history of pilates


Joseph Pilates was born in Monchengladback, near Dusseldorf, Germany on December 9th,1880. His father was a prize-winning gymnast and his mother was a naturopath. As a child, Joseph suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. Because of this, he was determined to dedicate his life to becoming physically stronger. He would spend hours studying anatomy books, "learning every page, every part of the body; I would move each part as I memorized it. As a child I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move." By the age of fourteen, he was so successful in his goal that he was asked to model for a series of anatomical charts. He also became a self-taught athlete who excelled at skiing, diving, gymnastics, and boxing.

In 1912 Pilates traveled to England where he made a living as a boxer and self-defense trainer of detectives at Scotland Yard. Some reports claim that he and his brother toured England with a German circus troupe doing a Greek statue act. When World War I broke out two years later, he was considered an "enemy alien" and was interned with other Germans at a camp in Lancaster and later on the Isle of Man. At the camps he trained his fellow internees in the physical fitness exercises he had developed and began assisting the camp's hospital in helping the bedridden patients regain strength and muscle control. To assist these patients in their exercises Joseph adapted hospital beds with pulleys, straps, and bed springs, thus creating what may have been the first exercises utilizing variable resistance--a unique concept at least 50 years ahead of its time. These adapted beds were the forerunners of the Pilates equipment we use today. He was widely credited when none of the internees succumbed to an influenza pandemic that swept the world in 1918. Tens of millions of healthy people died from this virulent strain of flu, particularly the incarcerated populations.

After the war he returned to Hamburg, Germany where he continued to develop his fitness theories and exercises while training the Hamburg Military Police. During this period several important movement innovators, such as Rudolf Von Laban and Mary Wigman, had the good fortune to work with Pilates. By 1925 he had achieved a certain fame in his native Germany, and when the government asked him to train the new German army he decided to emigrate to America where he could pursue his own path with his work. On the ship to America Pilates met his future wife Clara. Upon arrival, the couple founded a studio in New York City which is in operation to this day.

Pilates' studio shared a building with several New York dance organizations and it wasn't long before Pilates' fame spread throughout the dance and theatre community. George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Jerrome Robbins, Ted Shawn, and the dancers who worked for these luminaries all studied with Pilates, as did Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Jose Ferrar.

Joseph Pilates practiced what he preached, a method he called "Contrology," and lived a long, healthy life. He died on October 7th, 1967 at the age of 83 from advanced emphysema, and from complications due to smoke inhalation suffered during a fire in his studio. Clara continued to teach the Pilates Method at the studio until her retirement in 1971 when she left the studio in the able hands of Romana Kryzanowska. Over the years Pilates trained a handful of teachers to carry on his work. We refer to these first generation instructors as the "Master Teachers." Most notable amongst these are Eve Gentry, Kathy Grant, Carola Trier, Ron Fletcher, Alan Herdman ,Lolita San Miguel, and Ramona Kryzanowska.

Joseph Pilates continually developed his theories, exercises, and equipment over the course of his lifetime and consequently he taught many different variations to different students at different times. This evolutionary process helped to contribute to the many "schools" of the Pilates Method that exist today. Ms. Kryzanowska's commitment was always to maintain the integrity of the original work as it was created and developed by Joseph Pilates. She taught what is known as the "Classical Style."

Today the Pilates Method is used worldwide by dance companies, theatre groups, movie stars, professional sports teams, spa clients, and fitness enthusiasts at health clubs and gyms.