As Pilates teachers we know that the stronger the foundation, the greater the movement potential. We teach to ground through the feet, legs, arms and shoulders in order to lift, lengthen and elongate. The essence of many of the exercises requires stability of one body part against the mobility of another and success is found in the ability to stay strong, grounded and connected.
This fundamental technique should not just apply to physical movement but also to our teaching ethos. Where is the point of stability, the grounding, the roots of your Pilates?
The Pilates Method is like a tree. The roots ensure health, give life, maintain integrity and allow growth to all the branches. We are the leaves, reflecting colour and light but always remaining inherently connected to the roots. The roots should always be acknowledged, honoured, nourished and cherished. Never forgotten, neglected, discounted and ignored- otherwise the tree dies. ( A bit dramatic I know!)
I believe so strongly in always striving to know more about Joseph Pilates, to understand the origin of the work and to honour his legacy. This, I hope, allows me to have creativity with integrity.
The Pilates Elders
Other than Joseph Pilates himself, the most precious and priceless resource we have are the Pilates Elders. The Pilates Elders or 1st generation teachers are those who were the original students of Joseph Pilates. Through the work of these teachers and those who continue their lineage, we can learn not only more about Joseph PIlates but also how they have maintained their respect and honour of his work whilst developing their own voice, emphasis and style.
The Pilates Elders are
Lolita San Miguel
(Note: There may be others that could be added!)
You can experience each unique lineage by sourcing teachers trained under the tutelage of an Elder. I am so grateful to the following teachers for sharing their thoughts.
Kathy Stanford Grant, on her creativity, encouragement and on finding your own voice by Blossom Leilani Crawford
One of the things I loved about working with Kathy Grant was, simply, that she looked at you. She would quietly observe the way a person would hold hot coffee, or walk into a room. All of this was information that she would store away. We would talk about the different ways a woman would bend over and pick something up vs. the way a man would.
In a session with Kathy she was working with more than just the way you moved, it was also the way you thought. Sometimes I would be doing a particularly simple but difficult movement. I would attempt to do it and she would simply say, “No”.
Meaning, “That isn’t what I want you to do.”
I would reply, “I haven’t even moved yet.”
Then the feedback she would give is that “You are thinking about it wrong!” This is when she would come up with images of a mobile, red wine on a white table cloth etc to help you imagine the movement. I loved this about working with her!
I was very lucky to have been raised in my Pilates life by Kathy Grant. One of the most valuable things she taught me was to think for myself. She never asked me to teach like she did. It was a frustrating process to go through because I just wanted to be good and to see what she saw.
One day I asked her how she saw what she saw when people do Pilates and she would say
“It’s like this picture on the wall. See how it’s a little crooked. How would you fix that?”
Years later I see the lessons she was teaching me. You can only address what you can see. There are so many ways to move or do something there isn’t just one way for everyone, or as Kathy would say, “One size does not fit all”. It takes practice, curiosity and an interest in people to teach well. How you “fix or align” is a combination of language and experimentation and is an expression of who you are as a teacher.
Blossom Leilani Crawford is the owner and director of Bridge Pilates in Brooklyn, New York. She worked with Pilates Elder Kathleen Stanford Grant for seventeen years. You can contact Blossom via her website: www.bridgepilates.com and follow her on Instagram: @blossompilatesus
Romana Kryzanowska, on her wise words and pieces of magic by Brooke Siler
What drew me to Romana’s lineage was Romana. I knew nothing of different schools of Pilates, nor was I even interested in becoming a teacher; but meeting Romana and being in her studio, was like opening the doors to the past and potential all at once.
She made the work come alive and challenged you in all the best ways. You never stopped learning from her; she always had another little piece of magic up her sleeve. Most of all she made you understand that Pilates itself was a means to an end…the larger picture was always about enjoying life to the fullest!
Romana would say,
“When in doubt, leave it out!” Her point was, there are so many ways in the system to give your client what they need, that if you are questioning whether a particular exercise will be safe or good for them…follow the quote advice. Continuing with this point, she also said “not every exercise is for every body”.
“Pick one thing” when teaching a session…particularly a beginner session. Don’t overload or overwhelm a client with a million corrections all over their body. Pick one area of focus, the Powerhouse was the go-to area 99% of the time, and correct from the inside out. (ie proximal to distal in relation to the powerhouse).
Brooke Siler began her Pilates training in 1994 under Joseph Pilates’ protégée Romana Kryzanowska where she spent a decade studying under Romana’s masterful tutelage. She opened her award-winning NYC studio, re:AB Pilates, in 1997 and is best known for penning the New York Times’ best-seller The Pilates Body. Brooke moved to the UK in 2015 for her family and still teaches workshops, courses and conferences. You can contact Brooke via her website: www.brookesilerpilates.com and follow her on Instagram:@brookesilerpilates
Loilita San Miguel, on her inclusivity and open mindedness by Joakim Valsinger
Lolita is quite an impressive person and still going strong at the age of 87. On her Pilates Master Mentor Program she encourages us to provide her with a creative movement in Mat and for each piece of Apparatus. It has to fit within the Pilates family and be something new. Not always an easy task when performing in front of someone with 65+ years of experience…
I think one of her best attributes is her open mindedness and inclusivity. Lolita pays homage to all the Elders in her Student Manuals and in her memoir ‘My Enchanted Life’. This, I think, is her greatest attribute, as I see many people connected to Elders or copyrighted material claiming theirs is the only way, and all other schools of Pilates are lesser. This open attitude sometimes goes against a school of thought because new students are often drawn to the absoluteness of ‘My version is right, everything else is wrong’.
She pushes and drives all her students to become the best version of themselves, not simply copies of her. It’s not always an easy process, but it has certainly helped me find my place in the Pilates industry even though I am a man, even though I am not a dancer and I come from a Military background.
When I started my studies, these elements were presented to me as drawbacks, but Lolita encouraged me to see them as positive.
Joakim, a Swedish born Australian came to the UK in 1998. A former Australian Army Reserve Commando, Bondi Beach Surf Life Saver and TA Physical Training Instructor, Joakim is a 2nd Generation Pilates Teacher and Sports Therapist. You can contact Joakim via his website: www.balanspilates.com and follow him on Instagram: @balanspilates
Carola Trier, on her lasting influence today by Reiner Grootenhuis
Carola Trier’s way of running a Pilates studio was very different to what Joe and Clara did. Three of the “Elders”, Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant and Lolita San Miguel, worked for Carola Trier and while they might not all have liked Carola Trier’s personality, her business approach has for sure influenced them in a way. In my opinion, Carola Trier has shaped the way Pilates is offered in a studio setting today.
Besides obtaining a diploma in psychology and an MBA, Reiner has studied the healing and martial arts of the Southern Shaolin Monastery Weng Chun. At the beginning of 2012, he opened the pilates-powers studio in Tönisvorst, only 25 km away from Joseph Pilates’ hometown. In 2019, Reiner has published, in April 2020, the biography ”Carola Trier: The first woman ever to open a Pilates studio – Portrait of an extraordinary journey – Plus: Photos of her Mat and Reformer Exercises”, which he currently is revising based on new information that has been discovered. Follow Reiner on Instagram @pilatespowers
Ron Fletcher, on his creativity and breath by Emma Bray
Ron’s work is a beautiful combination of Pilates which he learned from Joe & Clara & his time dancing & teaching with Martha Graham (Contemporary dance).
Like all Pilates there is an emphasis on form (Fletcher Fundamentals) and also beautifully layered choreography on and off the Pilates machines. This choreography is combined with the Percussive Breath which is unique to Fletcher Pilates.
Ron developed Pilates (with Clara’s blessing) throughout his life and created a rich body of work. Most notable are Ron’s creations on the Spine Corrector and Ped-I-Pull along with his Barre/Towel/Floor work(B/T/F). Ron created the former whilst living and running his studio down in LA. There were many times where Ron would be invited to people‘s homes and studio spaces with no equipment, it was from this he began to develop this body of work.
The Barrework is for the articulation and strengthening of the lower body into the trunk. The Towelwork for the upper body especially the shoulder girdle and the Floorwork for full body with attention to the spine. The B/T/F is a useful addition to the Matwork, offering a 360° approach to movement which plays with pace, form & focus.
Emma is a comprehensively trained & certified Pilates Teacher who enjoys working with people from many different sectors offering practical & attainable movement goals. Be it desk based clients to Pilates Teachers deepening their craft. Emma’s extensive study of Pilates, Gyrotonic(R), Gyrokinesis(R), Yoga, Nutrition & Counselling over the past 17 years enables her to offer a truly holistic approach. If not deep in nerding mode, Emma’s happy place is eating burritos whilst drinking good coffee by the Sea. You can contact Emma via her website: www.emmabraypilates.com and follow her on Instagram: @emma_bray_pilates
How to learn more about each Elder’s lineage
Pilates Anytime has the most incredible collection of interviews and resources available called The Pilates Legacy Project. It is an ongoing, historical archive documenting the history and evolution of the PIlates Method. There is so much to explore as you delve into video biographies, masterclasses on methods and experience taking a class with some of the Elders. Use the code JPILATES to enjoy 30 days free trial.
I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on the Elders and your lineage!
If you’re interested to learn more about my teaching approach and upcoming training, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Blog contributors: Pilates Anytime, Brooke Siler, Blossom Leilani Crawford, Joakim Valsinger, Emma Bray, Reiner Grootenhuis