Discussion #1871

Brett on Romana

20 min - Discussion


Romana Kryzanowska passed her knowledge and joy of the Pilates method to all of her students. Brett Howard shares his thoughts on her and how he felt his education with her was very well-rounded. Brett also shares how excited he was when Romana let him teach prima ballerina, Suzanne Farrell, and how Suzanne taught him more than he taught her!
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Oct 06, 2014
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I first met Romana in December of 1997. I had already started the New York Pilates teacher certification program. At first I had trained with Bob Liekens, and I went to the dance conservatory at Purchase College and he came and he started us there. There was a group of four, we were training through the New York Pilates Studio teacher certification program, and Romana was in the city. She was in New York. So I decided to, on my winter break, not go home to Pittsburgh. I decided to stay in New York and just spend a good five weeks with her because I really didn't have a lot of chances before to do that. And so I came into Drago's early in the morning, so at Drago's when you worked with Romana, she was there, from seven o'clock till one o'clock.

And so first day I arrived at seven because I knew the first day you should not be late and I didn't know what to do. So I just sat there. I had my notebook. I tried not to get in the way, and actually the first day she put attention to you. So I wasn't formally introduced like, "Hi, I'm Brett." "Hi, I'm Romana." But she comes over and she will ask you, who you are, where you came from in terms of not really like I'm from Pittsburgh, but like where you came from in terms of who are your teachers, kind of what was your experience before and she kind of gets your history, and it wasn't formal. It was fairly informal. You just observed and watched and you just stood there and if she wanted you to do something, she would say something. And over time that started to change. So first you would kind of observe, either standing right next to her if she asked you to or by, observing elsewhere out of the way. And then over time she would say, "Okay, I want you to come and work with me with this client right now."

And she would teach them, but every once in a while, she might put her hand on the client and give them a stretch and sometimes she would put her hand there, and she'd put my hand on top and her hand on top. And she'd say, "Feel that? This is the type of stretch I want you to give. Now I want you to give him that stretch." Then the next week, you're supposed to give this stretch. And then about three weeks later, maybe not even weeks, but over a series of time, you actually were giving that client that session. So that's how it was when you worked with Romana. But everyone had a little bit of a different situation.

So my situation was very different because there were four of us who were at Purchase who were dance majors, and we actually were given a scholarship because they needed extra people to teach at the Purchase studio. And so Sean gave us a scholarship to start training so that they can have staff. And so I actually didn't have to do what a lot of people had to do. Most people had to do an evaluation to get in. I didn't have to do that. So my circumstance was definitely different, but most people would evaluate with Romana and she would say whether you are ready or not to start the program. It wasn't always with Romana though. Sometimes it was with Sari as well. Sometimes it also was with Bob. But I think the reason also why I didn't have to do the evaluation is because we were dance majors. So I felt that they felt that we had a certain amount of movement background that would be okay. I was going in as an apprentice when I met Romana. I started the program, it was either in the end of September or very beginning of October, and then I met Romana in December, and then I did my final test out in August. So I started in 1997 in the Fall. My final test out was in August of 1998. That summer I stayed throughout.

So when I was working with her, I still was in school as a sophomore in college, and so I came down for those five weeks for my Christmas break, and then I would come down on Fridays and I would work with her because I didn't have a full class schedule on Friday. And then that year actually, I had a stress fracture in my shinbone, so I had to stop dancing for a couple of months, but I still was expected to go to most classes and observe. We didn't really do academics, but the academics that we did have, I had to do, but I did have a little extra time to go down in the spring, more than I would have, to work with her. But it was really that summer that I really just plowed it out. That summer I was training at the Alvin Ailey School, also at the Merce Cunningham School. And then I was doing my apprenticeship.

When you went, you would start at seven o'clock and you would work till one o'clock with Romana, and then you would go up to the New York studio, which at that time was at 2121, and that's where Bob was. A lot of other really great teachers were there. I know that you guys interviewed Ton and Michael. They were there. John was there not at that time, a little bit later, but there was a lot of us who were at that studio. You would go there, you get there about one, one thirty, two o'clock, and you would stay until eight o'clock. And so it was really nice because you're learning from two different sources, and there were slightly different approaches at both. And so it was really nice to have that balance. My personal dynamics were much different than a lot of my other contemporaries. I was 19, and a lot of the other people were not 19.

They were a little bit older. There were a couple of us who were, Daria actually was there, and we're the same age and we had both started around the same time. She actually was at, I believe she was at, Boston Conservatory during the year, and then she was there in the summer. And so there were a lot of us there. There was, like I said, Daria. There was Kathy Ross-Nash. There was Peter, Jerome was there. There were a lot of people and a lot of good energy. And you really immersed yourself with Romana. When I was with Romana, there's two dynamics. I felt there was the dynamic when you're doing all the superstar exercises and then there was the dynamic when you watched her with her clients and you were just really watching her hands on approach. You were watching her relationship and the rapport she had with her clients.

You were watching the different variations she gave. Romana would always say, you always have to teach to the body in front of you. And, I get a little bit upset because a lot of times people feel like Romana was like this, and that, and this is the only way. But Romana was very specific that she didn't want Pilates diluted, but she was also very specific that you would always teach the body in front of you. And so that is where you really wanted to watch how she worked with that body because no body is the same, and no one is perfect. At Drago's, a lot of the clients were, not young, I should say. They were, pretty up there in age, and so they needed a lot of different variations for their body. Then you would get the athletes and you would see what she would do with the athletes.

She would get the dancers and you would see what she would do with them. I remember Romana when she had me teach Suzanne Farrell, and Suzanne Farrell was Romana's daughter in law. She was a very, very, very famous dancer. And so, especially for me being a dance student, that was amazing because it was like, "Oh my God! I'm teaching Suzanne Farrell right now!" It was very intimidating. But I really love that she let me have that experience. And I was teaching her, but Suzanne was actually teaching me because she had been doing Pilates for a very long time and she had double hip replacement, and I learned the different variations to do with her. I remember working, there's many clients that you talk to, people who are there, they will say, "Oh, there was Mr Glick. There was Christine." And you would work with them.

And sometimes they needed many different things. I remember one guy, he had actually not like Pilates pillows, but actual pillows you had to prop behind him because he couldn't sit up. And so you had to really give him those pillows so then he could have the range of motion and have the support. And those were the really valuable things that you got from Romana. You got total different ends of the spectrum. It was a dichotomy really. You had here, and you had here, and then you had everything in between, and it was very well rounded with Romana.

Romana actually did a lot of Pre-Pilates. People don't think she did, but she had a very, very large, repertory of Pre-Pilates, and we had a manual, but that was not in the manual. Really when you're with Romana, you actually learn all the stuff that wasn't in the manual. And I have to say, there was a lot more that was not in the manual than there was, because you can't put everything in the manual, and I don't think you really should learn that way, and it's good to have the reference. But it was experiential. It was experiential learning with Romana. Was I ever social with Romana and was it all work, no play with Romana? It was definitely not all work, no play because Romana was very playful. I remember times when I would do a Pas de Deux with her.

So you would start dancing, and you would do a little lift with her, and she'd throw her head back and leg up. And she loved doing that. But my dynamic was much different than a lot of my contemporaries because I was much younger. So a lot of people were invited to go to Romana's house for parties and for dinners. I actually didn't have that experience. I think it's more because of my age. But I've had very valuable experiences with her. One of my favorite experiences with her was we had a continuing education,

So this was after I was certified already, but every year you had to do, I think it was 16 hours of continuing ed. So it was eight hours on a Saturday, eight hours on a Sunday. And you went through the entire repertory, and there were a lot of people there from all over the world actually. So I got there very early and I wanted waffles. So I went to a diner that was around the corner and Romana was there and she asked me to join her. She was by herself and it was a really great experience. So it was a really memorable moment and a very cherished moment because we got to just talk, and we talked about Pilates, but we talked about dance a lot because we had that in common, and she got to learn a little bit more about me and I got to learn a little bit more even about her. Things that I didn't know. We talked about everyday experiences in real life. It was a really, really lovely experience and I'm really grateful for that. Did Romana inspire me? Definitely. Definitely.

She inspired me in so many different ways. I would say definitely as a teacher because I did formal education in terms of, teaching. My masters was in education, but Romana is more to that being a good teacher. And Romana was an intuitive teacher. Maybe she didn't take anatomy classes, but she knew the body and her hands were genius and she knew how to teach. She knew how to bring someone from here to here. She knew how to make people feel good. She knew how to give people a workout. And Romana would always say, "When you leave Pilates you should always leave feeling lifted and invigorated." So actually I learned from Romana's specific ending exercises. And the reason why certain exercises were specific to end with and not others is because you wanted to leave feeling square and unbalanced, and you wanted to leave feeling lifted up and invigorated, and everyone left Romana feeling that way. And so that's very powerful, to be able to have people really love that experience of Pilates. And she made people love it.

So she definitely inspired me. She inspired me as a teacher now teaching other teachers, things that maybe didn't make sense to me before, over time they start to unravel, and a lot of things that I might've been slightly confused about or maybe even had a slight like, hm, I'm not sure about this, make total sense to me now that maybe they didn't back then. And now I have even a greater appreciation for her. I had an appreciation for her then, but now more and more, even a greater appreciation, not just with teaching my students, but also with my clients. So she definitely inspired me. I do feel like she felt she had a responsibility to Joe to keep Pilates, Pilates.

And actually, she always said that. She said, "Keep Pilates, Pilates." And me now, I do feel the same. I definitely have my own influences that I bring as well. And it's fine for you to do anything, but it's good to know where you came from, and it's good to know where the exercises came from. And in my opinion, and this was also Romana's opinion, she would always say it works. Romana would say that you don't need to change it. It works how it is. It's beautiful how it is. And now, I mean definitely you have to break things down like she did, and you have to make it fit the person. That's one thing Romana would always say. You don't make the person fit the exercise, you make the exercise fit the person.

She definitely made variations for specific people, but she did keep a structure and she kept it pure. And I do think it is a responsibility. So for the people that trained with her and carry that on everything else is beautiful. But I think it's important to know where it came from. What do I think Romana's greatest contribution to Pilates was? I think there are many, I think definitely the greatest contribution was holding it alive.

And we have to give Romana credit because, when Joe passed, she was there with Clara, and she stayed, and she kept the studio going, and many times that the studio was up and down, a change of ownership, the name transferred ownership, but she always went with where Pilates was because she felt like that was her duty, and she felt that she needed to let people know what Pilates was. So I think without Romana, Pilates wouldn't be what it is today and might not even be around anymore. I think she's owed a lot of gratitude because she was there and she kept it going. How do I think Romana would want to be remembered? I think more than just the passing of the torch or the keeper of the flame.

I think Romana would more want to be remembered as a fun, lively person. I do because Romana was energy, and Romana was fun. Romana loved life. And isn't that what Pilates is about? To really give you a great quality of life. Return to Life is Joe's book, and it's about getting the most out of your life. And I think that's Romana. She got the most out of her life and she loved it and she loved to enjoy it and she loved having a good time. She loved champagne. She loved to laugh. She loved to dance, loved art, she loved life. And I think that that's how she would want to be remembered, as someone who really lived their life and loved their life. If Romana was sitting next to me right now, what would I tell her? I would definitely tell her thank you for all of your perseverance.

Thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for teaching me. I wouldn't be who I am without Romana. You know, it sounds funny, but I'm teaching Pilates right now and Pilates now is my livelihood. And I love it. And thank you for passing that joy on to me and thank you for giving me your knowledge and letting me now give my knowledge and experience to other people.

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Thank You for sharing this Brett, as you said Romana passed Pilates to you and you pass her to us. I love taking your classes because you also share her laughter and love of life in sharing your sense of humor. My students know it was you who said "don't get fresh" (ribs)
Reiner G
1 person likes this.
Hi Brett, it was wonderful seeing you speaking about Romana. What impresses me the most, is how humble you always are. I hope to see you soon again. Best, Reiner
Such a lovely interview! Thank you for sharing your experience with Romana. It was wonderful to hear that she would modify the work to fit the client and I appreciate the respect and love you showed towards your teacher.
Erika Quest
Thank you, Brett! Just watched this and hadn't seen it before. Love to you and thanks for sharing. Hope to see you soon!!!! xo
1 person likes this.
Great Interview...well done Brett Howard - Master Teacher, who's always referencing Romana in his Workshops!

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