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PILATES

Joseph Pilates was born in a small town outside of Dusseldorf, Germany. He was a sickly child, suffering from rickles, rheumatic fever, and asthma. This led to his interest in exercise and body building which helped him to overcome his frailties and become accomplished in many sports like gymnastics, diving, and skiing.

Prior to World War I Joe moved to England. When the war broke out, he was interned as an “enemy alien” along with all other German nationals. During this time he began devising his system of exercises that he later called "Contrology." He trained other inmates in his system of exercise and further developed his ideas by rigging springs to hospital beds so that bedridden patients could exercise. The Pilates equipment used today began with these early designs which he later refined. The influenza epidemic which broke out in England in 1918 killed thousands of people. Joe claimed that none of the trainees who followed his system died of the epidemic.

After the war, Joe returned to Germany and trained the Hamburg Military Police in self -defense and physical conditioning. During this time he met Rudolph Von Laban, famous movement analyst, who is said to have incorporated some of Joe's theories and exercises into his own work.

In 1925 Pilates was asked to train the new German Army but did not like the direction Germany was headed politically. He moved to the USA in response to invitations from the American boxing manager, Nat Fleischer and Max Schmeling, a World Title boxer. In route to the US he met his wife Clara, a nurse, who helped him to develop and teach his method.

Joe began working in a boxers' training gym when he arrived in NY in 1926. By the early 1930s he and Clara had taken over the gym. His client base grew quickly as news spread regarding his success at working with injuries. His clientele included doctors, members of high society such as the Gimbel and Guggenheim families, as well as movie stars such as Katherine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and Sir Lawrence Olivier.

During the 30's and 40's, people like George Balanchine and Martha Graham as well as other lesser know dancers studied with and sent injured dancers to "Uncle Joe" to be "fixed." Contrology became an intricate part of may dancers training and rehabilitation. Many of our "first generation" Pilates teachers such as Carola Trier, Eve Gentry, Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Stanford Grant and Lolita San Miguel were among these dancers.

Dr Henry Jordan, Chief of Orthopedics at Lenox Hill Hospital was a strong advocate of Pilates work. He referred many of his patients and many of his students who became prominent orthopedists referred their patients as well. Video tapes of Joe working with Eve Gentry after a complete mastectomy left her without a pectoral muscle on the left side of her body clearly demonstrate his genius in rehabilitation. Yet by the 50's Joe became deeply embittered due to his unsuccessful efforts to see his work embraced by the mainstream medical and educational systems. Some claim this is due to his lack of "alphabet soup" after his name.

But his work was taking root in several Manhattan institutions such as New York University, High School of the Performing Arts, Dance Theater of Harlem, and Clark Center for the Performing Arts. During the mid 60's the Pilates method began to spread beyond NY. First generation teachers Jerome Andrew moved to Paris, Ron Fletcher to California and Eve Gentry to New Mexico.

Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 87. Some believe that the fire which occurred in 1966 may have led to his death. He fell through the floorboards during the fire while attempting to salvage what he could and hung by his hands from a beam until he was rescued by firefighters. His wife, Clara continued to run the studio until her retirement in 1970. Regarded by many as the more superb teacher, she passed away in 1976.

In the 1980's the method continued to grow as second generation teachers began building their practices across the country. Dr. James Garrick, Director of Othopedics created one of the first dance medicine clinics. Ron Fletcher helped him to set up the first medical based Pilates program. By 1995 the word Pilates appeared in the Webster's Dictionary - an indication of the acceptance of Pilates into mainstream culture.

I believe that Joe would be truly proud of the explosion of his method into the global phenomenon seen today. The pilot programs in schools are finding wonderful mental as well as physical results with children. As society finally comes to the conclusions that Pilates wrote about over 70 years ago, I would not be surprised to see Joe's dream finally achieved in the very near future.

 

 
 
   
     

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