Who was Pilates?

A native of Germany, Joseph Hubertus Pilates, was born in 1883 and as a child suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Determined to overcome his ailments, he began to study anatomy as well as Eastern and Western forms of exercise, including Yoga, weight training, wrestling, and acrobatics. He was particularly enamored with the classic Greek “ideal man” who was equally schooled in cognitive thinking, philosophy, and history, but also maintained a finely tuned, athletic body.

Pilates was originally a gymnast, diver, and bodybuilder. He moved to England in 1912 and earned a living as a professional boxercircus performer, and self-defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. At this time, Joseph developed a series of floor routines that demand balance, flexibility, strength, power, agility, and acute mental focus in order to execute them correctly. During World War I, while interned by British authorities at an internment camp, he designed and engineered specialized exercise apparatus using springs and pulleys to rehabilitate injured war victims. From this experience, he developed his revolutionary method of physical and mental conditioning which he called “Contrology”.

In the 1920s, Pilates immigrated to the United States and during his travels, he met his wife Clara, a nurse. Together, they opened their first studio in New York City where many of their first clients came from the world of dance. Eminent dance masters such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Martha Graham became devoted to his method.