Today we introduce the Pilates Elders, the first generation of Pilates teachers and students of Joseph Pilates himself. I share mini bios of the Elders, what I know about them from reading biographies, taking classes with second generation teachers, and meeting Elders in person. Tune in!
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[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:46] Hello. Hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today on the podcast, we'll be talking about the Pilates Elders who are the first generation of Pilates teachers who learned [00:01:00] Pilates from Joseph Pilates himself when he was teaching in his gymnasium in the fifties and sixties in New York City. Um, but even cooler than being the first generation of Pilates teachers. These are also the first Pilates students, the first people to have learned this new method of movement and exercise that we all love so much.
[00:01:23] And I kind of wanna do the tiniest of dives ever, like mini biographies of these Elders and kind of how they fit into the Pilates picture, how they came to Pilates and how Pilates changed their life and ours by extension. Huge thanks to all of the Elders who have continued the Pilates tradition, because if it had died with Joe, I never would've been able to experience it. So it's really awesome that they were part of this legacy and part of this continuation. And I think legacy is a big picture or a [00:02:00] big piece of the picture, this kind of family tree of Pilates coming from Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara. And, you know, branching out in this first generation of students and teachers who I'll be sharing with you today and kind of talking about today, but then also how that's extended beyond. There are now second generation teachers who have learned from the elders, also second generation students, and then, you know, even further removed, there are people who are learning from these teachers and consider those teachers to be their as teachers. And it's just really cool how we're all very much related.
[00:02:37] So, if you're looking at this family tree of Pilates, we've got Joe and Clara at the top. We've got the Elders as the next rung down. Elders include Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Stanford Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Mary Bowen, Carola Trier, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce [00:03:00] King, and Lolita San Miguel. Most of these friends studied with Joe later in his life because a few of the elders are still alive, which is incredible. You can meet them and talk to them and ask them questions in real time, which is amazing. And the other way we know about the Elders are from their students. People who've learned from them.
[00:03:26] If you listen to Pilates' Teachers Manual podcast last week, Amy Sasso was on the podcast and she learned Pilates from Lolita San Miguel. So she's a second generation teacher. Uh, a while back Maria Earle was on the podcast. She learned Pilates from Kathy Grant. So we get a lot of anecdotes and we get a lot of stories from students. And so, because this is Pilates students manual really highlighting the importance of being a student and how being a student is also part of the tradition of Pilates. [00:04:00] It's not just becoming a teacher. Um, becoming a teacher is awesome, but you can enjoy Pilates in its own right, for its own sake.
[00:04:08] The book I've referenced multiple times, Caged Lion really shares that historical perspective and the author of Caged Lion, although he has all of these Pilates experiences, was never a Pilates teacher. He just really loved Pilates in what it did for him and how it changed his life. So let's meet the elders.
[00:04:29] We've got Romana who is probably the most well known Elder. And that's largely because Romana's Pilates is a huge classical Pilates school and her name is in the title of the school. So she's most well known for coming back to Joe's gym after Joe died and teaching Pilates and really becoming the new face [00:05:00] of the method, uh, in Joe's absence. She was born in Michigan in 1923. She largely preserved Joe's method. And for that, we will always be indebted to her.
[00:05:15] And she also added onto it. I would say that all of the Elders added onto Pilates in the ways that were most important to them, but Romana was a professional dancer and George Balanchine's dance company. And I never know if it's Balancheen or Balanchine. I do not have a ballet or American ballet history awareness, but he is a very, a well known choreographer in the world of American ballet at the time. And Romana was a dancer for him. And he also worked out at Joe's gym and referred a lot of dancers to Joe.
[00:05:57] As far as adding to the method, I would say most [00:06:00] notably the series of five is five exercises because of Romana, the first two single leg stretch and double leg stretch are in Joe's book Return to Life. But Romana is credited for adding the single straight leg stretch, double straight leg stretch, and the crisscross. So there was a story that she loved doing core work. So there you have it.
[00:06:23] Cathy Strack is an author who has a really nice biography of Romana. If you're interested in the history of Romana's family coming and immigrating to the United States and also of Romana who had a really difficult life, I would say, outside of Pilates, you know, as this professional dancer, as a single mom, you know, running this gym as well. Romana's biography is called Love All Around by Cathy Strack. I'll link to it in the show notes. She is really an interesting person, and it's nice to hear so many stories [00:07:00] about her from her students, because Romana is no longer with us.
[00:07:04] Kathleen Stanford Grant is another Elder, also known as Kathy grant. She was born in 1921 in Boston, and she loved to dance. She became a professional dancer, you know, at this time, dance is also kind of considered scandalous and then being a black dancer as well was kind of unheard of. But Kathy Grant broke through that ceiling and became a highly acclaimed dancer like Romana. She came to Joe after a dance injury and Joe was able to rehabilitate her.
[00:07:38] Both Kathy Grant and Lolita San Miguel are the only two people to receive Pilates teacher certifications from Joe. There was this apprenticeship work study program in New York at the time, and both she and Lolita had applied for this program and they became certified to teach Pilates. [00:08:00] Kathy taught at Henry Bendell's department store in New York City. She also taught at Carola Trier's studio in New York. And in the late 1980s, Kathy became a professor at Tish School of the Arts in NYU, where she taught Pilates classes to the dancers. She's known for, uh, her before the hundred exercises.
[00:08:25] Because if you think about it, Pilates has a really high barrier to entry. And so Kathy came up with an entire series of exercises that happened before the hundred and lots of really beautiful imagery about, you know, putting on your vest, zipping the zipper of your jeans. That was sort of language that she used, that you might hear and language that I've had the opportunity to hear from her student Maria Earle, when I've taken classes with Maria. I think Maria's also working on a biography of Kathy Grant, which is awesome. And I can't wait to read it.
[00:08:59] Jay [00:09:00] Grimes is another Elder, professional dancer who started studying with Joe in the sixties and also worked, uh, for quite a long time with Clara, Joe's wife. He ran into Joe because he was a dancer on Broadway and he was injured and dancers on Broadway who were injured go to Joe. He teaches in LA. He has a studio, a link to that as well, called Vintage Pilates. And he's very dedicated to preserving the integrity of Joe's work.
[00:09:29] Ron Fletcher, uh, also ended up in California though. I think he was born in Missouri, in 1921. And he studied with Joe from the late forties through the, uh, 1960s. When Joe died, he's most known for his book. Every Body is Beautiful. And for being this Pilates teacher to the stars before Pilates was as popular as it is now, it was like a huge deal in Hollywood. And all of the starlets were doing Pilates with Ron out in Beverly Hills. [00:10:00] He also introduced the towel work, which is this braided towel. There's some really interesting mat work that he does with this towel. There's a lot of breath work in his, in his repertoire because he was a Martha Graham dance person. And so he incorporated a lot of that dance style into his Pilates teaching as well.
[00:10:22] Mary Bowen is the oldest elder. And she is 90, I believe and in that neighborhood. I had a chance to meet her in 2018 at the Pilates Method Alliance conference. And I took a class with her and I just remember her being so funny and so alive and just vibrant. And she's kind of cool because she's a Jungian psychoanalyst, and also a Pilates teacher. And her mentorship program focuses on both the psychology and the physical mental components of Pilates, which is kind of neat. [00:11:00]
[00:11:00] Coming up after the break, I've got more Elder stories to share. And a little bit more about why it matters. That's coming up next.
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[00:12:15] Carola Trier has a really great biography as well. And Corolla has a really interesting life, Pilates and otherwise. She was a German Jewish dancer and performer who had been performing all around Europe. And then just before World War II, she was sent to an internment camp in France, but managed to get out of that internment camp before the war started and immigrate to the United States, she was then held in an internment camp in the United States because she was a German citizen. Her fiance had to stay in Europe and she never saw him again. Like her life is actually kind of [00:13:00] tragic. And then she finally gets to the United States. She injures herself performing. She was a roller skating contortionist, which is amazing. And she hurt her back quite significantly and started working with Joe and she got his blessing to open a Pilates studio in 1960.
[00:13:21] And so she opened the first Pilates studio, I think, definitely the first female owned Pilate studio, possibly the first Pilate studio outside of Joe. And she's responsible for the boutique style of Pilates, where the teachers change the Springs and move the box for you and kind of this, you know, all inclusive boutique kind of upscale fitness package. Her classes were very expensive. She had, you know, one teacher per student, whereas with Joe Joe's teaching and there's all the machines are full. Right. So that's kind of interesting. I think Carol's [00:14:00] imprint. Her biography is really cool. I'll link to that as well.
[00:14:04] We've got Bob seed who there, I couldn't find a lot of stuff on him, but he was a hockey player, which okay. Because everyone beforehand has been like a dancer, a performer in some way. But Bob was a hockey player and he found Pilates and loved Pilates. And the only story I found about him was that he opened a Pilates studio and did not have Joe's blessing and was trying to steal Joe's clients. And this is the person who Joe was walking down Fifth Avenue in his tighty whiteys, and a coat with a pistol in his pocket. And he was gonna go threaten Bob and tell him to get outta town, which he did. And that's all I could find about him. So that's someone I'd love to learn more about.
[00:14:44] Another elder is Eve Gentry, who you might know from Eve's lunge. If you've ever done Eve's lunge in a class, this is the Eve who came up with that lunge. Uh, she was a dancer and she also has a really incredible story, that she had a [00:15:00] radical mastectomy in 1955 in which they removed not only the breast tissue, but also the majority of her pec major muscle, her big chest muscle. And within a year of working with Joseph Pilates, she was able to use her arms again and do advanced repertoire. And we're talking rowing, we're talking long stretch series, we're talking pushups, right? There's arm work in Pilates. And they took a video of her doing these exercises to show the hospital, you know, the power of Pilates in terms of rehabilitation and the hospital didn't believe it. So they went back and filmed her doing the exercises again with her shirt off so that you could see that in fact she could do it. And that Pilates had made that possible, which is kind of awesome. Uh, she opened a studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is in the Southwest of the US. Uh, she died in 1994.
[00:15:55] Bruce King was another elder that I couldn't find a ton of information [00:16:00] on, but he was from California and was in New York because he was a dancer and he opened a studio in New York city in the 1970s. But that's all I could find about our friend Bruce.
[00:16:14] Last, but certainly not least. Lolita San Miguel was born in 1934 to Puerto Rican parents. She spent a lot of her early childhood in Puerto Rico, but she would come to New York and, uh, go to dance camp in New York over the summer. And one time when she came her father passed away suddenly, and her mom just stayed in New York. So she worked as a dancer and she was injured in 1958 and she was sent to Carola's studio and she became an apprentice there. So her first teacher was actually Carola and, you know, Kathy, Grant's working there as well. Romana is working there as well. While she was there. I don't know how this came up, but it's [00:17:00] like, you know, the person who invented these exercises is still alive. You can go talk to him. And so she ended up studying with Joe for a year before he passed and then continued working with Carola. She was certified with Kathy Grant to teach Pilates by Joe through that apprenticeship work program that New York was doing at the time. And now she hosts a Pilates Master Mentor Program in Florida, which is where she's currently located. And that's what Amy was talking about in her podcast last week. I'm looking forward to meeting her at Pilates on Tour when it comes to Chicago at the end of the month. So hopefully I will get to meet her.
[00:17:40] I think the most important thing about these people, whenever we're talking about people in a historical context, it's only a historical context because time has passed. But what I wanted to share with you were these recurring themes that these students had, that a lot of them were coming to Pilates with injury, looking to get [00:18:00] stronger, looking to get back to doing what they loved. Many of them were dancers, performers, athletes, very high performing individuals, but there's also friends like John Steele who wrote Caged Lion who were lawyers and, you know, needed to exercise as well.
[00:18:17] So I think these people who, dancers and athletes, I can understand, you know, a lot of times you become a teacher when you can no longer perform at this high caliber, but really showing that Pilates is for everyone, especially like coming with an injury, you're coming at sort of the weakest point, right? You're, you've just been injured and now you're getting back into exercise and the fact that Pilates could help them rehabilitate their injuries is amazing. We can see the impact that Pilates had in these people's lives, that they became teachers that they made Pilates their entire career.
[00:18:56] And also in Caged Lion, the fact that so many people loved [00:19:00] Pilates so much, that that's really what kept it alive. And that's what's made it so popular now because you know, you do it and you just know, I wish that- people are like, you know, well, why do you do Pilates? It's like, look, just do it. And then you'll know.
[00:19:14] So this was definitely a drive by of a session chatting about the Elders. I've linked to a lot of the references that I used when I was compiling this information there. More books and so much more to dive into if this is what's interesting to you.
[00:19:30] Huge thank you to all of the supporters on Buy Me A Coffee, especially the newest supporter. Steffi. Thanks so much for joining this project. So happy to have you here and appreciate your support so much. Have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:19:54] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you [00:20:00] get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates, too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:20:17] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.