A look at Pilates from its beginnings until today.
Pilates is named after its founder, Joseph Pilates, a German gymnast, diver, and bodybuilder. While very young, he suffered from such maladies as asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Not to be deterred, he quickly dedicated his life to fitness, studying zen, yoga, body-building, and boxing. It was during his time as a political prisoner in England that he developed and taught "Contrology," the system of fitness that would evolve into Pilates.
Across the Pond
After the First World War, Joseph moved back to Germany and was employed training police officers. But when pressured to train soldiers in the German Army, he left for New York City. While sailing for America, he met Clara, who would be his wife and with whom he would found his studio. The methods he taught focused on using the mind to work in concert with muscles and core posture. Soon they had a strong following of local dancers and performing artists who were integral in disseminating his lessons of breath and alignment.
Joseph Pilates only lived to see two of his students open studios of their own. The first was a dancer and contortionist named Carola Trier. He and Clara assisted her in opening the studio and remained friends for the rest of their lives. A second student made the audacious attempt to steal Pilates' clients by opening earlier in the morning. Joseph Pilates, not to be outdone, was reported to have approached his former student with a gun, recommending he leave town. If the legend is true, it worked, because Joseph Pilates maintained his monopoly on the NYC Pilates crowd.
Pilates Goes Nationwide
After Joseph's death in 1967, there was no one to fully carry the torch. His wife Clara continued to run the studio, but a former student, Romana Kryzanowska, returned to be the director in 1970. With the flagship Pilates (as it had come to be known) studio still in operation, several other students opened students across the nation. Studios cropped up in Los Angeles, Massachusetts, and Beverly Hills soon after. With the celebrity endorsement implicit in the final location, the press and national attention began to give credence to the new fitness practice.
By the 1980s, Pilates had widespread media coverage and Joseph's claim of being ahead of his time was vindicated. Today, millions of Americans practice Pilates and the number shows no signs of slowing down.