Two decades ago, Delia Buckmaster tiptoed into a fitness discipline that barely existed in Northwest Montana and transformed herself into an internationally recognized instructor

Story by Myers Reeece | Photography by Hunter D’Antuono
When Delia Buckmaster took her first Pilates class at Whitefish’s Yoga Center 20 years ago, the fitness discipline barely had a presence in the Flathead Valley. And little about her initial foray suggested she would want to strengthen its foothold.

“I didn’t like it,” she recalled recently. “It was really difficult. I didn’t understand it. I was like, ‘I’m not going to do this again.’ But then I felt defeated. So I went back and tried it again.”

That tenacity to stick with it, perhaps influenced by her competitive soccer-playing youth but also a reflection of her ambitious personality, would go on to serve her well. She began taking private sessions under the Yoga Center’s Vicki Bernstein, and, inspired by Bernstein and with her encouragement, Buckmaster eventually became an instructor at the center before starting her own studio at The Wave when it opened in 2005. She worked hard to learn the ropes in a place devoid of Pilates resources, emerging as a trailblazing leader of the discipline’s local rise in popularity.

“I studied VHS tapes; I read manuals; I sought out workshops in continuing education and went and did them so I could learn more,” she said.

Buckmaster moved from The Wave into her own space on Lupfer Avenue in 2008, and then the next year into an expansive area above The Toggery, operating as Exhales Pilates and gradually expanding her offerings to become a full-blown boutique fitness studio. But she felt her expertise and bandwidth pulled in too many directions and decided to refocus on a Pilates-specific repertoire. She changed her business name to Delia Pilates and relocated to a smaller space on Second Street in 2017.

“When you focus on one discipline and focus on being really good at it, and you maintain the integrity of the work, I think people appreciate that more and have more interest in it,” she said.

The studio’s reduced size, however, proved to be an overcorrection, and she realized she wanted a larger space back in the heart of downtown. In a stroke of fate, a corner space opened up at 505 Railway St. that she had long eyed as a “perfect” Pilates studio location. Delia Pilates officially opened there in February.

“To be able to have a corner street-level space in downtown Whitefish with all of these windows is an anomaly,” she said. “I’ve always admired this space.”

A black-and-white photograph hanging in the studio shows Joseph Pilates, the exercise method’s founder, in his New York studio circa 1940. The image is fitting, as Buckmaster believes in honoring Pilates’ foundational fundamentals and incorporating the traditional equipment while integrating progressive flourishes. The new space, divided into two rooms, is ideal for that philosophy.

“It created the perfect flow of a modern space for classes for more innovative fitness, and then there’s the smaller room to capture the essence and classical work of Pilates,” she said.

Buckmaster has achieved her success as a business owner and instructor while raising two daughters, one now in college and the other in high school. Her first Pilates class two decades ago came a year before she was pregnant with her oldest, forming a tidy parallel timeline of professional and family growth.

In addition to Buckmaster, Delia Pilates has three certified instructors — Amy Lewandowski, Dawn Melcer and Jessica Peltier — who have each completed a minimum of 500 observation hours, 500 hours of self-practice and 500 hours of teaching hours through a Pilates Method Alliance-accredited program.

Over the years, Buckmaster traveled to cities across the country to increase her certifications and knowledge, while also flying in teachers to further train her own instructors.

“You either had to leave town or fly people in,” she said. “That was your only choice to train instructors so they could become better instructors.”

Delia Pilates’ clients are diverse, with women in their 30s to 50s representing the largest share, but also men and women of widely varying ages. Physical therapists often send clients for post-rehabilitation training. The studio offers a range of private and group sessions, reformer and mat classes, training, workshops and education, including series classes such as Prenatal Pilates.

Buckmaster said some people don’t try Pilates because of a “misconception” that it would replace their favorite pursuits. Rather, she says attending a couple days of Pilates a week doesn’t preclude other activities, but instead bolsters them, whether it’s golf, cycling, trail running, skiing, yoga or anything else.

“Pilates is really a complement to everything else you do,” she said. “It makes everything you do that much better. It creates longevity in everything you do and helps you do it more efficiently.”

Buckmaster has never rested on her laurels, constantly seeking to broaden her ability and reach, efforts that in recent years have paid off in accolades on a national scale. One example was being featured in Pilates Style magazine. She has also been an instructor at major conventions and will teach at the Pilates Method Alliance’s annual conference, an industry gold standard, later this year in Tacoma, Washington.

Also, last year, Buckmaster flew to California to film teaching sessions for Pilates Anytime, a coveted invitation among instructors nationwide. She was then invited to return to shoot additional videos.

“Considering I’m someone who watched VHS tapes and read manuals and felt really alone in this industry for a really long time, to put myself on an international platform and have people recognize my name and respect what I do was a really big deal for me,” she said.

Kristi Cooper, co-founder and president of Pilates Anytime, said her company has the biggest platform for streaming Pilates videos on the Internet, with more than 3,400 videos available in 160 countries, and is highly selective in choosing instructors, with only 100. Cooper said Buckmaster is an excellent teacher for general audiences but, moreover, has the ability to speak to specific demographics, especially athletes.

“She looks the part: she looks athletic; she is athletic,” Cooper said. “She’s personable, and while she can communicate to our entire audience base, she has an outdoorsy mountain vibe that she can translate to athletes. Her knowledge and her personality that comes through on video allows us to ask her to do a number of different things.”

“Delia represents everything that Pilates does: vitality, joy, zest for life,” Cooper added. “She seems to permeate that across the video and certainly in real life.”