory 4
Mmmm, evenly done!

I began using this analogy in teaching teachers cueing. Be patient, allow the client to be the first pancake. Let them move the first time without any great expectation. Know that the connected, fully realized movement is coming on the third try. Hold back the urge to give them a correction on the first attempt. Allow them to be awkward. Give them a positive comment and say “let’s try it again”. Follow with another positive comment and a helpful hint to connect into the whole movement from beginning to end. Then, smile because their third pancake is arriving.

This is a simple idea and a fun way to look at a client’s process in taking in movement instruction, assimilating it and then embodying it. Enjoy watching the pancakes cook, just do not eat too many!

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