Discussion #1144

Deborah Lessen

80 min - Discussion


Kristi Cooper sits down with Deborah Lessen for a discussion about how she started Pilates with Carola Trier and how her knowledge about Pilates has evolved over the years. She shares fascinating stories about how she learned about Joseph Pilates and the Pilates elders. Deborah also opens up about the Trademark Lawsuit and how it impacted her and the Pilates community, and how the Pilates Method Alliance was created to establish the teaching of Pilates as a profession. This interview is full of interesting information for you to enjoy. Thank you Deborah!

If you are interested in learning more about the Trademark Lawsuit, you can read the Court Decision for a detailed report of what was discussed during the trial.
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Jul 22, 2013
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Chapter 1

Introduction: When Deborah Met Carola Trier and Began to Study Pilates

It is my privilege and honor to be speaking with Deborah lessen in the studio today. Debra has been teaching philosophies for over 30 years. She is a direct link to first-generation teacher Corolla tree here. She was the codefendant in the infamous politeness trademark lawsuit. She's had a studio on green street studios and [inaudible] in New York since 1983 and was instrumental in the beginning of the plays method Alliance.

So thank you for coming and welcome to plays anytime. It's my pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. It's been a long time wishing line and there's so much to ask. So let's just start at the beginning. Why don't you tell us first, uh, how you got started in ballets and how came to be that you met Corolla and work? Sure. Um, I come from the dance world and uh, my generation, many dancers did outside things to help improve their technique and keep their bodies injury free.

And I happened to hurt myself in class one day at the Graham school. And my teacher, who was the director of the school, pulled me aside and said, if you would like to continue dancing for a long time, you should do something for yourself. And I said, what? And she said, Paul Addis. So I happened to know two dancers that taught for Corolla and that's why I chose to go there, even though I didn't know what they did, what Palladio's was or who Corolla was. This was 1980 and I realized when I went to Corollas and heard the sound of the Springs that I actually lived over a Pilati studio for six and a half years at that time. Uh, no, previously I did not know what it was, but it was Robert Fitzgerald studio. And having lived in that neighborhood, Midtown Manhattan for that number of years, I had no idea that there were Pilati studios dotting the neighborhood.

What was even in the dance world? What was the exposure of lies? What was, um, do you feel like a lot of people knew about holidays yet, whether they were dancing? Well, this unfolded for me over a period of time. In fact, at that time, most of the Graham company did [inaudible] I was not aware of it, but most of New York city ballet and American ballet theater did pull oddities. And, um, I came to know many years later that Broadway hoofers in the fifties did politeness. And they all said, we're going to Joe's, let's go to Joe's. And I learned this, um, when we were trying to figure out how the term Polonius method came to be because Joe certainly did not coin it himself.

Take us into Corolla studio your first day. Well, I arrived at the door. It was a Corolla studio was on 58th street and seventh Avenue in a doorman building. And when I rang the doorbell, she opened the door. She was beautifully groomed, beautiful silver, very done hair and red fingernails and lipstick and European charm. And she always called you, uh, miss Christie. Yes. And she welcomed you in. And, um, I was very charmed by her and she always gave the first session, which started with an introduction where she would put you into your ideal vertical alignment and then introduce you to pull out this breathing and put you on the apparatus and then go when she answered the telephone, that was when you really got the introduction.

And what she would say was, I do the work of the late Joseph [inaudible]. It is full body range of motion exercise on specially designed equipment against resistance, which is presented through Springs. Uh, that's great. And so in the first session she didn't necessarily say that to you cause you were already there, but that is how she presented in it. Yes. And Corolla introduced concepts immediately like breathing.

That's the first thing that, that you did. She sat you down on the reformer, she had you hang your body forward, she put her hands over your back. Uh, where are you, where are your gills would be if you were a fish. And she had you inhale into her hands and exhale and she would describe it like the movement of bellows, you know, pulling air in and pushing air out. And she also talked about, uh, opening your back, like you were opening doors as you were flexing your spine and opening doors in the front of the spine as you were extending. So you, you, uh, learned movement already with this concept in mind.

But I found Palladio's to be very akin to Graham technique and I immediately felt at home in the movement. I think I had been a client for maybe two months when Corolla started asking me if I would teach. And I had already quite a number of years of teaching experience, uh, in Graham technique. So I was, I was accustomed to teaching and I really didn't know what was happening with my career at the time. So I stalled for about a year and then finally said, what, what else am I doing that's so important? And I said, okay, I'll teach. So you want to you as a client? Oh yes. Okay.

And clients had to attend a minimum of two sessions a week. What kind of training did you have to do in order to be a teacher? There was a process. It was old fashioned, um, apprenticeship. I spent a summer, um, literally five days a week trailing Corolla in the studio. This was my training. Okay. Okay. Um, first I was allowed to change Springs than I was allowed to move the boxes on and off to reformers.

And eventually I was allowed to teach one exercise and then two exercises and then three exercises. And she would choose the clients that I could assist, but there was always another teacher available and supervising until eventually I was competent to work on the floor. Who is some of the teachers that were in the studio at that time? Well, the, the two teachers that I knew who actually had already left were Carrie Roland and Moshay Austra Ghana. And when I started there was a wonderful man named, uh, dealio Ferraro who had also worked for Robert Fitzgerald. Um, he's no longer with us, but he was a wonderful teacher.

And Judy Coleman, who currently lives in West Texas and teaches ballet. And in the afternoon, um, let's see, Deborah smally and Siegel who is a psychotherapist now and shares a space with Mary Bowen yes, but doesn't teach, she doesn't teach Palladio's any longer. Okay. Um, but all of these people were dancers. There were many teachers that came in and out, but there were only a few who worked full time meaning every day. And it was difficult for the palati studios to keep teachers because dancers would get jobs and disappear. So there was always back and forth and I didn't know who these people were, but I answered the phone.

So I knew that Romana was calling Kathy grant was calling asking Corolla, do you have any teachers and teacher? Because they were already teaching elsewhere at this time. They had their own studios and everyone always needed teachers. The situation, the first time that I actually heard of any kind of formal training program was friendly hen who had worked for Corolla for a number of years and then opened her own studio. And I think she was so tired of having to train new teachers that she developed this idea of having them sign a contract that she would train them, but they had to stay for two years.

It was successful because they would at least stay for two years. Yeah. Wow. Um, at this point, you know, when you're early teaching in the studio, what did you know about just a place? I knew nothing about him. There was a photograph of him, the famous photograph of Joe and Clara sitting on a bench looking chirpy at each other. Uh, that was on the wall in the studio. And Corolla would talk about Joe and Clara from time to time, but I had no sense of who they were, where they were, what the timeline was. Um, every few months Corolla would, would pull some of the teachers together and go through some of the exercises that we did not do regularly with the idea that she didn't want them to get lost headstand, the more difficult ones. Um, those were not done regularly in the studio, but she felt that anything that she learned from Joe should be carried on even if just for a memory.

She was a very dynamic little fireball. She was extremely well educated, knowledgeable about the body. She could list all of your soft tissue and bones in Latin. She had studied very extensively. She, um, developed some of her own protocols for injuries in areas where PyLadies didn't address them well enough for post rehabilitation. Um, and she was very, very confident.

Well, first of all, she worked hand in hand with several orthopedists. They knew what exercise protocols she was doing with their patients. And I think the relationship of having done that over many years, she was confident that she was healing, not hurting clients. Yes, she was a dancer. She had several injuries.

But the last one is what brought her to Dr. Henry Jordan, who was the chief of orthopedics at Lenox Hill hospital in New York. And Dr. Jordan turned out to be a friend of Joseph [inaudible] and sent Corolla to Mr. Paul [inaudible] for re rehabilitation for her knee injury. Karola stayed with Joe for 10 years and I'm, I don't know for sure, but I'm assuming that she went daily or at least three times a week because that's what people did in those days. Um, and I know that she had a very close relationship with, with both Joe and Clara and, um, there are some photographs of her exercising up at Joe's cottage in the Berkshires with Joe. Really? Yeah. Is that, are those pictures we float around? No, they're, they're not. Okay.

I won't take yet. Um, I don't have the mind, but the mind to know, but they're out there. Yeah. Okay. Well that's good. I hope that they're well taken care of. If you can share what she might've said about her relationship, in other words, how you said they were close, but how, how would she say that? How would you, how was that expressed? Other than that, obviously she was there for 10 years so that something's working. I think that, I don't know about their personal relationship, but Corolla had tremendous respect for Joe's work and really believed in the work, um, as exercise. And you know, one, when I met Corolla, exercise was not a mainstream positive word, but in Corolla's vocabulary, exercise was a very positive word.

Hmm. And if you go back and read return to life, Joe says you have to exercise daily to reap the benefits. What did she do other than teach? Well, she loved dance. She loved dancers. She loved everything having to do with dance. She had many dance clients and so she did go to performances frequently. Um, she had a number of friends.

Some of them were friends from Europe. Uh, she went to museums. She was active in Jewish culture and she always took the month of August off when she was younger. She went back to Germany where she was from and spent a month at Bodden Bodden. Uh, when I worked for her, she started going to Saratoga Springs and, uh, Mohonk mountain house, I don't know. Well, they're closer to New York. They didn't require a trip to Europe, but that was part of her lifestyle.

And she was an avid reader and theater goer. Well of course she introduced me to Paul [inaudible] and I found that things that would take me months to work on in the structure of a dance class I could accomplish in a couple of weeks in a palati studio. So of course a lot of that is taking the, removing weight bearing and being able to identify proper muscle use. So, you know, I was so thankful to learn this, that it was unbelievable. And when I met Corolla and started teaching, I thought, I'm gonna stay here as long as I am learning from her.

And at that point I thought this could last for some time. How long did it, um, it lasted for three years. It could have lasted longer, but in those years Corolla was really slowing down, not feeling well herself. Um, and then I started, uh, becoming aware of certain things in the work that I felt needed to be modernized. Um, at that time there was no term neutral spine. Ah, but I was coming to the thinking that, you know, working flat back rounding under all the time was certainly not what I needed as a dancer. And I didn't see it working for a lot of the clients either. So at a certain point, Corolla confronted me about it and I knew that it was time for me to go. I would have liked to learn more from, but I didn't feel that it was, it was going to happen and I was already on a trajectory and I needed to go. Was there ever a point when you really, I guess when did you really learn about justice? [inaudible] cause so far you've said at, when you first got there, you didn't know much about him. When did you discover, well that you were for Corolla tree or, I was not only not aware. I really had no interest. You know, I went to Corollas to help my dance technique.

I wound up teaching there. I immediately poured myself into learning how to teach this form that that was new to me and I really didn't explore outside of that box. So it wasn't until, um, doing research for the trademark cancellation that I learned about Joseph [inaudible]. And, um, I have to take that back. Previously, when I started hearing about, uh, somebody wanting to own the name Paul [inaudible], that sort of raised hairs and I met Kathy grant at that time and I started wanting to know who other [inaudible] teachers were that had nothing to do with Corolla. Um, and, and then I started being aware of this much larger, uh, map of politeness. So when you talk about answering the phone and there's Romana on the other end or Cathy grant, that's more in retrospect, you're remembering back that. Okay.

Yes. And I had no idea what the relationships were between any of these teachers. Did you ever later get to talk to Corolla after you left about anything? I did. Um, periodically I would go to visit her and frankly, when she retired, Palladio's just kind of evaporated from her memory. I remember asking her about a couple of exercises and she looked at me like, Oh, I was speaking a foreign language. Um, you know, but it was, it was great to see her. And, um, when I got my summons and I really needed help, I went to her and, and asked her, you know, will you back me on this?

And she said, absolutely not. I don't want to have anything to do with any legal proceeding or court proceeding before we go into that. Cause that's a big subject is what did you learn from Corolla that you value most today? Discipline. I had discipline as a dancer and I understood discipline as a dancer. I never, um, imagined how that would cross over into exercise.

And it's something that I see lacking in a lot of [inaudible] now the repetition, the discipline of doing a practice, it's not entertainment, it's not medical intervention. It's exercise. So when you say repetition, you mean that that people are not doing enough repetition. Is that, is that right? Yeah. Um, and of course this, this is a very general statement. Of course it's not, not everyone sure, but you know it at the palati studios, at that time you learned a sequence of exercises and you repeated that sequence. And over time you may learn more things, you may drop some things out if they became repetitious with, with other new exercises that you learnt. But the core exercises in [inaudible] you do every session. So you're working for Corolla, then 1980 and 1983.

What was a typical day like in the studio? Who was there? When did you work out? Were you just learning? Were, how many clients did you see? Just a typical day in the studio? Well, I was, uh, at that time in the Martha Graham ensemble, so I had special permission to come and hour and half an hour late an hour after the afternoon shift started to accommodate my other life. Um, so when I came in there would be another teacher plus Corolla on the floor.

And um, Corolla really did not feel well in the afternoons and she tended to get very cranky mid-afternoon. So after a while, uh, I would say after the first year I was brave enough to say, you can lie down if you feel like it. And she would, and she would leave me alone in the studio. So there, there was a regular group of afternoon clients, um, all kinds of people. There was the lovely woman, her curl was editor from green Willow books who encouraged Corolla to write the children's book exercise. What it is, what it does. Um, there were a couple of high school students, there were a bunch of a school of American ballet students. Um, the studio in general was much more active in the morning and that's not when I worked. And what about when, if you're dancing and you're teaching, when do you do your own blood? Well, Corolla always said when the clients are finished, then you can exercise. But my other job, aside from teaching at the studio was a to clean before the cleaner came at five 30, so, so I had to count the towels and you know, this was not a menial thing to Corolla. This was very important. And I had to wash down all the woodwork and the handles because people would read the New York times and then touch things and she was afraid to clean her, wouldn't do quite a good enough job.

So I had to do it first and then I would get on the equipment and within 15 or 20 minutes the cleaner would come and I would get ushered out the door. So that was quite frustrating because I knew that Corolla was on the equipment at six o'clock in the morning.

Chapter 2

Trademark Lawsuit

Let's talk about the trademark lawsuit. This was such a significant event in this short history of Caladrius and you such a significant player in it all that I think it's a great opportunity to really educate us on what happened. Um, can you start just by sort of setting the scene for what was happening in the PyLadies world just prior to the term bodies becoming trademark? So years before, what was it like teaching? We've heard a little, but just set the stage and then we can start to go into what was the last date exactly about, I had the feeling always that, um, nobody directly asked anyone permission to open a studio to go out on their own.

Um, as a matter of fact, there were very few PyLadies teachers that considered it a career. It was not a career track. Most of the people that I worked with taught, uh, because it was a much better job than waiting on tables. Um, and not that they were good or bad at it, they just weren't serious about it as a future. Um, when I started teaching on my own, I got very serious about it.

I earned a living doing it and it was about 10 years after I started my studio that I started hearing rumblings about someone saying that they owned the name [inaudible] and w w that person was going to try to stop other people from using the name. So just so we're clear on the year, so you opened up your studio, was it 19, 1983. Okay. Um, just flooded, is it been gone since 1967 so in that time, and we know even while he was alive, there were many, not many, but a lot of Kathy ground's teaching. Corolla was teaching. Now you're teaching handful of other people are teaching. Yes. And I was aware of a number of them. As a matter of fact, Corolla always spoke about a man named Jerome Andrews who she was very good friends with. Um, who Kathy grant says, should have been the person for Joe to choose to carry on his legacy. Um, but Kathy was convinced that Joe just couldn't share.

Well, he was alive and he really wanted a man to take over and really thought that his exercise regime was designed for men. Okay. So you're getting rumblings now that someone's trademarking or deciding that the name is now. Yes. And, um, that those were the years where I was involved with the Institute for the Palatium method. And this is now 10 years later, so, or 90 early nineties. Yes. And I asked Joan Breitbart, uh, if she could put out, um, some frequently asked questions to the members of the Institute so that everyone knew the status of, of these rumblings, and she assured me that she was on the case and if anything happened, please immediately come to her.

In 1992 I heard that Sean Gallagher was going to make a presentation at the I Adams conference in New York international association of dance medicine specialists. And in fact there was a panel on PyLadies moderated by Elizabeth Larkam. Um, so that's the first time I saw Elizabeth, Brent Anderson, Ken Endelman, they were all there. They were all there and in the audience were Kathy grant and several other people who had been teaching [inaudible] for many years. Uh, they wanted to see anything that had anything to do with Paul Addis.

Um, so that's when I put a face and a name to these rumblings. And two years later I got served papers to appear in federal court with absolutely no warning. And as I said, for the New York times, it was like an asteroid landed in my living room. I remember I was relearning polities now at this time in 95, actually, I guess it was a little later, but this, there was a lot of cease and desist letters that were going out. So by now, Sean Gallagher has trademarked the name, right? Actually, no, he claims that he bought the trademark. Okay. But that's what was the basis of the cease and desist letters, is that right?

Yes. And the idea was that no one can say that they teach Pele's unless what? Well, I, I only, I only heard what that might mean. It was, it never came in written form to me. Um, and when I received my summons, my reaction was, what am I going to call what I do? What I teach is pull Audis. If I can't say that, how will people find me?

And if that's what I learned from someone who taught politeness, why can't I use that name? And why is this person who hasn't even known about piles as long as I've been teaching it, have the right to tell me I can't say that word. So just you're at your studio, you've heard of the cease and desist happening around the country. We changed our studio name. We are now doing [inaudible]. We're doing, uh, uh, the work inspired by Joseph [inaudible] is how we had to answer the phone. And it became confusing for people because we were teaching long and now we were teaching something new or that's an, it felt like, so you, you, someone shows up at the door and serves you, your to appeared in federal court based on what was the actual, uh, that I was infringing on a trademark for the name.

[inaudible] do you know anyone else that got served? No, I do not, except for Ken Endelman and he had been served on the basis Canada as a, at the time his company was called current concepts, but it's balanced body now and he would have been served on the basis of the same thing but having to do with equipment. Yes. And I, you know, I came to know more about Ken's case subsequently. Um, but uh, at the beginning I really only knew about his, his entanglement because he was making [inaudible] equipment. Whatever I was doing obviously was objectionable. Some of it.

Anyway, I was teacher training. Um, I was involved on the board at the Institute. Um, I had some visibility, not huge, but some. Um, and I also was involved in a project, uh, to make a palati studio in a very visible high-end facility in New York. Um, and I was teaching mat class at a local gym. What made you like that? I mean, what made you, I understand what you just said about what else are you supposed to call it, but it's still legal battle. That's money, that's time away from all of these projects we're talking about. What gave you the courage in my opinion?

What gave you the courage to fight back? Well, I didn't know what my rights were. I immediately contacted an attorney that was recommended by a client, um, who was an intellectual property lawyer. Um, and to my surprise, he was very well aware of PyLadies. And when I explained the situation, he said, of course you should fight back. He, this person has no right to tell you not to use the name.

This particular attorney will you to tell us about the story of what he had already done. Yes. Um, my client was, um, a manager in the music world and happened to manage the band two live crew, which was arrested during one of the early Lollapalooza, Lollapalooza concerts for their lyrics. And my attorney is the attorney that got them off. And as it turns out, my attorney's wife had been doing Pilates regularly for 17 years. Okay. So you're going to fight. What does that mean? What do you, what, what do you do you get this attorney?

Um, I had no idea what it meant, but, um, we went through several years of discovery. We had to do, uh, an exhaustive research on Joseph [inaudible]. You know, the first thing I did was to go down to the municipal building and find out if he had ever filed for a business license, if he had ever had a bank account, all of these kinds of things. And literally he had no thumbprint. And this was common with immigrants because at the time that Joseph [inaudible] came here, uh, people were afraid they wouldn't be allowed to stay. They didn't want to put their money in a bank.

And so that old story of people putting money under their mattress. That's true. Okay. Can, so then, how did it come to be that you and Ken Endelman became co-defendants in this big lawsuit? Well, I had called people that I heard had, uh, gotten cease and desist letters. So one of the first ones was Merito's a bloom.

And, um, then I got in talk in contact with her attorney and um, learned, learned more about Ken's situation. So I, we introduced our attorneys to each other and they ended up working together throughout the seven year process leading to trial. And that, you know, amongst the things that they did where they traveled around the country, taking depositions from people and um, deposing people who had used the name Paul [inaudible] nonstop from the time that, that the palati studio existed until the present. I read the judge's opinion last night and uh, it seemed that a lot of it came down to that, but that Sean Gallagher didn't challenge Cathy grant and she had been teaching in forties, and so is select it. I didn't finish, but the selection of whether or not he, he would ask certain people to stop or, or some contact with people that he didn't ask to stop, let's put it that way, that somehow rendered it more generic. Is that close? Some of them would seem quite random to you. Um, they were chosen, uh, to illustrate different things and um, frankly I don't even recall most, most of them. Yes. And then, um, the lawyers decided to answer with a class action suit and so they had to interview a number of people to be members of this class.

Two of the witnesses that had showed prior and consistent use of the name PyLadies were Howard Rochelle who, uh, took in teachers from the palati studio when its doors closed and had a sign on his door or outside of his door saying that PyLadies was taught there, um, until, until now. Actually he was, it was a chiropractor. He is a chiropractor. Yes, yes. Um, and also, uh, Amy and Rachel Taylor who had been, uh, involved with Romana until Sean forbade Romana to teach at their studio any longer, but they had also bought equipment from we tie home who was the previous owner of the trademark. And there originally was a trademark but it had long lapsed. And so part of the judgment against Sean Gallagher was that he knowingly bought a dead trademark and try to, um, put this hoax over on everybody. Who did he buy it from? Retired from we tie home.

We tie had been a Romana studio manager. Where does Romana fit in all of this? Uh, Romana enabled all of this to happen from my point of view. Um, this couldn't have happened without someone who linked directly to Joseph [inaudible]. And so she and Shawn were partners. They were partners. Um, and I know for sure that Kathy grant and Corolla were very upset about Ramana's behavior and involvement in this and they just couldn't understand it.

Did, what was their religion, what was their relationship like during the trial or after or? Well, I mean, when they were younger, they were all friends. For many, many years now. I don't know the nature of their personal relationships, but I do know that both Cathy and Romana worked for Corolla at the same time. So no matter who says what that verified and did were they deposed, were they a part of that?

Kathy gave testimony at the trial Corolla passed away a week after the judge's decision. That's right. But she was very happy with the outcome. Seven years into this, I think, how, how many years discovering? Three discovery was at least four years. Okay. And then did the trial itself was like 20 days or something, right? It was two weeks. Two weeks.

So there's a few extra years in there. I mean, what was that? Yeah, I don't remember. But you know, these things tend to drag, not drag on ad nauseum and um, it's, you know, it's very unsettling living with a lawsuit. It's just, uh, a longterm drain, not only of your financial resources, but of your energy and your spirit. What effect did it have on your love of holidays or your business, if any? Um, actually it had no effect on my love for, because those people had nothing to do with my practice, my intelligence, my professionalism, and, um, this happened to me. It could have happened to anyone else. They may not have responded the same way I did, but I also didn't want this to happen to any other [inaudible] teachers who would be even less capable of defending themselves.

What, what was the nature of [inaudible] instructors around you? I mean, did they rally, did they not want to be part of it? What was, what did you feel coming from them? Well, you know, this was a difficult situation because people didn't want to come out of the woodwork because then the light might shine on them. But I had to do fundraising. I did not have the means to be paying an attorney, certainly not for seven years and going into trial. Um, and so I, I put the word out to everyone that I could find and I got a lot of responses and that was just amazing. You know, people that I've never heard of, I don't know where they trained. I don't know what, what they do, where they live, what their practices like. That was really incredible.

And we also had a fundraiser in New York city, uh, about a hundred people attended from all over the country. Um, and that was, that was amazing also, you know, I really, um, at the time took solace knowing that Ken was going through his own private health. Sure. And by the way, not only was his business sued, but he was sued personally, and that's really below the belt. And what do you think was pivotal that that made it so is that unusual that a trademark case is overturned? So what do you think it was? Well, first of all, this, there were many issues at stake. Okay. There was the issue of the equipment being patented.

There was the issue of, um, it was at some point, but some things were patented at some point, but those patents are only good for a certain number of years. Um, the trademark was originally obtained by a group of clients at Joe's studio after he passed away. And basically they wanted to keep the studio going for themselves. And, uh, that was bought out by a conglomerate who turned around and said, why do we own this little on eighth Avenue? And that's kind of the history which, which all unfolded as we looked into it. Huh. So, you know, getting to know who all the players were and sort of uncovering who the first generation teachers were. This, this was huge. I mean, I had no idea. I only knew Corolla and Kathy, the judge comes back and says what she ruled that not only was the Palladio's name to be generic, that Mr. Gallagher made misrepresentations to the patent and trademark Mark Bureau in obtaining this trademark.

Now we knew that there would be a huge consequence to that. This was 1999. The consequence was that one, that name went into the public domain. There was going to be a title wave of marketing. And of course that's exactly what happened.

The problem with that is there are no standards. Um, there are no controls of any kind, but we do live in a free market and we know that the cream rises to the top. And this is our system in the United States. So to be afraid of that was really not appropriate. But this is why, um, especially Kevin Bowen really felt that it was incumbent on us to do something to establish some kind of standard and to establish professionalism for Palladio's teachers.

Hence the beginning of the plot is meth Alliance. Yes. Tell me,

Chapter 3

The Beginning of the Pilates Method Alliance

I've read somewhere that the victory party was sort of beginning of PMA. Who was there? Who would interested who? Yes. So Howard hosted the party. Uh, Ken of course came our attorneys, Phil Friedman and Gail Isen, um, a number of people from our extended community in New York. And it really was an important moment in time. So tell us about the bloodies method Alliance now. I mean, that was the inception or the beginning of it. Well, actually that was, that was the predecessor. Um, we then had a meeting in Miami the following may, that was 2000, and it was a business meeting and about 125 people attended, including Kathy, Lolita, Mary and Ron. Um, and that was the meeting where we decided that we wanted to go ahead and start, uh, professional members membership organization. The function at the meeting was to have a facilitator bring the group through a process to get us to start working together. And uh, we broke up into smaller groups and each group went through a process of, um, identifying things that we wanted to see as, as elements for a professional organization.

And then the facilitator brought everything together at the end and pretty much everyone was in sync. Uh, everyone wanted to have a standard exam because they felt that having many different schools with different exams was antithetical to establishing any kind of level or consistency. Um, and also we took open nominations for board members. So at that time, after Kevin had been asking me for at least a year, would you be involved in this? And I was exhausted from the lawsuit. Um, I was nominated and voted onto the original board. I was on the board for 10 years. I retired two years ago and passed the torch to the very capable and wonderful Trent McIntyre.

I attended the second or measure. Now if it was this, it was the second year, it was 2001 in Miami. Was that actually the first year of an app school? We were in Miami two years in a row. So the, the meeting that I just spoke about was at the garden center and the following year was really the first conference and that was in downtown Miami and everyone was blown away at having room after room of people doing PyLadies in the same place at the same time. The actual first conference is 2001 and I know the PMAs history is, is somewhat, I don't know if tumultuous is the right word, but it's, it's sort of had its years of coming up and then people not really excited for it and I feel like it's rising again. Um, as someone who's been there all along, what's your take on sort of the ebb and flow of the popularity and, or the work that has had to be done? Well, uh, first of all, it was a learning experience for all of us. No one had ever embarked on a project like this before, a least of all in the nonprofit world.

Um, also we, we had no idea how long it would take to really get the organization going. So we had a lot of hopes and dreams, but it's taken many years to realize a lot of them. So as Kevin used to say, there were, there were a lot of smoke and mirrors in the beginning. And to get people excited to get people on board. Now my mission always was to protect people so that what happened to me with the lawsuit couldn't happen again.

And the way to do that is to establish this profession standing on its own two feet next to every other established profession. Part of what we ran up against was that pull out these teachers didn't really have an identity. I've heard you say that we have an identity crisis. What do you mean by that? Well, first of all, when you start an organization, the, the first two or three things you have to do are write a mission statement. It took us two years to do that.

You have to establish a code of ethics and a scope of practice. Now when you get people to the table to work together, you can actually accomplish a lot in a very short period of time. But when people are dispersed and not connected and not being in an open minded working situation, the tendency seems to be to reject. And that's what we experienced. And we just were perplexed why we were running up against so much resistance.

So over the years, a lot of what we were hearing was, well, what does the PMA do for us? What do I get out of it? And the truthful answers and the central answer is you have a profession, didn't seem to impress people, right? But this is what it's fundamentally about. You are working to support your own profession, I think. I think that was very hard for people to understand. And I include myself in that. Um, it was, but I have a profession. It was the mixing of the word. I have a career, I have a practice. I don't, what do I need to give you money for when I have a practice?

I need to be on, we'll let you know. We didn't know. But, um, and that, that was another issue. Why does the membership costs so much? Yeah. Well, you have to have a staff and you have to have an office and you have to perform things and they have a monetary cost. Sure. And I don't think people, and I'm speaking [inaudible] for myself, and by the way, I'm a big supporter of PMA, so I'm prefacing it back when I didn't pay much attention, partly because I was busy and I was aligned with the school, I wanted to be with it, you know? And so I'm just sharing what, where my head was at. And it wasn't until I understand what profession meant that then I listened and then only a few years ago did I hear Elizabeth Anderson explain that difference. Um, which I don't think I could say as clearly as she did, or maybe you could. But that was a really big difference for me was understanding that the protection of the profession and not just being [inaudible] being another adjunct of fitness or another trend, but that it's its own entity that became, um, much clearer to me as, as, as someone who really wanted to get behind it. Even though I was busy, even though I had rail and I had, you know, a school that was strong.

So can you, can you elaborate on what profession is versus, I think some people thought it was just if you need help, we're going to have a director. You were going to, we're going to have a test that you have to pass. I think people didn't get why. So the way that we set up the organization, to me, it was tantamount one member, one vote. We didn't want people to be represented by their school because what if their school went out of business? Right? So each teacher has to step up to the plate and become an adult in their professional life. Every other profession does this. Um, I used to think because many of us came from the dance world, that we were very happy just kind of staying back in the woodwork.

But obviously there's a price to pay when you do that. Now everyone wanted to have a standardized exam until they realize that there might be one and then they were afraid they might not be able to pass it. Right. So we did our best to quell those fears, but it wasn't just that we wouldn't pass it. It was did, do you want me to pass you? Do you know what I mean? I'm going, I'm agreeing with you because that is definitely true. But it would, the message wasn't as from me. All right, well, so the reason you need to have a level of competence is to protect the consumer and the consumer should be able to have some kind of resource to find out whether you're competent to work with them. If you want to go to what doctor, you want that doctor to be board certified.

At least you want them to have gone to medical school. Yes. And we do here now and then of people who've been practicing with no license. So this was the basis for, for wanting the exam. Now we knew that of all of this, the bigger schools teaching PyLadies and even smaller people like me who operated teacher training on my own, that we would all have different strengths as strengths and weaknesses, but that this exam would level the playing field and show everyone where their weaknesses were so that everyone could improve and bring the level up. It was not to shine a light on people to tell them where they were deficient.

Right. And no one has ever done that because the Pilates method Alliance is not a policing organization. Right. It ends up being very similar models of what is anytime. As a matter of fact, you know, it's it, there are some guidelines to be here, but at the end of the day, just do what you do. And everyone can learn from that. Yes. And the, and the PMA is totally inclusive and that was part of the mission to bring people in and bring everyone up together. So everyone has always been welcome. And it was a, actually one of, one of our first big humps to get over that we didn't want to require any, any kind of, um, hoop to jump through to become a member.

So for instance, in other countries, um, people have come together to start organizations, but they want you to pass an exam to show that you're good enough to be a member that's not inclusive. Okay. And we are just a membership organization. So actually the, the body that governs the exam is a succinct bubble within the PMA, but it has its own governing body and it cannot be influenced by the board of the PMA. Yes. That actually is required by law. So it could also be set up as a separate, not for profit, but frankly we can't afford to do that. Um, someday when our numbers grow, we will do that. And I am involved with that body.

That is the certification commission where I, where I see the benefit is that it allows people, whether they participate or not, to see what the standard is. And, and so if you can learn, if we all have the same nugget, then you can branch and [inaudible]. Okay, well you've just stumbled into into really the philosophy B T behind um, certification for [inaudible] teachers and that is that we all have to know our roots and that basically is what you should learn in your basic teacher training. It's understood that you then will develop as a teacher and somewhat go off on your own direction. And we could see this clearly illustrated through the first generation teachers. They are wildly different.

But when we interviewed them at the first business meeting in Miami about what they felt was most important to pass down to future generations of [inaudible] teachers and they were interviewed separately, they all said the same things BREF whole body range of motion, all things that you can find in return to life. But the longer you teach, the simpler it is. Hmm. I don't mean simplistic. I mean your understanding becomes more and more clear, which is what I think you are on the PMA was up against as well.

There is a, a level of fear of, you know, building a business and then recognizing you didn't know the roots. So defense went up. Yes. And um, probably I'm, I'm alone or at least not part of the pack on this, but I really don't feel that business ownership overlaps a whole lot with being a [inaudible] teacher. And I really want to see teachers get involved in their craft before they take on the mantle of owning a business. Because at that point your, your vital energy is taken away to something else and you really need in those early years to focus on your teaching and on your, your interaction with your clients and watching people's bodies change and seeing what effect the different choices that you make as a teacher has on your client's body. And if you're worried about, um, all of the things that come with managing a studio, unfortunately it takes your focus away.

Chapter 4

PMA Certification, Training Programs, and Equipment

What would you say to the instructor who can't live off of four or five clients that they get in the beginning? What advice would you give them if it's not to? Cause a lot of times I think people open the studio thinking, you know, and hopefully successfully so that they have these 10 other people working with them. And that I know is not often what happens. I would, I would venture to say that Paul [inaudible] is teaching [inaudible] is not a full time job in the beginning. First of all, you can't work in eight hour a day teaching PyLadies without completely exhausting yourself. Um, and there's a high rate of burnout. Now it may not be so bad if you work a few hours in one place and then you go somewhere else or you teach clients in one place, you teach classes somewhere else and kind of mix it up.

Um, but this is not a profession where you can really give a lot to your client if you do too many hours a day. And then there's always the building of it, you know, getting those clients in first place. Um, I remember what that first ladies method conference, Ron Fletcher saying, um, he never understood why people were, why the boom was there. And he said, I'm not quoting verbatim, I don't think, but I, I might be. Um, I, he never understood why so many people want to do something so difficult that earns so little money. There's certain things you just have to do. Right. But, um, I think that's a struggle for a lot of beginning teachers. They love it. I think the Polato, the [inaudible] phenomenon, the sudden popularity and kind of explosion on the scene led people to think that there was money to be made. Um, but, but that's when it all boils down. And believe me, when I did teacher training, I always told my trainees, you think that because you take an X number of dollars for a private, that that's your salary. That's not your salary. Maybe half of that is your salary. Yes. Um, and it's just, it's not a big money maker and many professions are not.

You have, you do it because you love it and you get another kind of fulfillment of it and you should be adequately paid for what you do. Sure. But you should also be realistic about what you can earn. Uh, I would say the same thing about teacher training that uh, many people got involved in teacher training because they thought that there was a lot of money to be made actually teaching at the I am training training teachers. Yes. And um, yes, if you add that onto what you make in your own teaching practice, you can make more money. I could never be happy training more than five people at once. You don't make a lot of money doing that because I wanted to feel confident that I gave them the best start that I could. And that means them being in the studio with me first observing student teaching, co-teaching where we could interact, they could hear me, I could hear them.

We discussed the clients and the client's progress. And you don't get that in a large group situation. Right. Do you find, um, from your perspective sitting on board or president and PMA, um, formerly that there are as many teacher training it at one point it seemed like teach attorneys were just popping up everywhere. And I don't know if I'm just not looking anymore or is it as common that someone is starting a training program? I think it is, but I think that the way they start now is quite different.

You know, they can now use the PMA certification exam study guide as a blueprint for their training program. So even though there's a tremendous amount to do in creating a program, at least they have some resource that that tells them what should be covered. It's just an outline. They have to be able to actually do the work. And I think that a lot of the early teacher trainers burned out, but there are always new people coming in and this is global now. So what advice then would you give to the consumer in looking for a teacher?

I would say that they should go to the PMA certified database and look for someone who's PMA certified. Well you can get through it through the PMA website, but it's actually a separate website now that is not to say that there are not a lot of excellent teachers who are not PMA certified. But if they haven't taken the exam, we don't know, or the consumer can't know that they meet that minimum standard for competence. I'm my opposite. You know, even if they're going arm of recommendation, you know, like if you went to Vassie website or whoever's there, at least they're doing that because they list them there too. They are, but there is no point of comparison.

So if you were looking for a teacher and you wanted to know how this person stacked up against that person and they were trained at different schools, you would literally have to look at the two different programs and stack up them against each other. And since the consumer really doesn't know what's involved in, in that kind of program, they can't decipher that for themselves. How has PMA or how can we help the PMA get the word out that that's a place to go to look for the minimum standard. We just became a profession in may, right? Officially now this, this is a national exam.

Um, it is technically the only place you can get certified using that word. Um, how do we help the PMA get out the word that this is the standard because many of the organizations meet those standards. But how do we help people understand that? Well, number one, use the logo. Use it on your website, use it on your business card, use it on your studio brochure. When people ask you or even your own clients, I'm traveling to the city, I want to take some sessions when I'm there.

Do you know of a teacher you direct them to the PMA certified database? I do that all the time. You know, an another thing that I think is important, um, you know, if you go to a gym, you pretty well can rest assured that any personal trainer there is, is certified, but it's not required for their palati staff. And so any push we can give to health clubs, spas, gyms, to recognize our, our profession, um, is a step in the right direction. I want to clarification on what was the identity crisis? Just that we came from many different factions.

No, I think it's that we don't know what exactly what it is that we do. Some people think that they're teaching exercise. Some people think that they're doing rehabilitation now. Um, Kathy spoke extensively about this. Yes. And you know, I also knew this from Corolla. Now both of these ladies went to Joe with injuries and they worked privately with him until they were ready to go into the gym.

So Joe had a back room at the studio and when you were injured, that's where you went with him. If you were not injured, you went right out into the gym and you were taught the exercises and you were on your own basically. So there are these two parts to Joe, there's the gym and the, then there's Joe being really creative, working with people with serious issues. They're both important. We have to embody both of them, even if they seem to be antithetical. But those are the yin and the yang of what we do. It's not one or the other. And it's, it's a challenge to all of us as teachers to, to keep that whole, because some people want to say it's just exercise and some people want to say no, it's so much more in terms of, well if you, if you do either one exclusively, you're, you're going to be driving away from the philosophy of politeness.

What is filets to you? My, the, the Colonel is that it is whole body exercise. That it's a discipline. Breath is the underpinning of the whole thing and you grow with it. You don't necessarily do all of the exercises effort because of your, your age, your physical condition, your mental condition. But it's uh, it's a whole system that works for everybody in some capacity and it's really the teacher's job to tailor it to the client so that they can be successful.

They can gain their own understanding of it and continue to grow with it. You make equipment. Tell me how you got into making equipment and why. Well, I started my studio in 1983 actually, I was teaching on my own a little bit before that. Um, and I wasn't aware of any equipment manufacturer. Uh, at that time I knew there was somebody, um, who was related to a pull out his teacher that made equipment, but I wasn't in contact with that person. So, um, I measured Corolla's equipment. I made a few changes, which I thought were, um, important modernizations but basically the function of the equipment was exactly the same as Corollas. Um, mr Palladino didn't make Carola's equipment with his own hands, but he supervised the building superintendent where Corolla lived to construct all of her equipment. Um, and as far as Springs go, um, when I worked for Corolla every six months or so, she was a little paranoid about Springs.

She get rid of all her Springs and replace them and they were put out into the hall to go out into the garbage at night and all the teachers would scramble and pick Springs out and take them home. So I started having my own Springs manufactured in the early eighties, and I've never stopped. And, and even when you knew someone else could help you out with that [inaudible] just continue to do it? Yes, because I liked those Springs. I actually never tried any until many years later. Um, but in the last year I've started Deborah lesson PyLadies because I really see the need to provide something that is not currently on the market and that is this quality of spring that, um, is very original. At least it's the kind of spring that I was trained on and feels very different from what is currently on the market.

And I'm starting to make equipment for the same reason. Um, equipment over the years has changed and morphed and well, it's excellent for some things. It's not wonderful for other things. And if you change any facet of the equipment, you, you change its function. So when I travel and teach, it's really a challenge to teach some of the original repertoire, which is incredible and everyone should know it and do it because it can't be accommodated on the equipment that's available. And this to me is a tragedy.

It's hard for me to know. I mean, I don't know how to respond to that cause I have never used your Springs. But, um, do you know there's certain manufacturers that are known to be a little more classical and some that are a little less so. Um, but when I hear that it can't be accommodated, I think, well I get it from the perspective of how could I know what it could feel like. But at the same time I feel there's benefit. I feel that, um, I have an understanding of the movement. I have an understanding of it, the movement as it relates to my body. Um, well let's just take that idea just as you, you feel most comfortable with the, the teaching that you originally had. Um, that's your home in Peloton, right? And so the equipment that you learned on is what you feel most comfortable with, but you know, now that it is beneficial to you to seek other teachers out and gain experience from them and not, and you have the choice whether to incorporate what you learn or not. And it's the same with equipment because in the end, the benefit of training on different equipment is different. So we should try it at all.

Yes, you should. And you should make an informed choice when you purchase equipment. Now, I am not suggesting that my equipment should replace everybody else's. You know, everyone has wonderful products depending on your, what you're looking for. But I think that there's definitely a place in the [inaudible] world for the equipment that I work on. I know that it's great because I've been working on it for 30 years.

Where do you see the future of Polites going? That's an interesting question. And um, yeah, you know, about a month before Kathy grant passed away, I went to visit her and the first thing she said to me when I walked in the door was, so what are you going to do about the future of polarities? And my first reaction was, why does it have to be me? I'm just one person, one teacher. Um, what's most important to me is keeping a firm grasp on the roots.

I have grown and changed tremendously. The way that I work in my studio is not the same as what I teach other people. Because I feel when I do workshops for teachers that it's incumbent on me to impart what I learned from Corolla. Um, but I go beyond that for sure in my own practice. And those changes have come over a long period of time and I feel like I'm on a shore footing as I can be. Uh, knowing that we're never sure about anything. And 99% of what we do is observe and try to interpret.

So that's what I do. I try to do it the best I can and hopefully I will be doing it for many years to come. I hope so too. Thank you for all that you've already done standing up for all of us, for yourself first, but for all of us, yes. And, um, for being here and sharing it now. Thank you very much.


Thank you Kristi and Deborah for giving everyone in the Pilates community a chance to hear and learn about this method from the grass roots and up. Understanding the phases and the family "tree"of contrology really helps to bring a much fuller understanding of this work. Just wonderful.
Super interesting and beautiful interview! Thank you Deborah, Kristi & Pilates Anytime!
Yes very interesting. I don't know why but for some reason I thought this lawsuit happened in the 70's. So now I feel educated and informed. I had no idea how greatly it impacted people. Thank you, yet again, for bringing info to me.
I'm so happy you all are taking the time to listen to this interview. Deborah's role in the Pilates community has been so important. I recently went up to Sacramento to interview Ken Endelman on the lawsuit too. That will come soon. Please spread the word about this interview. There are too many teachers that don't know about the trademark lawsuit. I taught Pilates for 4-5 years as a Pilates teacher then had to stop saying I taught Pilates for the next 5 years. It was a very confusing way to try to start a business. Deborah and Ken gave up a lot for us to get that word back. Thank you Deborah!!!!
1 person likes this.
Thank you Kristi and Deborah. It was informative and interesting hearing about the lawsuit through this interview. I really hope more people see this to understand the history of Pilates.
Thank you Blossom (Leilani Crawford), you are a big part of this rich history of Pilates and I very much look forward to you sharing your experience with us in December.

Blossom Leilani Crawford
Wow, I am constantly amazed at the fabulous information from Pilates Anytime. Thank you so much for this interview. I can really credit her and Ken for standing up to that law suite. It must have been very difficult. I would not have my studio if they did not put up a fight.
Thank you Laurie. I am happy to say that last week, on behalf of Pilates Anytime and the Legacy project we are working on, Brett Howard interviewed Sean Gallagher on the subject of the lawsuit (as well as his experience with Romana Kryzanowska). It will be a short while before his and Ken Endelman's interviews are live on the sight, but when they are, I encourage you and everyone to make sure that you watch and hear all sides. It it absolutely fascinating. I am grateful for all three for sharing their perspectives as it was possibly the most important time in this history of Pilates so far.
Corey Rad
1 person likes this.
Thank you so much Kristi for providing this kind of information on your website. I lust love Debra Lessen, I knew she played an important role but not to such detail as she spoke about here. I love this profession and I have such gratitude for those who made it possible. I've been a member of PMA, but am now getting ready to finally take the exam after years of teaching. I can't wait to be PMA certified!
Thank you for posting a lovely interview. Thank you, Deborah Lessen, for educating and sharing your history and spirit. I am so grateful to learn the roots and integrity of our practice, and to know more about the PMA. Looking forward to learning more :)
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