Joseph Pilates 1883 to 1967
Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. His father was a gymnast and mother a naturopath. As a child, Joe Pilates was plagued by asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. He was often teased for being so frail. Intent on becoming healthy, Joe studied anatomy and movement. He worked on his stamina and physical strength. By the time he was 14, he was in such prime condition he was asked to model for illustrations in anatomical charts. He self taught himself to excel in wrestling, gymnasts, boxing, skiing and diving.
While living in England working as a circus performer and boxer, Joe was forced into an internment camp in England at the outbreak of WWI because he was German born. Keeping a positive attitude, Joe started teaching his fellow internees wrestling and self defense. This fitness training led him to work with rehabilitating detainees who were suffering from diseases and injuries in the camp’s hospital. To assist him in training, he adapted the beds with springs, straps and pulleys. These were the beginnings of the equipment we use today in pilates studios.
After WWI, Joseph Pilates briefly returned to Germany where his reputation as a physical trainer/healer preceded him. In Germany, he worked briefly for the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training. In 1925, he was asked to train the German army. Sensing the changing political climate and it’s effect on his practice, he decided to move to the USA. During his journey Joe met Clara, a nurse, who would become his wife. He and Clara moved to New York City and opened a studio at 939 Eighth Avenue in 1926.
The studio put him in close proximity to a number of dance studios, which led to his “discovery” by the dance community. Many dancers of New York depended on Pilates method training for the strength and grace it developed in the practitioner, as well as the rehabilitative benefits. Joe trained dancers and choreographers such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins and Ted Shaw. In the summers from 1939 to 1951 he taught at Jacobs Pillow dance camp in the Berkshire Mountains.
Soon his studio became the Fitness Center of NYC. Prominent and famous New Yorkers such as Katherine Hepburn, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jean Vanderbilt, Gugenheims and Gimbels all did mat and equipment training with Joe and Clara Pilates. In 1966, a fire erupted in a back storage room of the building. When Joe went back to inspect, the floorboards gave out. He was able to grip a floor beam and pull himself back up – at 86 years old.
Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967. No one knows for sure his cause of death, but some sources say it could have been from smoke inhalation suffered during the fire. He had maintained a fit physique throughout his life, and many photos show that he was in remarkable physical condition in his older years. He is also said to have had a flamboyant personality. He smoked cigars, liked parties, and wore his exercise briefs wherever he wanted (even on the streets of New York). It is said that he was an intimidating, though deeply committed, instructor. Clara Pilates continued to teach and run the studio for another 10 years after Joseph Pilates death. Exercise science caught up with the Pilates exercise principles in the 1980s and the surge of interest in Pilates that we have today got underway.
sources: The Everything Pilates Book by Amy Taylor Alpers and Rachel Taylor Segal
Eve Gentry, 1909-1994
"Pilates is not just a series of exersizes. Pilates is a concept. It's a philosophy."
Eve Gentry co-founded the Institute for the Pilates Method, now known as Physical Mind Institute, in 1991 with Michelle Larsson and Joan Breibart. A Martha Graham discovered professional dancer in New York City, Eve suffered persistent back and knee problems. This led her to train with Joe Pilates at his NYC studio from 1938 to 1968. Eve moved to New Mexico in 1968 where she opened her own studio to teach the Joe Pilates method of Contrology. She taught her students to understand the concepts and principles of the movements instead of just learning the exercises.
In 1955, Eve had a radical mastectomy where they removed a large part of her pectoral muscles. This left her with such a limited range of motion she could hardly lift her arms. Joe Pilates worked with Eve to restore her strength and function. At first the medical profession thought the results were a ‘hoax”. Joe and Eve filmed her doing her exercises shirtless to prove their authenticity.
Romana Kryzanowski, 1923 - 2013
"You can say what Pilates is in three words - stretch, with strength and control. And the control part is the most important because that makes you use your mind."
Romana Kryzanowski, a dancer at he American School of Ballet, started training with Joe Pilates and Clara in 1941 at age 17 because of an ankle injury. She bacame very close to them and trained until she got married to Pablo Mejia in 1944 and moved to Peru. Romana and Pablo had 2 children, Paul and Sari. She moved back to NYC in 1958 and resumed her work with Pilates. She also taught at Carola Trier’s studio and taught ballet. When Joe died in 1968, Clara ran the 939 Studio for 2 years until she reached an agreement with investors and Romana took over as director. In 1973, Romana became 50% shareholder and changed the name to from 939 Studio to Pilates Studio, Inc. She started training people to teach in 1975.
From 1989 to 2003, Romana worked with Sean Gallagher training instructors, and traveling and offering workshops. In 2003 she formed a Pilates Certification in her own name with her daughter Sari and granddaughter Daria. Romona retired from teaching in 2004.
Kathy Grant, 1921 - 2010
"Think of that navel going to the lowest part of the waistline in the back. When you do this you will maintain your natural curves in the spine."
After attending The Boston Conservatory of Music on full scholarship, Kathy Grant moved to NYC and danced at Zanzibar and Club Ebony. She performed with Louis Armstrong, Pearl Bailey, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. She was the first African-American to join the National Endowment of the Arts panel.
Kathy was referred to Joe Pilates by Pearl Bailey after she had knee surgery. She is one of only two individuals actually certified by Mr. Pilates in a program sponsored by the University of the State of New York, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Kathy became a Pilates teacher in 1957 and worked for Carola Trier in her studio on 56th Street in New York City. Later, at the request of Mr. Pilates, she took over the Pilates Studio at Henri Bendel’s Department Store upon in New York City, where she taught for many years.
In 1988, Kathy moved her studio to New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. She shared her wealth of knowledge with a fresh new recruit of Tisch students every year by teaching a year-long Pilates course in the dance department where she was known as a tough teacher and perfectionist.
Even after hip surgery at the age of 83, Kathy continued to lecture.
Ron Fletcher, 1921 - 2011
"Movement should be approached like life- with enthusiasm, joy and gratitude- for movement is life, and life is movement, and we get out of it what we put into it."
Ron Fletcher was a successful choreographer on Broadway, network television, cabaret and the Ice Capades. He was a Martha Graham dancer and a pilates instructor.
Ron was referred to Joe Pilates by a fellow dancer for for chronic knee pain in 1948. He trained and studied with them at their 938 8th Ave. studio until 1 year after Joe’s death. In 1972, Ron introduced the Pilates Method to the west coast and Hollywood. He opened a studio on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. His clients included Barbara Streisand, Candice Bergen, Ali MacGraw, Cher, Raquel Welch and Nancy Reagan. His publicity in Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Town and Country, Ladies Home Journal, Self, among others helped to make Joe Pilates and his form of exercise world known.
Ron Fletcher became creative with Joe’s work and expanded it to develop Fletcher Work which involved breathing exercises, standing, towel and barre work. The Ron Fletcher Program of Study was established in 2003. It is a comprehensive formal education program based on the apprentice-learning model Ron experienced with Joe and Clara.
Carola Trier, 1913 - 2000
"Your body is like a building, and the feet are the foundation of that building."
Carola studied anatomy at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, where she aided Dr. Henry Jordan with patient rehabilitation and research. Carola combined her medical and Pilates experiences to develop various exercises and stretching techniques for dancers. In pilates, her introductory lesson was analyzing the client’s posture and relating it to anatomy. German born, Carola worked as a dancer, acrobat and contortionist. While living and working in Europe she was sent to a Nazi-run detention camp in France during WW2. She escaped before being sent to Aushwitz and immigrated to NYC in 1942. She was referred to Joe Pilates from Dr. Henry Jordon after an offstage knee accident. In 1958, Joe gave her his support and helped her open her own studio of Contrology in mid-town Manhattan She studied She focussed on form and precision.
In 1982 Corola wrote a book for children called Exercise, What it is, What it Does. It emphasized the benefit and enjoyment of exercising both alone and with friends.