Who was Joseph Pilates?
Born in Germany in 1883, Joseph Pilates was a sickly child, suffering from acute asthma and poor posture. This was something he was determined to overcome, setting his standards to be as strong and as agile as the ancient Greeks! He studied anatomy and physiology in order to devise a series of exercises that he could perform daily to improve his health and wellbeing. By the age of 14 he had made such dramatic changes to his body that he was actually used as a model for the drawing of anatomical charts and was winning competitions as a gymnast and boxer.
When WW1 broke out Joseph was demonstrating self-defence techniques on the Isle of Man. Held as a prisoner of war there, he worked within the prison hospitals applying his method, which he called ‘Contrology’, to keep morale high and to rehabilitate the soldiers. It was here that he utilised the hospital beds and springs to form his first apparatus.
At the end of the war, Joseph moved to America and opened his first studio in New York. This is where the myth began that Pilates was invented for dancers. George Balanchine, a dancer who was a client of Joseph’s, also sent many other dancers there to improve their strength or to rehabilitate. As did Martha Graham, another dancer at the time. The fact remains however, that Joseph put his studio there to be close to the boxing matches nearby and despite his initial ideas, the dancers sent by George and Martha became Joseph’s main clients. They brought the high level of athleticism and finesse to the method, which still forms the basis of many Pilates teaching styles today.
It was the high levels of the dancers that pushed Joseph Pilates to keep progressing his own techniques to always be one step ahead of his clients. Sadly he died before his exercise method caught on around the world, but he would no doubt be amazed at how huge the Pilates phenomena has become today.