It's a good idea to go with a certified instructor or one who is finishing up certification. Certification can take 1-2 years, and you have to have a certain level of experience in pilates to start the program.1. does instructor have to be certified, and, if so, are all certifications created equal?
You'll want to ask about anything that might be specifically relevant to you. For example, if you have had an injury or have a natural anomaly in your anatomy, you'll want to ask if the instructor has experience with this AND whether or not you can talk to other students who have this same condition. This way, you can really get a sense of how this form of pilates and this instructor will work with you, and whether they can work with you.2. what other questions should i pose to the potential instructor?
Another area to talk about is what your goals are or may be and how the pilates instructor would suggest you work to reach those goals. You might also discuss timelines -- expectations as to when you should see results, etc.
They are actually quite similar, but I would first look at the certifying methods as well as the 'history' of the style -- how it relates to Pilates original work, where the deviations are, and where the primary focus of the particular style is. For example, some are focused on "slimming" while others are focused on "spinal alignment" and still others are other elements. When you meet with an instructor in that style, talk to the person about their background before and around pilates, why they chose this style, and how they work with this information, as well as what they 'add to it' from their own experience, education, and teaching.3. how do I pick a specific pilates method (i noticed there are mat workouts, Stott(?), Romana?, etc.
Most studios will have information on their web site about this -- if it's really particular -- or you can just ask the staff when you arrive. For the most part, just be nice and well mannered, and you'll be fine.4. what should I know about the studio etiquette?
This depends upon a lot of factors. One-four, typically speaking, tends to be the average for people. Most of the people whom I know go twice a week -- usually one is a private lesson or small group (i.e., 2-3 people) and usually one 'class' (of about 6-10 people).5. how many classes a week are optimal?
For me, your best bet is to start with some private lessons and work on the machines. Mat pilates is actually quite advanced work, so I would wait until you have some experience before getting into it.5. anything else I should be aware of?
This being the case, Stott pilates is probably a good choice for you, with their emphasis on spinal integrity. This is what my friends teach and study, so I do have the most experience with it and enjoy it. It's definitely worth asking around, talking about what your specific issues are, and making sure that your teacher understands what you are talking about.I think I will start with a few private lessons first. Since it is a substantial financial investment for me and I do have pre-existing back pain issues, I am being extra careful. Your comments are appreciated.
Ask for those references too. Be clear "Do you have other students who have a condition similar to mine? If so, would it be possible for me to contact them and speak to them before we have our lessons. I'd just like their insights and feed back with regards to their condition and your teaching."
I do this quite frequently for my potential students with special needs.