Joseph Hubertus Pilates, called Joe, was born in Mönchengladbach in 1883 and immigrated to New York in 1926, where he lived and worked until his end of life in 1967.
Pilates was a weak child suffering from diseases such as asthma and rickets. His early life experiences form the background for his motivation to deal with movement and strength building and to become healthy and fit. Even at a young age, he began to strengthen his body with versatile methods. All his life he was interested in improving physical fitness and health. In addition to gymnastics, skiing and bodybuilding, he also studied yoga, Zen meditation, and the ways in which animals moved.
In 1912 he went first to England, where he boxed professionally and worked as a teacher of self-defense for Scotland Yard. As a German, he was interned during the first World War. During this forced detention, he developed his concept of holistic body training, called “The Art of Contrology”.
In 1926 he immigrated to New York. While en route, Joseph Pilates met nurse Clara Zeuner, who soon became his wife and co-teacher.
Once in Manhattan, the couple took over a training studio at 939 8th Avenue, located in the same building as the New York City Ballet. Clara’s medical expertise was a perfect complement to the movement system he was developing, in which the focus was always on centering and stabilizing the the body.
Classical Pilates, also called The Pilates Method, is an intelligent, holistic movement system. Joseph Pilates worked with his clients individually and creatively.
His students included numerous dancers and choreographers, including George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Pilates created a personal training program for each of his students. When necessary, he quickly developed new, tailor-made exercises to challenge and foster his clients. Joseph Pilates worked well into old age and died at the age of 83. After his death, Pilates’ wife, Clara, initially continued on with the studio. In order to continue his life’s work, selected students of the first generation of coaches, led by Romana Kryzanowska, were enlisted. These so-called “elders”, coaches who had personally learned from Joseph Pilates, continued spreading the word and all that Pilates had worked for.
To this day, classical Pilates continues to be taught using the equipment that Pilates designed himself – including in Pilates Studio Berlin.
Romana Kryzanowska, born in 1923, is a world-renowned pupil and the eventual successor of Joseph Pilates, teaching his original method for over 70 years. Initially a ballet dancer, Romana first studied at the George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. At the age of 17, she was able to heal and overcome an ankle injury through the Pilates method. She then committed herself to the Pilates method and remained faithful to it throughout her life. Romana worked under the direct supervision of her mentors Joseph and Clara Pilates. She eventually became the designated successor, took over the studio and continued the life’s work of Joseph and Clara Pilates. She lived to be 90 years old and until her death in 2013, taught in the studio daily. She also travelled frequently around the world, sharing her knowledge and experience with the next generation of trainers, including Galina Rohleder.
Romana’s daughters Sari Mejia Santo and Daria Pace are now considered the custodians of the original Pilate’s method. Classical Pilates is defined among other things as the precise exercises and ideas that Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara Romana Kryzanowska taught.