Pro dancer transforms Norfolk barber's shop into a new pilates studio
- Credit: Jessaline Photography
For professional dancer turned pilates instructor, Heather Ormerod, there was always an inevitability about returning to her home county of Norfolk.
“Norfolk is fabulous if you’re someone who likes quite a healthy lifestyle,” she says. “You’ve got the beautiful long walks with the dog, you get to get the kids outside, you can go camping, get to the beach. It’s a really nice environment to expand on all of that healthy living, as it were – it’s all there on your doorstep.”
Heather grew up in the county before going to Birmingham, then London, to train and pursue a career as a professional choreographer and dancer.
She specialised in dance-film and made work for Channel 4, the BBC and Scottish Ballet, to name but a few, and then “returned back home” to Norfolk, where she ran her own dance-film company for 14 years.
“I was associate artist at Dance East and Norfolk Dance at the time, and did lots of creating work and touring that work, regionally and internationally, and absolutely loved it,” she says. She continued dancing after she had her first child, Harvey – even taking him along to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh – but as she grew her family, ultimately decided to give up the bright lights of the stage and screen.
“When my second child came along – it changes everything,” she says. “The lifestyle of a dancer… I would be travelling, flying off to Scottish Ballet and working there and then flying back, and it just was logistics – it didn’t work anymore to be able to juggle it.”
By that point in her career, Heather says pilates – which she describes as an “exercise system that returns the body to a much happier functional state” – had become a fundamental part of keeping her body strong and supple, as well as helping her to rehabilitate after injuries.
“Whilst I was pregnant I retrained for pilates,” she explains, working in a “wonderful studio in London” with Anoushka Boone. A couple of years later, she started her own practice, teaching in the village halls in and around where she lives in Old Buckenham.
Her intention, she says, was always to set up her own studio, but in the early days of the Covid pandemic, it felt like lockdown “annihilated” her plan. But what actually followed – both for Heather and for those around her – was a renewed interest in movement and wellbeing, both fundamental to her practice.
“I’ve always had the complete belief and passion of how important being connected to your body and movement is,” she says, “and at that point it was even more profound. Even though it was a time when it felt like everything could fall apart, it felt like a time when everything was connecting.
“Everybody else was sort of feeling the same feelings that I had about needing to invest more time in ourselves. We do need to connect with our body and minds more and we do really need to create a bit more space within that working week for ourselves.”
In April, Heather set up her own pilates and wellness studio, Pilates Habit, on Eden Lane in Attleborough. “It seems like an unusual time to open a studio but actually I think it’s just the right time to. It was the right time for me and the right time for everybody here in Attleborough and the surrounding areas. People want it, they need it, and they value it.”
Attleborough is a “great place to be”, she says, with a thriving high street and a great sense of community. She says the building they occupy was originally a barber’s, but it’s required a lot of work to get up to scratch.
“It hadn’t had anything done to it for quite some time,” Heather explains. “I did think ‘oh, Heather, what are you doing?’ I have spent lots of time painting – and painting and painting – and getting the colours right, but I’m delighted with it. I really am.
“We have built a treatment room upstairs and just taken everything out to make it nice and spacious – new kitchen facilities, bathroom, everything. It’s had a complete renovation.”
Despite being on the high street, Heather says the space is very tranquil. “You wouldn’t know you were here. It’s a beautiful space.” It’s also convenient, located right on people’s doorsteps, and brings a standard of teaching and world-class apparatus that can be hard to find, locally.
“I’ve invested a lifetime in this training,” Heather says. “It’s not just a quick gym course, and I’ve ensured that runs through everybody who works here as well. I’ve got clients who have come for five or six years, doing pilates every week because the investment I give to them and the knowledge they feel is there. We’ve got a fully equipped specialist studio here, so people don’t need to go all the way to Norwich or to wherever – it’s here in Attleborough.”
The studio is not just pilates-focused but covers wellness too, catering to a wide range of needs and experiences, for both men and women. They run regular classes, as well as one-to-one and studio sessions, with apparatus and matwork, plus clinical sports massages and holistic treatments such as reiki and reflexology.
Heather says her ethos is much less about how people look and much more about their confidence and connection. “Your body is the most important thing you have,” she says.
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“It’s the most exciting thing you have. It’s the most enjoyable thing you have. That’s really what I want to share and get people to feel – and then once you have that, you’re kind of addicted. You want to do it every week. It’s a habit that isn’t a chore but the thing you look forward to every week.
“The confidence you get from feeling better about yourself, feeling a connection with your own body and the strength you start to build in yourself becomes an external confidence. You’ll start to feel better about yourself, you’ll start to make better choices, naturally.”
The practice has other benefits too, and she hopes it will encourage people to dedicate more time and space to their physical and mental wellbeing while giving them the chance to connect with others.
“I know everybody personally, as it were. We have a really good laugh, we share lots of information about families and what’s been happening that week, so it’s a really social time as well. It’s not just about exercising – it’s about sharing – sharing time, sharing the space, sharing the energy, sharing news. That is as important as coming and getting an hour of exercise as well.”
It’s clear, talking to Heather, that helping others to build confidence is really what makes her tick. “It’s really exciting how quickly you can build somebody’s confidence back in,” she says, “and that’s what I’m all about. I’m all about the fact that I really want people to come here and leave more confident in their bodies and in themselves.
She hopes that people will be able to come to Pilates Habit and use the time to “leave everything outside”, she says, “to really move their bodies, to really breathe deeply, to feel their bodies – be it to energise or to relax, and then to hopefully take that experience out and maybe just feel a bit better after that.”
What is available at Pilates Habit?
Time to prioritise you
Begin your journey at Pilates Habit, and fall in love with exercising. Results come with having expert teachers, and through building healthy weekly habits. The team will support and empower you to regain your full strength, build back your confidence, and to feel your absolute best.
Create real personal transformation by working 1-2-1 in the studio with Heather. Heather specialises in supporting your return to movement and exercises after injury, pain or a break from exercising. Through working with Heather and the exclusive pilates apparatus, you can safely regain your movement, strength and self-confidence.
The Reformer classes are full-body workouts, designed to flow from exercise to exercise, to create a fun, powerful and challenging session. The class will focus on utilising the entire body to improve strength, flexibility, coordination and posture.
Group pilates and yoga classes run Monday to Saturday, for total beginners, low back pain, horse rider specific, through to advanced.
Clinical sports therapy and massage to help address a wide variety of injuries that may be affecting your physical well-being and preventing you from fully enjoying life.
Specialist guest workshops and retreats
Sound baths, ‘nourish’ experiences, movement for menopause, meditation, classical contrology and summer challenges.
On Sunday, May 29 from 4-5pm, Pilates Habit will host a sound bath – a form of meditation where you are ‘bathed’ in sound waves. Through a meditative experience, being bathed in glorious sounds and vibrations, you are invited to slow down and let go. The instruments will guide you to achieve Altered State of Consciousness (ASC) synchronising with your brain waves to Theta, also known as the day dreaming state entering deep relaxation.
Email Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org for details, or, to find out more, visit the website at pilateshabit.co.uk
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