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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Holm

MANX Chats, with Lesley Garrison & Knockout Pilates

Hi! It is officially October, also known as sweata weatha!

It’s been a busy fall thus far. I started a new job, working at the Touring and Artist Services Associate with Beth Morrison Projects, one of the world’s leading producers of contemporary opera. It’s been a wild ride thus far, but it’s been a good move. My boss is great, and I get to work with a lot of incredibly creative people (one of my co-workers just designed a soundwalk in the Swiss Alps with their European production company - they are that cool). And, I get to keep learning, gain access to a wealth of information and resources, and witness firsthand how an indie opera company keeps growing and developing in the post-Covid era. All good things, and super important!

What I don’t have on the books is a lot of performing - but, for now, I’m ok with that. I’m employed, my schedule isn’t too insane, and I’m finding time to practice, choreograph, study, and create. Dare I say, not always performing isn’t a bad thing!

It’s also given me time and headspace to take this blog in a fun new direction…MANX Chats!

MANX Chats is where, with the help of featured guests, I break down barriers between singing and movement, and in the process, delve into the many ways artists can move, sing, create, and explore.

I’m super excited to bring you the first episode of MANX Chats, featuring (drum roll)...Lesley Garrison of Knockout Pilates!

Launched in 2022, Knockout Pilates is a Brooklyn pilates and boxing studio co-owned by Sarah Deming and Lesley Garrison. Knockout Pilates offers a wide variety of classes, community events, and one-on-one sessions, all designed to make pilates and boxing accessible and affordable to all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, abilities, and budgets. Both Sarah and Lesley have experience teaching athletes, dancers, artists, chefs, pre- and post-natal moms, folks with disc herniations, rotator cuff injuries, hip replacements, Parkinson’s Disorder, scoliosis, osteoporosis, arthritis, anxiety, and depression. They are always studying and practicing to bring the best back to their clients!

Pilates sometimes gets a bad rap in the opera world - every so often, I will hear a singer make a comment about how they tried Pilates, and it just did not work for them. They felt like it put a lot of pressure and strain on their necks and shoulders, and that Pilates made them tighten up and clamp down on their breath support. Those kinds of sensations freak the s^%t out of singers, so it’s understandable why a singer who’s experienced Pilates in that manner would not be keen to continue down that path.

Sarah Deming and Lesley Garrison in the studio at Knockout Pilates

On the flip side, there are also singers (myself included) for whom Pilates helped them connect to and better understand their breath and core support. Renee Fleming has even credited Pilates with helping her build and maintain sustainable healthy habits:

This was all the more reason for me to chat with Lesley. The Knockout Pilates approach addresses the concerns from some singers (tightness, pain in the neck and shoulder area) in accessible and sustainable ways that back up Renee Fleming’s experiences.

In our chat, Lesley speaks about approaching breathing as a 360 experience, one that initiates and sustains movement. Throughout their classes, Lesley and Sarah actively work with their students to help them initiate movement through breath and core engagement. What results is movement that is MUCH smaller than what most people think they “should” be doing - but your core muscles (and all those intercostal muscles between the ribs, that are so important for singing!) are activated and engaged, and that the movement is coming from a sustainable place.

This approach totally changed the game for me in regards to practicing Pilates. I’ve had a longtime off-and-on relationship with Pilates, but it wasn’t until I began working with Lesley and Sarah that the connections really began clicking. It wasn’t until they made me slow down and consciously initiate movements like crunches and Pilates roll ups through my abs and side and back ribs that I began to realize - I’d been muscling through my neck and shoulders for years! Even as a trained opera singer, and someone whose work revolves around blending voice and dance, I was still disengaged from my core when I needed it the most.

A former voice teacher of mine used to say that good technique boiled down to one question: “is this a sound I can realistically maintain and develop over a long period of time?” With their breath-centered approach to core engagement, Lesley and Sarah have made me rethink how Pilates can help support singers in better understanding and connecting to their breath and their bodies.

Sarah Deming and Lesley Garrison in their Knockout Pilates studio

Join us as Lesley and I delve into the mechanics of breathing and support, and how they serve as the foundation for both singing and a sustainable Pilates practice. Along the way, we also discuss boxing, Sarah Deming's status as a badass modern Renaissance Woman AND Golden Gloves Champion, Lesley's creative practice as a dancer and choreographer, motherhood, and what's next for Knockout Pilates.

To learn more, follow Knockout Pilates on Instagram at @k.o.pilates, or check them out at

Special thanks to Sarah Deming, Lesley Garrison, Gowanus Creative Studios, and MANX Productions.

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