Discussion #1337

Fran Lehen on Carola

40 min - Discussion


Fran Lehen was a student and teacher at Carola Trier's studio. In this discussion, Fran talks about how her relationship with Carola evolved over the years from student and teacher to colleagues and friends. She also shares stories about what it was like to work for Carola, how she transitioned to opening her own studio and how much Carola loved to laugh.
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Dec 09, 2013
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I'm Fran Leanne and I was studying acting at the HB studio here in New York and I had also started studying ballet at the middle of my thirties. I was about 35 and it was in big kipsy where I was married and had two children. And um, at that time there were no adult ballet classes in Poughkeepsie yet. So a friend and I were the tallest people in a class of 10 year olds. And uh, I'll, I'll just quickly tell you this, just to show how, why maybe Corolla and I didn't hit it right off, was in the ballet class, the first class, the teacher Tom Adair started put on the music and went right into plea A's.

I immediately realize that instead of my feet turning out my hands where my arms were turning out and I started feeling very discombobulated, I just didn't know how to move. And I raised my hand and said, Mr Adair, Mr Adair, and he looked at me, I said, can't you give us any preliminaries? And he went over, he picked up the, uh, recorder and he said, Mrs region, these are the preliminaries. That was the beginning of my ballet class. And so after a number of months, I started feeling things in my body that I had never felt before at the HB studio.

I started inquiring about I'm having trouble in ballet. Does anyone know of anything that could help me? And someone said to me, well, there's this crazy German lady on 58th street, West 58th Street who teaches dancers exercises. That's how I got Corolla. I didn't know that it was polite days.

And um, [inaudible] when I got there and took the first session and she gave me a normal first session, I was a person who has a child, had difficulty reading and her accent through me. And you know, when you give a first session, sometimes it's kind of by road and you just give a first session. And I would be trying to translate a word that she was pronouncing it that didn't sound like what I knew how it was pronounced. So while I'd be concentrating on that word, I'd miss the next 10 words. So the session was incredible.

When I got home, my husband said, well, what was it? And remember back then it was expensive and I paid $14 for the first session and after that they were each $7 each. But I wanted my husband to know that I don't care how expensive this is, I'm going to continue doing this. And I just, my reply to him was, I didn't understand a word she said, but I'm going to die on one of those pieces of equipment. Let me just start with the premise Corolla. And I really had a good relationship until she died. Our beginning was the least of the whole relationship.

Corolla never liked to answer questions from the client. And here was the client who was asking a million questions and she always said to me, you asked too many questions. And so she used to pass me on to Judy and Mary, which pleased me very much because they always answered my questions and so I was able to put it more together. What was interesting to me about the system. I thought Palazzo days had done an incredible job of inventing equipment that so few equipment that you could do so many different things with the body.

I loved the idea that you were lying down. I could get fuller range of motion in my hips when I'm lying down than when I'm standing up at a ballet bar. And that was a lesson all in itself. What had to be trained and which muscles had to be strengthened. I did get some acting jobs. I did some summer stock.

I was, uh, doing these things. I, meanwhile, I was running back and forth to Poughkeepsie. I dropped my kids off at school in the morning, drive to New York. I'd go to a class at HB studio or for a rehearsal someplace, go to Carola's, hop back in my car and pick up the kids by three 30 get home. And that's a two hour drive each way. So it was, it was, I, you know, a lot of energy and I still had to assume all my responsibilities as the housewife and mother and so forth.

She because I asked so many questions and she used to kind of dismiss me with that and one time it just got a little bit too much for me. So before I left I asked her to come out into the entrance and I wanted to talk to her and I said to her, I said, Corolla, I drive four hours, two hours each way to come take this class. If I'm asking a lot of questions and you don't think I'm paying you enough for what I'm asking, I'm willing to pay you more and take another session, put t put me down for two sessions and cause I need these questions answered and she backed off right away and well proceeded and g then generally Mary or Judy was with me and I loved, I loved that. Okay. Corolla was the, and I'm sure people have worked where there was a very moody person and so depending on how she was that day was also how she behaved to her clients.

What I found out when I was an adult is that I have friends who teach kids with dyslexia. Okay. Back then, nobody talked about dyslexia. And I had a terrible time reading. I used to mix up letters.

I used to fail exams. I just had a terrible time. Oh, some place. And for another enter accent made it difficult for me someplace if I could, uh, in order to feel in my body, I had to have instructions from my brain and [inaudible]. So if somebody gave me even a Nimesh or gave me the right words that I could be thinking when you want me to lengthen my leg and to make this really long, it has somebody just taking the spring and doing this to me.

Cause I used to feel she'd be talking to me and I would feel as if this lady was manipulating my body, but I, I wasn't, it wasn't being translated in my head. So, and Judy did it much slower and would, when I'd say, let me repeat that, let me do this, let me do it myself. Tell me if this is correct. That was there as we got older and the relationship, because it did turn into, I would say a rich relationship, but it was later on one, because Judy was 17 when she started. I was in my thirties, a married woman and kids, you know, we were at different stages of our lives. So when I was getting a divorce and I was terrified to ask her for a job because I, I just thought, you know, I asked too many questions. She won't want me around. I had gotten a friend of mine, Nancy Stover involved too.

She came from Poughkeepsie too. And um, she knew I wanted to get this job. Oh, I wanted to work there. So she was taking a lesson with Corolla and Corolla started saying how she needed new teachers and uh, Nancy said, well, would you ever consider Fran reaching was my name then? And Corollas said, the question is, would Mrs retune consider us? And Nancy said, yeah, I think she might. So that's how I had the nerve and asking.

And she knew I was going through a divorce. I was living without my children. It was really, it wasn't emotionally easy and, but what that taught me was that we have parts of ourselves. Even though you're feeling so guilty and terrible not being with your children, you had, you can present that while you're teaching in a class and you have to put a smile on your face and you, you just have to keep going. I learned that I could separate those inside me and that was a very important lesson for me too. As years went on and the kids got older, I was impassioned about this work because I was having trouble in my ballet class and I w I mean I, you know, in your thirties you're at the height of your facilities.

I had a good body, but it wasn't listening to me. My, my w when he says, churn your legs out and my arms are going out, something's wrong up here. And I, I didn't know what I just knew. She teaches exercises for dancers. I'm trying to dance. And so any words that could help me. I know, I know Karola came from a strict ballet background and remember things back in those days were much stricter than they are even today.

And, but I was studying acting also and I was studying with good teachers. The um, the emotions one has to work with your own emotions when you're acting still. It isn't like, just don't let your head go too much. It's like it has, your head has to go first before you can let go of the thinking and the body. The head for me gives directions to the body and then the body can, when it does it enough and enough it, it can do it by itself. But I'm always a person who has to think things out. I was not a natural dancer.

I wasn't a born dancer, but that doesn't mean you don't want to do it. I had been a client for maybe three to four years, so, and I w I t turned out to be a good client. I could perform the exercises beautifully. I loved my body when I did them. So there was no problem.

What I needed to get was I didn't want to repeat her way of teaching because it was so, it wasn't me and Nancy, uh, Judy and Mary were Nice, but Mary's very low key lead and, and, and Judy is too. I'm a much more hyper person and I had to find my way to try to do it. I had to tame a at the beginning, I, I did everything I was told and asked again a lot of questions, is it alright to do this and can you do this with them? And you know, and because she had a very prescribed way and I wasn't allowed to work with the people who had really problems cause I didn't really have any problems, I just, uh, needed to make communication to my head, to instructions. So I taught, I taught more the middle of the road kind of people and the, and that was fine for me to learn on. I had a terrible time with learning how to, with feet and because you're people's feet, you know, they, they just think they can't change it at all. And you're taking, it would take one, two hands to hold one person's foot in the right position and then to ask them to move. And I once said to her, I don't even see what you're correcting. I said, I, I, maybe I can do this. But she, whenever I, that happened when I really was feeling insecure, she would say, just keep watching. Just keep watching, keep watching. And so she was encouraging.

And that way there wasn't a training program because I knew all the exercises and everything. It was just easy for her to sign me to some, to somebody and say, take them through the apparatus and then, um, or else you can take her to the bed and do, and the names then were that, this was the apparatus and that was the bed. Karola raised the idea of what Palazzo he's had as a gym. She made it classy and she brought it up to a studio, a, um, a salon. It, she really raised the bar on exercises. We all had to wear pink tights and black leotards. Everybody who were dancing and I was studying dancing.

So I had my hair long too and everybody had to wear it up. You couldn't walk around with your hair hanging down. We had to wear makeup there and cause I never would have worn makeup, but everybody had lipstick and you must scare, uh, sorry. It was like going to an office only it was this, you know, this was it. So she ran it very, very high class. The towels had its special place. I remember.

And she only had one dressing room. She didn't have a man in a woman's dressing room, but there was a sign on the door and you just pushed it to women or men. And there was a man, a Frenchman there. And um, he had terrible body odor. And when all the teachers complained to Corolla, Corolla, wet knocking on the doors she had, she knocks, she and then doesn't wait for him to say, come in. She just opens the door, sticks her hand in and says, Ms [inaudible] here in America, our gentle men use this.

And she ended up a can of deodorant that I thought she handled well. I thought the studio was lovely. I thought you could eat off the floor. The windows sparkled all the time. She always had fresh flowers on the desk. There was classical music in the background. It was, it was an ambience that I really tried to duplicate when I started my studio.

And I can tell you when I, when I realized that I wasn't going to make it in acting and I still had to make a living for myself, I had to borrow money and I knew I had to speak with her and I laid out every possible scenario about how angry she's going to be, what's going to happen, blah, blah, blah. I said to her that I wanted to talk to her and she said, well, anytime, you know, and I said, no Corolla, this is a serious talk. So that meant we left the studio and went into her part of the apartment and we were sitting in our living room and my heart was pounding. And I told her that she has taught me enormously. I loved working in the studio. I said, but I think it's time for me to go on my own.

And I said, I know, I'm asking for your blessing. And there was long pause and she said, I think it's time. And I was shocked. And then she asked me if I would ever consider staying with her and taking care of it till she retired. And then continuing with the studio.

And I was shocked at that too. And all that came out was Corolla. You cramp my style years later. I must have requested it of her. I asked her if she would ever, I don't remember it, but I'm sure she didn't just go offer it.

I asked her if she would have come up and have like a lecture lesson with my teachers. And she did. And that was when I was already on 72nd street and that was the full flight of steps. And um, she said, how am I going to get up the steps? I said, we can take a week going up the steps, don't worry about it. And she did well, she really wanted to see the studio, I think. And, and it was a lovely session that she gave to my teachers and I just felt very appreciative to have the person who was before me Corola being with Corolla, not knowing I was going to end up dying on one of those pieces of equipment. She was the, the playground, the laboratory, the whatever word you want to use for me to explore myself in a situation that I never knew I was going to end up be, it was going to be my living.

She did. Um, I went to massage school because I wanted to learn more about anatomy. Maybe she suggested it because you told me that she had been a massage therapist and I remembered that afterwards, but maybe it was she who suggested I did try to get into other schools but because I was non matriculated I couldn't get in. So that's how I ended up going to a massage school. And I, I did that when I set up the studio cause I knew it was going to be very slow and I would have plenty of time if it weren't for Corolla, I wouldn't have owned my own business. And, uh, [inaudible] I started in April 76 so figure it, uh, a good year and a half, two years first Corolla who was giving me her blessings suggested I go see Ramana and that may be that she had equipment and maybe I could buy it off of her. I set up an appointment with Romana and her, the equipment that she had really was shabby. And um, not as nice as Judy had.

Judy had viewed beautiful equipment from her. So I didn't want to buy the equipment, but I thanked her and we were just walking out and I wanted, it was important for me in some way to reassure, which might've been a stupid as could be, that I would [inaudible] maybe it was even arrogant of me to think that because what she thought I was comparing myself to her. I said, and I just want you to know that I'm not setting up in, in this part of town at all, that I'm going to be in the upper west side. And she turned to me and said, my dear, I wouldn't care if you opened up across the street. That was my only experience with Ramana. Finding a space in Manhattan takes a very long time and I had to live in it also. So you have to have very particular, you know, lay out. That took a very long time.

I can't tell you how many apartments I looked in. I was in there so long sometimes measuring and doing this by time, I believe they told me it was already taken, you know, to do the groundwork. You've got it. You can't just walk in and say, yes, I'm going to put this here, this there. You know. So it took me a long time. Luckily my brother in law's father was a builder and he constructed my first set of equipment and did it through pictures and met just really sizing things up that we've had things wrong. But he did an excellent job. It was really handsome and well done. One of my teachers had worked in publishing and she said, I think you know, you should write a book.

Course I flunked third year New York state English. You know, that's how much my grammar uh, was good. And it was she who gave me the idea, we were, I wrote a proposal and she, because she knew the right people, um, I got this deal to write the book. It was a wonderful experience. Me, it taught me how to make sentences and didn't want me grammar and tenses, which I probably still miss up terribly. But it was a wonderful experience to have to try to put my thoughts because I do talk a great deal. Breaths to me is the most important thing. And as I, when I teach, when I still teach to me, I talk about lateral breath all the time. And that's, if you don't get the hook in with that, then you just hold, you can hold in your stomach very long.

It has to be incorporated while you breathe. And, uh, so I, I really enjoyed it. And one of my clients was a photographer and he did the photography. The, the teacher there were, uh, the three women at it were teachers of mine. They gave me the title, how to Improve Your posture. And then I did actually cause after you write something like that later on you go, oh, I shouldn't have done that and I should have done this.

So I did edit it and change some things. It was the, the biggest mistake was at the beginning it should have been geared more to an older group than to the young people. And I mean, even though the exercises in it, I did a lot with hands, uh, scapular work. I'm very, one of my shirts, one of our, my client's designed and it had, it said nothing without Scapula. And I really just feel that way that people have to be aware of that. No, it wasn't the book that got me into hot water.

It was my cleverness that got me into hot water. One of my clients worked for the village voice and she kept nudging me to take an ad out. I had never taken an ad out. And so I just, I thought I was being so clever by saying a plotty studio, not the Polanyi studio, but they disagreed and it was isotope summer who sued me. And that was, and that was a terrible experience. The first time I met Deborah was at that stage where I guess Sean was or some thing and realize that there was a trouble, a brewing, but I really didn't get very much involved when they went to make the Association for PyLadies.

And I did go to Santa Fe wasn't where it was. And with ease eve gentry who I liked a lot, I was not at that point and maybe still I'm not enough of a business woman to know about corporations and forming organizations. Uh, my sister was a director of a um, um, a camp, not a company. A nonprofit. Yeah, I think it was nonprofit. But I kept calling her from the motel room and saying they're saying this now they're doing this. And she kept saying if they're doing nonprofit and she would give me the information and all that. I became very frustrated very quickly cause I realized I ma, it's hard enough running a studio, let alone getting involved in this politics.

And I had still two kids that were young. It was like, you just have to draw the line someplace. So I kept out as much as I possibly could. The lawsuit was really a disaster and I, um, I had a good lawyer but I didn't understand that you may be talking to the, the head of the uh, law firm, but when you go to trial you get somebody much lesser. And he was scared of the judge and the person up before me was somebody who had been selling dope to close to a school in New York. The judge, the judge and I came right afterwards. The judge was nicer to the guy who was selling dope closer to the school than the way he treated me. And, and my young lawyer was just not up to it and I lost.

And uh, I just had to sign some papers and promise not to do this and that just so that we, we all understand aerosol used to toner at some points to what do we own this little gym for and got rid of it. I'm the first person that got sued. I think you're the only one that got sued before the Shawn era. After Judy left, I had to make her coffee and I was astounded. It was like a half a cup of grinds to one cup of coffee.

I mean it was, he used you, she drank such strong coffee. It was just mind boggling. I can tell that lovely story about, and this was later on when we were in her kitchen and it was quiet and having a snack and she something, we were talking about bread and different things and she said, have she always loved English muffins and her husband, she and her husband, oh, weighs eight English muffins, but since he died, she's never, she never bought another English muffin. And so I don't, I, I just want I y and she just said it was, she just couldn't do it. She just couldn't bring herself to do it. So I went out and bought just that four package thing that she described that she and her husband had.

And I've wrapped it and I was really nervous to give it to her because it could be so she could think I'm being sarcastic, like being cheap to give a gift like this. So I wrote her a note and said that I hoped she didn't find this perception, but I thought maybe receiving the English muffins as gift might break her concept that she couldn't do it again. And She just loved it. And after that there were English muffins in her, her kitchen. So that was a lovely, a lovely little moment we had. I would say that the best part of my relationship with Corolla came after I opened my own studio.

But of course that couldn't have happened without the first part. So, uh, I, I'm not trying to negate that, but we would see each other at least four times a year either. I'd go down to her place and have tea later on. She would start coming over to my place. She take the bus up and I would meet her and then as years went on, I would walk her back to the bus. We got along and, um, we laughed. And it was, it was, it was nice. I felt equal with her. I, I, I didn't feel, I felt it was like two women who had worked together and, uh, she had given me a huge gift.

As I said, she was moody. And so you could tell when you came in, what kind of mood she was in. But she liked laughing. She did like laughing. And I guess she was always looking or waiting for that person to, to tell them the thing that was going to make her laugh. I still teach about maybe four or five hours a week and actually with clients that, that w still at the studio. So I still go back into the studio and teach some people there.

And then I teach other people at my apartment because to teach basics, I don't need the equipment. And, uh, I work a great deal with breathing. Um, and I've just finished 10 years writing a memoir and actually for the five, six grandchildren and, well, I've got three and my sister had three, so six young women. And, uh, so that's taken me a very long time and I'm very proud of it. And I just presented it the first time to my 25 year old granddaughter and it was lovely. She was going through just some of the stuff that I was writing about that I went through. And if, if this can help the next generation of women in the family, that's what I did. I swim three mornings each week. I'm in the pool at 6:00 AM and I hike.

I read enormously. I love movies. I stream Netflix every night. What I would say to a person who was looking to learn about [inaudible] for their body is look for somebody with experience and not a, uh, a certificate to teach you pull oddities changed the way I processed thinking once I learned how I had to think in order to move my body, I could apply that to the rest of living. Believe it or not.


Ann S
Thanks sharing your insight, Fran. I really enjoyed hearing your story.
I love how much insight Fran gives into teaching in this short interview. I enjoyed meeting you so much Fran! Thank you!
Thank you, Fran, for sharing a piece of your story and Carola's. You have a joyous spirit - I can't wait to read the full memoirs!! Thank you, PA, for providing our community with the opportunity to meet and learn from amazing teachers!
Thank you for that wonderful interview. Everyone of the videos / interviews teaches me a little more. I've had some aahhhaaa moments. So pleased about that.
1 person likes this.
My love for Pilates began at Groundfloor. Fran, you were my first instructor over 17 years ago. I practiced there for almost 10 years before moving on to study with Brett Howard. I am currently completing my certification with him. Thank you Fran, for teaching me Pilates the way it should be taught, and for sharing your story. It is especially inspirational to me at this time.
Gosh I love this video. I love Fran's ability to tell her story in such intricate detail that I feel somehow like I was in Carola's studio and even Ballet class with her! Perhaps it was the statement she made to her now former husband "I don't care how much it costs, I'm going to die on one of those pieces of equipment" or that she also wasn't a dancer going into Pilates that I relate to most. There are so few of us that weren't dancers yet MUST still do Pilates.

I remember when Deborah Lessen interviewed Fran. I was sitting next to her in order to draw out more explanation from Fran if necessary. I was mostly silent (unusual for me in this project) because, as I listened, I was realizing the magnitude of what we all really stood to learn from our heritage. I was blown away. I was in awe of where I was and where we all came from. Thank you Fran.
Really enjoyed it! I believe I missed what "hot water" was as I did not understand what she was referring to. I also did not know there was a lawsuit before Sean. The lawsuit part of the interview was not clear to me. I'd love to understand better. Will keep on watching the rest. Thanks Kristi for your hard work and passion and everyone else involved in this project!
Carla, Romana had a trademark before Sean/Pilates Inc... The best videos on this subject are with Ken Endelman, Sean Gallagher and Gordon Troy

Ken Endelman
Gordon Troy
Sean Gallagher

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