Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in 1880 of Greek parentage near Dusseldorf, Germany. As a sickly child, he had studied many different forms of exercise, including yoga, martial arts, Zen, Greco-Roman regimes, boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics. Through his own efforts, Pilates became so well developed by the age of fourteen that he was asked to pose for anatomy charts. Utilizing the knowledge he gained from these varied disciplines, and combining it with the belief that it is the mind which controls the body, Pilates developed his fundamental system of exercise in 1902.
Pilates left Germany in 1912 for England to become a professional boxer. While preparing for his boxing career, he also began teaching self-defense to Blackpool detectives. The outbreak of World War I cut these career plans short. During the war, Pilates was interned as a German national in an English POW camp in Lancaster. There, he employed his system of exercise on his campmates and drew the attention of his captors when his was the only barrack not to suffer casualties during the 1918 flu epidemic. Later, as an orderly on the Isle of Man, Pilates placed springs on hospital beds to help rehabilitate disabled and diseased wartime patients. This is the forerunner of Pilates equipment (The Universal Reformer and Cadillac, etc.) as we know it today, which employs springs and body weight as the main source of resistance. The result is greater coordination, improved breath control, and increased awareness of the body working as a whole unit instead of as individual muscle groups.
After the war, Pilates returned to Hamburg, Germany, continuing his work. During this time, he met Rudolf von Labon, the developer of Labonotation (dance notation). This alliance introduced Pilates work into the dance world. In 1925, Joe’s work came to the attention of the German government, and he was invited to train the new army. Instead, he decided to immigrate to the United States. Fortuitously, he also met his future wife Clara on the ship ride to America. Upon arrival, Joe and Clara set up their studio in New York City.
There, he became popular with athletes and performing artists, including George Ballanchine. In the 1940’s, one of Ballanchine’s dancers was sent to Pilates for rehabilitation of a serious ankle injury. At first skeptical of Pilates’ methods, the dancer, Romana Kryzanowska, was able to resume her dancing in record time and went on to become the number one Pilates instructor in the world today.
Joseph Pilates, always the educator, innovator, and inventor, continued to teach, along with his wife Clara, well into his late eighties, until his death in the 1960’s. Clara and Romana continued to run the studio together until Clara’s death. Today, Romana, highly regarded as Joseph Pilates’ protégé, continues Joe’s legacy through Romana’s Pilates. Your instructor, David Mooney, studied with, and was certified by, Romana in New York in 1991 and shares with her a very discerning eye for how the body works and occasionally malfunctions. Indeed, utilizing the Pilates methodology has brought Mr. Mooney much success helping clients of all ages and abilities.