Pilates seems to have burst onto the scene out of nowhere within last 10 years. After decades in which this method of training was only for the elite, now, Pilates is part of the mainstream. What is the story behind this method gaining more and more popularity? Here is a brief overview.
Joseph Pilates, born in Germany, went to England in 1912, at the age of 29, where he worked as a self-defense instructor for Scotland Yard detectives. At the beginning of World War I, Joe was interned as an "enemy alien" with other German nationals. During his internment, Joe refined his ideas and trained other internees with his method of exercise. When he was released, he was put to work to help the wounded. He attached springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that later led to the design of his apparatuses. An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands of people, but not one of Joe's trainee's Died. This, according to him, testified to the effectiveness of his method.
When Joe returned to Germany, his exercise method gained favor in the dance community, primarily through Rudolf von Laban, who created the form of dance notation most widely used today. Hanya Holm adopted many of Joe's exercises for her modern dance curriculum, and they are still part of the "Holm Technique" Today. When the German authorities asked Joe to teach his fitness system to the army, he decided to leave Germany for good.
In 1926, Joe emigrated to the United States. During the trip, he met Clara, whom he later married. Joe and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York, sharing the address with the "New York City Ballet."
In the early 1960s, Joe and Clara could count among its clients many New York dancers. George Balanchine studied "at Joe," as he called it, and also invited Pilates to instruct his young ballerinas at the New York City Ballet.
"Pilates" was becoming popular outside of New York as well. As the New York Herald Tribune noted in 1964, "in dance classes across the United States, hundreds of young students warm up daily with an exercise they know as pilates, without knowing that the word has a capital P, and a living, right-breathing namesake".
Joe continued to train clients at his studio until his death in 1967 at the age of 87. When Joe died, he left no will and had designated no line of succession for the "Pilates" work to continue. Nevertheless, his work remains. Clara continued to operate what was known as the "Pilates" Studio on Eighth Avenue in New York, where Romana Kryzanowska became the director around 1970. Kryzanowska had studied with Joe and Clara in the early 1940s. Several students of Joe and Clara opened their own studios. Such as Ron Fletcher, a Martha Graham dancer who studied and consulted with Joe since the 1940s, due to a chronic knee injury. Fletcher opened his studio in Los Angeles in 1970.
In the 1970s, Hollywood celebrities discovered Ron Fletcher's Pilates studio in Beverly Hills. Where the stars go, the media follows. In the late 1980s, the media began to cover Pilates extensively. The public took note, and the Pilates business has grown exponentially. "I'm fifty years ahead of my time," Joe had once said. He was right. It is no longer limited to the elite, Pilates is now part of the mainstream. Today, millions of North Americans practice Pilates, and the numbers continue to grow.