Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. He was a sickly child but was determined to make himself strong and healthy. He researched and practised every kind of exercise, from classical Roman and Greek exercise regimes to body-building and gymnastics. He also practised the Eastern disciplines of yoga, tai chi, martial arts and Zen meditation. Additionally, he studied anatomy and animal movements. He sampled every kind of exercise that he could and carefully recorded the results.
During 1912, Joe left Germany for England, where he became a professional boxer and circus acrobat. At the outbreak of WW I, Joe was interned as an enemy alien at Lancaster then the Isle on Man. During his internment, he refined his ideas and trained other internees in his system of exercise. Working as a nurse, he rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to his later equipment designs. After his release, Joe returned to Germany where he developed and enhanced his reputation further as a physical trainer and healer.
During 1923, Joe moved to America. He opened his first studio in New York along with Clara, his wife and assistant. His new method was an instant hit, particularly among dancers who found the Pilates method the best way to recover from injuries and prevent their recurrence. A wider audience got to hear of the method, which Joe originally called Controlology. Thanks to his self-confidence and America’s growing interest in physical fitness, Joe’s teachings began to catch on to the wider market. He taught in his New York studio from 1926 until his death in 1967. Clara carried on teaching for a further 10 years.
Joe left no will and no designated line of succession for the Pilates work to carry on. But his legacy has continued to live on to this day thanks to the Pilates Elders; Joe’s first generation and original students of Pilates. They used and mastered his techniques before forming their own studios to teach the Pilates Method. In turn, this has proliferated into a large number of Pilates schools & brands world-wide.
Pilates Returns to the UK
During the late 1960’s, an English gentleman named Alan Herdman, was asked by the London School of Contemporary Dance to visit New York to investigate the methods of Joseph Pilates. Alan returned in 1970 to set up the UK’s first-ever Pilates studio. Today, Alan is a global Pilates luminary. Keeley met him a few years ago on a training course and has received personal coaching at his London studios on a number of occasions since. Alan is quite selective about sharing contact details, but during their first meeting he gave Keeley a hand-written scrap of paper with his phone number and email address.
That little scrap of paper is one of Keeley’s most treasured Pilates possessions!