The History of Pilates

Many people know what Pilates is, but have no idea where it came from. The exercise method we now know was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century combining smooth controlled movements with concentration and breathing, The Pilates Method (then called “Contrology”) was immediately adopted by the dance and acting community, especially those recovering from injuries.

In 1914 after WWI broke out, he was interned in an “enemy alien camp” in Lancaster. It was here that he began to develop the Pilates Method of Exercise known then as Contrology. He was then transferred to another camp in The Isle of Man. While working here as a nurse, he developed his exercise equipment using bed springs and other apparatus.

In 1925, he came to the United States and while on the ship he met his wife, Clara. Upon arriving in New York City, they opened a studio at 939 8th Avenue. Famous choreographers and dancers studied with Joe for their training and rehab work (George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham). Additionally, many movie stars studied with him as well (Vivien Leigh, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn).

In January 1966, there was a fire in his building. Joe returned to his studio to fight the fire, but fell through the burnt out floorboards hanging for some time until rescued by firefighters. He later died in October 1967, at the age of 87, due to complications attributed to this incident. Clara continued to run the studio for the next 10 years until her death in 1976. A longtime teacher and student, Romana Kryzanowska, took over the business and dedicated her life to teaching Joe’s work.

Joseph Pilates

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