Who was Joseph H. Pilates?
Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born near Düsseldorf in Germany in 1880. As a child, he suffered from many illnesses such as asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. In order to build up his own body, he dedicated his life to becoming physically fit. He decided to study yoga and Zen meditation. Around the age of 14, he became proficient in gymnastics, diving and skiing.
Copyright photo image obtained from I C Rapoport for 2 years
In 1912, he came to England and became a boxer and he also worked as a circus performer. Later he trained detectives at Scotland Yard in the art of self-defence.
During World War One, he was interned in a war camp. It was here that he taught fellow internees his exercises, which combined flexibility and strength that he had used to build up his own body.
It was whilst working as a hospital orderly on the Isle of Man that the idea for the original Cadillac machine was born. By attaching ropes and springs to the beds of soldiers who could not walk, he helped in their rehabilitation process.
He returned to Germany after the war where he continued to develop and teach his method. Pilates popularity spread to the dance community thanks to gaining favour via Rudolf Von Laban, creator of the famous dance notation. It was when the German government requested that he train the German army that Joe decided to emigrate.
In 1926, he moved to the States where he met his wife, Clara, whom he eventually married. Together they established a studio in New York City where they shared premises with the New York City Ballet. It was here that he taught his method of exercise, which he named, Controlology.
The studio became very popular with dancers since it helped them recover from injury and strengthened their technique. Because of their shared address with the NYC ballet, many dancers trained with Joe. George Balanchine, who studied with Joe, invited him to train his young ballerinas. Other dance legends such as Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Jerome Robbins also trained with Joe.
Two of Joe’s students, Carola Trier and Bob Seed, are known to have opened their own studios whilst Joe was still alive. Bob Seed was a former hockey player whilst Trier, had a background in dance. Joe and Clara remained close friends with Trier until their deaths but fell out with Seed when he opened a studio across town from Joe and tried poach some of his clients.
In 1967, at the age of 87, Joseph Pilates died without leaving a will. It was only after his death that Contrology became known as the Pilates method.
His legacy lives on through the masses of instructors teaching his method and via the two books he wrote in his lifetime.
Return to Life through Contrology (circa 1928)
Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education (circa 1934).
Clara still continued to operate at the Studio on Eighth Avenue in New York. Around 1970, Romana Kryzanowska, who had studied with Joe and Clara in the 1940’s, was made director. Some of Joe and Clara’s students later opened their own studios.
In 1970, Ron Fletcher, a Martha Graham dancer, who studied under Joe in the 1940s, opened his studio in L.A, which attracted many Hollywood celebrities.
Kathy Grant, another of Joe’s students and teachers, took over direction at the Bendel's studio in 1972.
Lolita San Miguel taught Pilates at Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Both Kathy and Lolita were awarded degrees by the State University of New York in 1967 to teach Pilates. They are believed to be the only two Pilates practitioners officially certified by Joe himself.
Dancer, Eve Gentry, taught at the New York Studio from 1938-1968. She opened her own studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was a co-founder of the Dance Notation Bureau and was awarded the "Pioneer of Modern Dance Award" by Bennington College in 1979.
Dancer, Bruce King, a member of the Merce Cunningham Company, Alwyn Nikolais Company, as well as his own Bruce King Dance Company trained with Joe for many years. He opened his own studio at 160 W. 73rd Street in New York City in the 1970’s.
Mary Bowen, who trained with Joe in the 1960s, started teaching Pilates in 1975. She founded "Your Own Gym" in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Robert Fitzgerald opened his studio on West 56th Street in the 1960s, where he had a large clientele from the dance community.