Discussion #320

History of Pilates with Lolita

75 min - Discussion


Experience the unique opportunity of learning from a legend. First Generation teacher and Joseph Pilates apprentice, Lolita San Miguel, comes to Pilates Anytime in an event we called "An Afternoon with Lolita San Miguel."

In November, we invited 10 people (instructors and clients), to spend the day with Ms. San Miguel. It was a remarkable experience and one we at Pilates Anytime are happy to share with you. At Pilates Anytime, we believe that when you study Pilates, you must also study the history and the legacy of Pilates. Our history is rich and fortunately there are a few people that can still give us a first hand account of the evolution of Pilates and what it was like to work directly with Joe Pilates. Ms. San Miguel is one of those people.

In the series of classes here on Pilates Anytime, you will learn the history of Pilates as experienced by Ms. San Miguel. Watch all of Lolita's classes and learn what it was like to be in the studio with Joe and Clara, how Lolita discovered Pilates herself, and what Mr. Pilates' clients were like. You will also learn how you can help Ms. San Miguel in her effort to have Joseph Pilates recognized in his hometown of Monchengladbach. If that weren't enough, you can take class from Ms. San Miguel yourself. Lolita offers us a Postural Analysis Class, her classic Foot Work class, a short class on breathing, and wonderful Mat Class.

It is a distinct honor for us at Pilates Anytime to have Lolita San Miguel in the studio. Lolita has been teaching Pilates since 1958. She worked directly with Joseph Pilates and continues at the age of 76 to teach all around the world today. She is a brilliant teacher, a great storyteller, and a visionary that we can all benefit from learning from. Enjoy!

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Chapter 1

The Beginning

Well, good afternoon in this beautiful California weather we're having. It's a joy for me to be here with you. And it is a joy for me to tell you about our professional parents, which I was privileged enough to know and work with. And it is wonderful to be able to share it because they was wonderful people and I think the more we know about them, the more it enriches our method. Well, my story begins when I was born in New York City and my parents were Puerto Rican and they went to live in Puerto Rico and that's where I started dancing at age six and I love dance from the very beginning.

I more or less knew that's what I wanted to do and then I came back to the States and I went to The School of American Ballet and I graduated from New York's Performing Arts High School and then immediately, I joined the ballet company, the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet. My teachers were Robert Joffrey and Ben Harkarvy and I was privileged to be in both their companies, the beginning of The Joffrey Ballet and Ben Harkarvy's company. Ben is no longer with us but he was the director of the Juilliard School in New York of the director of the dance department. Well, I then, after two years of touring mostly one night stands with the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet, I decided I really wanted to find a job that kept me home in New York more so I auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and I was fortunate to be chosen and the MEB company back then had a wonderful ballet company, 36 dancers, full ballet company. We had our own ballet evenings and I fell in love with opera too.

I was so privileged to work with so many great singers. So, 1954 when I joined the MEB. In 1958, I was in class. I was taking class before... Dancers take class forever, we never stop taking class.

And it was before performance and I got hit behind the knee and it threw my knee out and I was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital to a wonderful man called Dr. Henry Jordan. Dr. Jordan is a name that is well-known in the Pilates field because from the very beginning, he loved Pilates and really endorsed it. And Dr. Jordan said to me, "Lolita, you really do not need surgery and your leg has suffered a trauma," but he said, "What I do suggest is that you do go to a Pilates gym of Carola Trier." That's what he sent me. So I went, I had never heard of Pilates. 1958, not that many people really knew Pilates.

So, from the moment the door opened, I saw these equipment and this weird machines because let's face it, they are strange when, and they were different from anything I had ever seen and a lot of my colleagues were there, a lot of my friends were there so I felt at home right away. And Carola Trier was a wonderful teacher. I was very fortunate to have worked with her for many years. She was very, very meticulous and she worked very closely with the doctors. She always kept the doctor informed on your progress and she was very good in fit and the tracking and all the details that are so important.

And so, I got well right away, went back to work but kept going as a client and I was applying for like six or seven years at Carola. So, Carola, at the time, had two assistants. They were Kathy Stanford Grant and Romana Kryzanowska and I happened to be the only person that Carola certified but I'll tell you how I got into that.

Chapter 2

In the Studio

Carola, one day said to me, "No, Lolita, you're now talking about retiring from the MEB or leaving the MEB and going into teaching?" She said, "Why don't you consider teaching a Pilates?" Well, it had never occurred to me and she said, "There is a program Career Transition for Dancers that pays for dancers to be transitioned into another profession and they would pay for the training." So we looked into it and sure enough, I did then, I then went for six months, 20 hours a week to Carola as an apprentice. And I mostly went in the afternoon when Kathy Stanford Grant, Kathy Grant was her hours as an assistant so I became very good friends with Kathy.

Carola, I told you, was very meticulous and a wonderful teacher. She was also very meticulous about the place being just perfect. I mean you couldn't put your finger on the hallway as you passed and the dressing room had to be immaculate, every towel had to be were it belonged. And I guess this was part of her wonderful training that she also gave us, to be that meticulous. And at the end of my training, I was talking to Kathy one day, we were outside the building, 200 West 58th Street where Carola had her studio and I said to Kathy, "You know, Kathy, I really don't know what I'm going to do with this training because I don't wanna work for Carola but I don't feel ready to open up my own studio." And so I said, "I'll just incorporate it into my ballet teaching." So she looked at me and she said, "Why don't you go to Joe?" I said, "Joe? Joe who?" Well all this time, I had heard her certainly speak about Mr. Pilates with great reverence and I knew all about the Isle of Man and I knew about the springs and the mattresses and I had this history but I did not know that Joe Pilates was in the City of New York three blocks down the street from where Carola was.

So, that was a shock and- And you didn't even know he's alive? No, I didn't know he was alive. For, some reason I thought like you hear the Stanislavski method, the Vaganova method, the Cecchetti method and most of these people have gone long, long ago and since there was always the talk of the Isle of Man, I said, well, I thought to myself maybe he didn't even survive the Isle of Man, you know? (laughing) So when Kathy says to me, "Why don't you go to Joe?" And I said, "Joe?" She said, "Joe Pilates." And I said, "Joe Pilates?" So she said, "He's alive, he's down the streets." And so, with that, Kathy says, "Let's see when I go there right now and ask them to certify us." All right. So, we went to three blocks to 939 Eighth Avenue. We go up the stairs, the elevator never worked, of this building and in the foyer, in the hallway, there are two doors and we go into what is the living quarters but I didn't know that at the time and I opened the door and there were beds, small beds and there was an electric frying pan.

It was obvious people lived there and that there was their living quarters and they're standing in front of me with Clara. And Clara was wearing her little nurse's uniform, white uniform, she had her white shoes with laces and this beautiful, soft, lovely face, white hair, blue eyes and her eyes were spectacular and just she oozed tenderness. Kathy introduced me and Kathy says that we were here because we wanted to speak to Joe and with that, Joe walked into the room and the energy was like a tsunami. You knew he had walked into the room and he was wearing his black trunks that you've seen and his white turtleneck, cotton turtleneck. Lycra was not around in those days and little canvas slippers and Kathy says hello to him, Kathy had worked with him before and she introduces me and she says to him, "We're here because we wanna be certified by you." Well, he had never certified anybody.

And Kathy says, "Lolita was just certified by Carola Trier." (attendees laughing) So that piqued him, of course, and he sort of looks, and he said, "What does that mean?" So we explained and he said, "All right, go get whatever the papers are." And so, Kathy and I went, got our papers taken care of and we are the only two people that Joseph Pilates certified. And my certification dates from February of 1967, which was the year he died. And so, my apprenticeship, then I started my apprenticeship. And I was healthy. At the time, I've been dancing and I was in shape and so was Kathy.

Kathy had gone to him when she was not well. She had a bad knee also. And I soon decided that the best time to go was in the afternoon. In the afternoon around two o'clock, there was a lull at the studio and Joe had his lunch and he had had his nap and he had had his schnapps and he was a much happier person. So I went around two o'clock.

In the studio, when you walked in, there were four, sometimes, five of the reformers, the old ones with the claw foot and Cadillac and well, the room was full with equipment and the windows, there were windows to Eighth Avenue. So, it was on the first floor so we overlooked the street one flight up and it overlooked Eighth Avenue. And so I came in around two o'clock and usually, either Joe or Clara or his two assistants, which were Bob Seed, a big hockey player, very strong and looked gruff but he was like a bear, very sweet and Hannah Sakmirda who was a long time friend of theirs were the assistants. So, I worked out for two hours and under the supervision of whoever was in the room or... And then I assisted or I watched or I just did what we all do when we apprentice, we listen.

We listen, we observe, we record. So, that was wonderful. During that time, of course, you get to know people much differently than when you're a client if you're spending four hours at their studio, right? Every day. So, every once in a while, Joe would be looking out the window or something like that, let's say and he would say, "Look at that man over there.

The nose reaches the corner three seconds before the rest of the body," because his head was so far forward that his head was gonna reach the corner three seconds before the body or he says, "Look at her, look at that back, look at that, she's not even 19. You know the problem she's gonna have? If she were here with us doing Contrology," he called it Contrology, no one else did but "she wouldn't have those problems. So, he was always looking out to see who he could fix and if he knew that if they were here doing the work with us, they would be all right. And Joe was not big on patience.

Joe probably was never a patient but certainly, in his 80s, he was not big on patience. The books, the records used to tell us or told us that he was born in 1880 but I have been to Monchengladbach, the place where he was born and his actual birthdate is 1883. So when he died, he was not 87 like we've always said. He was more like 84. But Joe would have his days and he had days of great depression and especially in that last year and a half of his life.

And when he was feeling down, when he was having a bad day, he always would say that it was, time was running short for him and he knew it, that he had not accomplished what he wanted to do, that he felt frustrated. he had tried with the medical association, he had tried with the boards of education. Joe was convinced that people had to start doing Pilates at a young age because he had had his problems as a child. He had been a sickly child and he had become an artist model by the time he was 14 years old but he was in the equivalent of the YWCA, a gym in Germany every day working out. His father was a gymnast and physical culture was part and he just made up his mind, really, that he did not want to be a sickly child or sickly man, that he was going to overcome this.

So by the time he was 14, he was already an artist model and some beautiful pictures. At any rate, getting back to his bad days, during those bad days, you would also say things like he was aware that he was 50 years ahead of his time and that he never doubted that the method was good, never. He just felt he was ahead of his time. People still did not comprehend it and when he was having those bad days, then Clara was always, she always play good cop to his bad cop so she would come and she would hug him and she'd say, "Now, come on, Papa. What are you so sad about?

Look at all the people we've helped. Look at all the people who love us. Come on, cheer up, nothing to be sad about." And he would try to perk up but those were difficult days for him. I think Joe had tried everything. He didn't lose hope.

He kept trying this and that when the doors closed on him and mostly, like with the American Medical Association, he almost had, he wanted to have a rehabilitation center in the hospitals but then he did not have the correct credentials. He wasn't a doctor, he wasn't in the, so therefore, the medical association did not really understand or have the respect for him.

Chapter 3

The Clients

Yes, Christie. Before the later part of his life, who was in the studio when it was busy? Oh, yes.

What was that like? Oh, yes. His clientele was fascinating. First of all, there were 60% male. Amazing?

Yeah. And then the ladies, because when you're thinking the 60s, ladies did not go to gyms, you know? It wasn't the thing to do. Gyms were not pleasant places, supposedly, for the ladies. But the ladies that went were either theater people and dancers, theater people or the socialites, the wives of the Greek tycoons and it was curious because there had been this wonderful article in "Vogue Magazine" and it talked about Pilates and that brought in a lot of ladies but what attracted them to Pilates once they got there was that they could work out and it wouldn't ruin the makeup or their hair and they could go out to lunch afterwards.

So that was how the popularity of Pilates sort of spread amongst the social crowd and the big names. And the gentlemen all would come dressed up in their suits and ties and very formal and they would work out and they would get back into the, and Joe had a thing about clean skin. You had to clean the pores and you had to shower before you left and he had this ugly brush in the shower and he'd say, "Did you scrub? "You want me to come in and scrub your back?" Pores have to be kept clean, so you breathe, you breathe through the pores and so he also had, as you probably know, this bed that was his invention that never really went very far. It was not comfortable but he really, he wanted people to have furniture that they could work in and that would be beneficial like the chair, he didn't invent it as an apparatus, he invented them in the living room, you know?

And you should work on that chair and the bed should be converted to a Cadillac. You put the springs on the top and you don't even need to get out of bed, you can work right there. And you integrate this into your daily life. It's not yeah, go to the exercise. No, it's part.

Well, his clientele was, unfortunately, not as numerous as he wished or for that matter, as numerous as Carola's, which hurt I'm sure. The place really did not have that bigger clientele and the method of payment, I always found fascinating, where you didn't make an appointment to go to Joe's. Everybody more or less, at the time, what was convenient for them, you just came in, worked out, you worked out for an hour. There were these pictures on the wall. Mostly, you follow the pictures.

They would say add a spring or remove a spring but they was not the very careful hands-on as we have it today. Once you have been there several times, obviously, once you, more or less, knew what you were doing. And so you would follow the pictures and there weren't any plants, the pictures that were there were all related to work. You may have worked next to me for a year and I probably didn't even know more about you than your name because people didn't speak to each other while they were working. They were there, in New York, everybody has something to do in there, I wanna do it in a hurry.

They were there to work out and to leave. So. The clientele you were working with at the time, were they mostly dancers or athletes of some kind? They were mostly gentlemen and the dancers, the socialites and the people with injuries that had been sent by somebody. So, being an apprentice, did you go around and get hands on directions?

Yes. Would you say go to this person and for you- Well, remember, I mostly walked around because there were four of us. They used to go in and out of their living quarters and they will go take a rest and come back but there were certainly enough people so I mostly listened. I watched, I would change the spring or if they were working and I would put the, add a loop in order to do a long spine or I would get the box or I would, more or less, anticipate what was next and mostly, I listened. I listened and I watched.

Joe didn't really like to answer too many questions. And when you would say, "Joe, what is that exercise good for?" He says, "Good for the body. "It's good for the body." And if you would say, "Well, I really don't feel this exercise. I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to roll up, I'm not supposed, am I supposed to?" He'd say, "Do it," and you do it. And he'd say, "Do it, do it again, do it again." Finally, you got your own answer.

You know, there's no doubt about it. You found the answer but you came across it because you were repeating it and in that process, you found your answer. Remember, they spoke English but they were not fluent people speaking English so they, it was not a place where there was much talking at all, whether it was from them or from the clients. They really went there to work. The dancers, of course, always stayed longer and he had to end up shooing them out the door but most people were in and out in an hour and- How do they pay?

Well, that's wonderful question. (laughing) I'll tell you how they paid. Where you had your appointment at Carola, at Joe's, you came and went and when you left, you either handed them a check if it was the beginning of the month or whatever or $5, which Clara put in her little nurse's uniform pocket and I think that was the end of the bookkeeping. You're saying there's not much manual queuing back then but there's this thing with photos of Joseph cranking on or footage. Oh, yes, yes. Yes, oh, well, yes.

Joe didn't really realize how strong he was, you know? And the two of them because I've been talking only about Joe and Clara was a wonderful teacher, probably better teacher than Joe because Clara had patience and Joe would, if he told you two or three times and you didn't get it, he'd go, tsk, and he'd lose patience. He'd walk away and then Clara would very gently walk around and he would tell you what it was and she would place you. You wanna put your leg down? Like Joe's teaching style was more like.

(attendees laughing) Sorry. It's okay. Well, Clara's teaching style was she didn't say very much but it was like. And she would mold you into what she wanted. And thank you (laughs) for allowing me to abuse you.

So they were two very different teaching styles and, of course, she always played good cop to his bad cop. So Kathy tells me the story. When I say, Kathy, it's Kathy Grant, a dear, dear friend of mine that I told you was one of my teachers and assisted both at Carola and took me to Joe's but now, that I say that I have to say that Kathy passed on around two months, three months ago. And so, Kathy tells me the story that this day, she had gone and she was working and Joe was around. And all of a sudden, she said she had her mind on other things.

She said, "I was out to lunch up here." And she finished and she said, "What goes next?" And, of course, we didn't follow the little pictures. We worked and he said stomach massage and for a moment, she said, "Stomach massage." Well, he was furious. He was furious. He expected you to learn every single name of every exercise after awhile so then whatever he said, you knew what to do. So he said, "Out, out." So she looked at him like oh, but.

Out. So she picked up her bag and tears going down the face and she's walking out and, of course, Clara's tip-toeing and walking her to the door and Clara says, puts her arm around me and said, "Don't mind him. He's old, he's cranky. You come back tomorrow. He would've forgotten all about it." So, that was true.

He'd lose his temper and then two minutes later, he forgot all about it. And there was another Kathy story that I like. Kathy said to him, "Mr. Pilates," she always said it very formally. I used to call him Joe, she used to call him Mr. Pilates. "Mr. Pilates, I'm a little afraid of the fuzzies." Well, that's all he needed to hear, you know?

Could you help me get on the fuzzies, hang from the fuzzies?" He said, "Sure." So he goes and he accommodates her and he placed this one foot and he places the other foot and he stretches her out and he says, "Now, you stretch out. Now, belly button to the spine," and with that, goes and he walks right out of the studio and leaves poor Kathy hanging there. "Mr. Pilates, Mr. Pilates!" And of course, the more she got anxious, the more she twisted herself. (chuckling) Yeah, that was the kind of thing he would get a kick out of. He would get a kick out of if you were doing the stomach massage and he always wanted, it was very important to him, the position of the arms that this would be opened, that those arms be lifting that carriage and that you'll be using your pectorals. And he would come by and like, you know, and he would go like this and if he could raise that arm off the carriage, you heard about it.

You were not using your pectorals. Because there's another thing about Joe Pilates. Joe Pilates loved the ladies, even in his 80s, you know? His little eyes would sparkle. And we always used to look at each other because one of his favorite corrections was lower your sternum.

(attendees laughing) There, he was hands-on. (all laughing) Lower your sternum. And Kathy says his favorite exercise was a semicircle and I won't say any more on that. (laughs) But that was, you were sure to get assistance on the semicircle. (laughs) And they both had incredible hands, the tactile of both of them, quite different but the tactile is so important in Pilates, anyway but the two of them had an outstanding hands. When the moment they touched you, you knew exactly what it was that they wanted. They really did not have to verbalize it.

There was no need, you understood. Joe did not use many anatomical terms, hardly any. Lower his sternum was probably one of the very few. He'd say belly, abdomen, powerhouse but there was not all the anatomical vocabulary that is used today. And well, Joe, there's also a wonderful story about Joe which is related to the fire.

Joe always had a bad cough. He had arthritis in his fingers. You could tell if you'd look in the old, in the photos and look at his fingers and the knees but till the end, he could do every single movement, demonstrated himself. And he had terrible cough. He was a smoker, he smoked cigars, he smoked cigarettes, he smoked heavily.

And then there was a fire in one of the restaurants downstairs in 1966 and there was a lot of smoke inhalation, which, of course, did not help his condition. So he did not die in a fire, which I have heard. No, he did not. Undoubtedly, the fire made more harm to his lungs, had to, was negative for his health but he died, fire was in January of '66 and he died in October of '67 so there was a gap there but he did have an awful lungs. When he coughed, you did hear this congestion but in the '60s, everybody smoked, you know?

Smoking was the thing to do. Then in 1967, Joe passed and we were rather lost for a while. The studio... He was a sun, everything revolved around him, certainly, Clara and everything else. Clara lived for 10 years afterwards which was rather surprising because he was so important in her life and towards the end, all she kept saying was she learned to be left alone because she wanted to be with Papa.

And then Romana Kryzanowska and she took care of Clara and the studio.

Chapter 4

The Trial and the Elders

But to get back to that time in which the studio was being run by Romana and then you could not practice Pilates except if you had been trained by them and they did, would write to send you a letter to stop teaching or you taught what they would call Pilates-based exercises. The only way you could call it Pilates is if you've been trained by them. Well, then in the year 1999, a gentleman called Ken Enelman from Sacramento, he had been doing, he was making waterbeds and he had been doing fine furniture and this lady brought him a reformer and insisted he makes the reformer. Well, that started it.

He started to get orders to make reformers and then he gets the letter from New York telling him to stop and he decides that he's going to take the case to court. And he does and there was a trial in the City of New York at which the elders deposed and we won the trial and therefore, Pilates became generic. And it was this trial that made big difference of the boom of Pilates. Let me get back a little bit to what I was doing in the meantime. In the '70s in '74, I moved to Puerto Rico.

My husband was going to start a business there. We thought it'd just be a matter of few months and I thought well, maybe I'll even start a Pilates studio there. And when I arrived, I was asked by the association of dance teachers to start a ballet company, which I did and I'm happy to say, it is Puerto Rico's leading company. It has celebrated 31 years and I started a school for the company and Pilates y Mas. Obviously, I introduced Pilates to Puerto Rico.

But whether they're four years old or the professional company, everybody starts their ballet class with the floor exercises. I feel that that makes such a great difference in their training and in the kind of dancer that is going to be developed, and so, I really promote. And even in New York, I used to teach at Dance Theatre of Harlem class for the scholarship group in which it was Pilates and ballet. I taught at the Metropolitan Opera. Pilates and, Pilates, actually, because it was for the singers, mostly.

And my alma mater, Performing Arts High School, I had a special group that had problems and I had a class after hours of Pilates to help this group. I was probably the first person to teach a mat class in the City of New York and that came about because Kathy, Kathy Grant, was named the director of a place called Clark Center for the Performing Arts, which was very big in New York and it had all kinds of performing arts classes. And she called me and she said, "Why don't you start a Pilates body conditioning mat class?" All right, so I did and it was very popular. I used to get a lot of dancers and a lot of non-dancers. And so that's, from there on, it was where the mat classes took off but in Joe's studio, we didn't have the space.

And I have been talking about the elders but I have not told you who they are and I will start with Romana Kryzanowska. Romana lives in Texas, she's now retired and her daughter and her granddaughter, both are Pilates teachers. Her niece- Huh? Her niece teaches here. Oh, really?

Yes, the whole family. Her son Paul Mejia, he stayed in ballet. He's artistic director of a ballet company. Then Ron Fletcher. Ron is the guru of the stars, we call him, because Ron moved to the West Coast and he opened his studio, is it Rodeo Drive or?

Rodeo Drive and all of the stars came and Hollywood loved it so he made Pilates famous on the West Coast. And Ron's version of is very much Ron's version. It is very integrated with Martha Graham work and Martha Graham was, he was in her company, he was a principal dancer with her company and she was also a practitioner of Pilates but he has very much used her breathing and many other techniques of Martha. And both Romana and Ron are around 89. My dear friend Kathy Grant who just passed on, she was 89 as well.

And then comes Mary Bowen and Mary Bowen was an actress and a comedian and dancer, City of New York, she got injured and she went to work with Joe and she has maintained herself very active. She still takes her class. She's in her 80s and she became a psychoanalyst and she mixes Jung with the Pilates, and she's quite a fascinating lady. And I'm the baby of the group. And I was 76, October 9th.

(attendee speaking faintly) Yes. One of the things that we are also concerned with is the quality. The quality of the Pilates because it makes me so happy that so many people are doing Pilates and that so many people have the benefits of the work but it makes me very unhappy to see it taught badly. And when I see it taught badly, all I think, oh, poor Joe. And Pilates may look easy but it isn't.

And most dancers can do every one of the movements, there was nothing that complicated but that's not doing Pilates. That's doing movement and you have to really dedicate your time and dedicate to study and you have to find you good teachers and you have to really, the client have to become aware that you can ask, do you have a certification? Who certified you? It is your body and that's your greatest treasure that you're putting in somebody's hands and you wanna make sure that that person that you have entrusted knows what they're doing. And one of the purposes of the Pilates Method Alliance is to make sure that the standards are maintained high, that the teachers receive training, that there is a certification program so that the industry can keep growing and that...

Romana had a very legitimate preoccupation when she felt that if she opened the Pilates out, that it would become, it would lose its integrity and it's our preoccupation too. We all have that great, we really wanna make sure that Pilates is taught but it is taught correctly.

Chapter 5

Honoring Joe

I'm going to bring you more up to date as far as Pilates. Six years ago, when I retired from Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico as artistic director of the company 'cause I still direct the school, at first, my board didn't believe me that I was gonna retire. What are you going to do?

Retire then sit in a rocking chair. I said, "Of course, not. You know better." And I said I wanna teach Pilates, so, and I said, "What's more, I'm moving away from Puerto Rico," because I knew I had to cut the umbilical cord. And so, moved to Puerto Rico and last year, and I started traveling and teaching Pilates all over the world. Last year, I started a mentor program because I felt I enjoyed doing workshops very much but it's like you go and you deposit seeds but you don't see them grow.

And so, I came up with the Lolita San Miguel Pilates Master Mentor Program. And I just graduated four groups. It's a two-year, 200-hour program and it covers everything from soup to nuts, I say, but the story that I wanna get to because most of them, I hold in Palm Beach Gardens but this lady called me from Germany and she said, "I'm a single mother and I cannot, I'm very interested in your mentor program but there's no way that I can get there." And I said, "Germany, where do you live?" She said, "Dusseldorf." And I said, "And how far away is Monchengladbach?" So, she said, "20 minutes." She said, "if you would consider coming here, I could help you." I said, "Yes, I will." (laughs) So, I started a mentor program in, not in Monchengladbach but in Dusseldorf. And last year in '09, we celebrated Pilates Day in Monchengladbach. All of my disciples, there were 15 of them, went to Monchengladbach and we rented the Friedrich-Kaiser festival hall.

Beautiful place where Joe had had boxing exhibitions when he was almost 40. And I taught a class and it was like 150 people showed up, it was a free class. And first, I had children come on stage and then I had men come on stage and then everybody had a mat or a towel and we have some mats, so the room was filled. At the end, I start to speak to them and they come closer and I realized that no one there knows Joseph Pilates. And that Joseph Pilates is unknown in Germany and in Monchengladbach.

And this hurt me so much. All I could remember was this him sitting there looking sad and forlorn in his bad days when he would say that he had not accomplished what he wanted, that the method had not become what he dreamed and that he had not achieved his goals. And I said, "My god, in his own hometown, they don't know him." Well, I decided I was gonna do something about that and I went back and I went to city hall, I went through the archives and I, I spoke to the people at city hall and we have a mission which is to place a statue or a bust or a plaque in Monchengladbach. There is the place where he was born, the house where he was born is no longer there. It's been torn down but this beautiful tree is there and the empty square and we would like that place named Pilates Platz, Pilates Square.

There's another house where he was conceived because Joe lived in 12 houses according to the archives and that's a story in itself. It seems that his father, part of the year, was a mason and you had to live in a house till the cement dry before it could be sold, which I'm sure affected his breathing. And so, he lived in many, many places. At any rate this little house which has been remodeled and is very nice, would be perfect as a museum. So, this year, we celebrated again Pilates Day in Monchengladbach and this time, the mayor of the town came and he we had 250 people come and we had seven classes during the day then he spoke and he promised that he would help us achieve our goal.

And then I taught a class and ever since, this disciple of mine this lady called Renata Sabongui, she's from the Czech Republic so she and her husband said, "Lolita, we're going to help you with this." They went to the Czech Art Institute and they started a competition for artists to submit their drawings and then it went to a jury and then I had the final word and we selected a statue, a beautiful statue, which we sent to Mr. Norbert Bude who is the mayor of Monchengladbach. And we were not getting replies and finally, when I went back, again, I went back to city hall. By now, they know me there and they said that they were a little turned off by the statue. There had been some bad publicity about some other statue that had been placed but they would definitely consider a bust or a plaque. So my disciples that have graduated and everyone is invited to May 7th, 2011 when we hope to celebrate, well, we'll have a conference of two days and then on Saturday the 7th, we will have the unveiling of the bust, the plaque and hopefully, the little square will be called Pilates Platz and we're working very hard to make that reality and I will be thrilled because I think he deserves it.

And just the same that I want the building, the Da Vinci Studios where he was, I think it should be declared a historic monument because Balanchine worked there. Yes, Balanchine was in that same building. That's how come he found out about Pilates. Yes, yes, that's where it began. They were in the same building in that 939 Eighth Avenue or- (attendee speaking faintly) No, no, no.

In 939 Eighth Avenue. And so, there should be a museum in the City of New York. If anybody knows Mr. Bloomberg. (laughs) Because I think that would be wonderful. he deserved it and it's our legacy and it's up to the second generation like the graduates from my program. I tell them, you're second generation Pilates teachers.

You have to, you have a responsibility to really make sure that the method gets known, that the family gets known because it wasn't Pontius Pilate or whatever, which people thought at the beginning. There was very much beautiful people behind this method that were totally and completely devoted. I mean that studio opened up at 6:30. They worked all day. 7:30, they were still trying to get the people out and these were not young people.

And so they was totally devoted to the method and what I feel we all want is that the whole world should do Pilates. I always say Joe named that apparatus, the universal reformer because that's how Joe thought of himself. He was a Universal Reformer. He really was convinced that if you did Pilates, you would have a spirit-mind-body integration and that people who did Pilates were not about to engage in wars or fights, they would be very much integrated, they would be at peace with themselves and he hoped he could change society and the universe. So that to me is where the name Universal Reformer was really him.

Chapter 6

Lolita On Joe and the Evolution of Pilates

One thing that was fun when I was in Germany and especially in Monchengladbach walking through the streets where he lived and I saw a bar, a pub and, of course, Germany's big on beer and as a matter of fact, in the archives in city hall, Joe's occupation is listed as brewer. Are you ready? He is listed as a brewer. You worked at whatever, you know? The summer months, the winter months but I stopped and I saw this barrel and the barrel had the specials of the day on it.

It was in front of the pub and I looked at the barrel and it had the rings around it and I said, "That's where he got it. That's where it came from." The beer barrels with the ring toner with the rings around it, in my day, the ring toner look just like those rings. They used to get rusty. I know. And yeah, you remember them?

And it looked just like the rings that were on the barrel around, in the front of the pub. So, to me, he was a genius and it's not a word one throws around lightly, a creator and inventor and 50 years ahead of his time. And I always like to say of all the wonderful sayings that he's left us with. He didn't invent this one but it's so true. Rome wasn't built in a day and he used to use it all the time.

The fact that persistent, perseverance, patience are basic, you know? Nothing good is achieved instantaneously. It takes work. And he always said, "Physical fitness is the main ingredient towards happiness." And it's true. When you're ill, you're not happy.

So when you feel physically healthy, fit, then everything else, you can cope with and deal with. He used to say, "Balance, balance is the not standing your toe shoes but balance is the combination of rest, work and play." And you must rest and you must work and you must play and he was very, very aware of this. And if you look at "Return to Life," this book that he wrote that I call the bible, which you also cannot take literally but he talks about work, rest and play, fresh air. Fresh air. Letting it go those pores breathe.

You have to outs the air before you can ins the air. That's another one of his famous about, you have to wring all the dirty air out of your lungs so you can take in clean air and he would go like that. You have to really empty of those lungs so you can really fill up and breathe fully. Well, you know the thirdly, the 10 weeks. In 10 weeks, you will notice a difference, in 20 weeks, others will notice the difference and in 30 weeks, you'll have a new body.

That is used a lot. First of all, I do Pilates every day. I do Pilates everyday not because I want a medal but because I wanna feel good. I want to be able to feel well and if I don't do it, I don't sleep as well and my body doesn't feel well. So, Pilates is definitely a part of my life and will be forever.

It's not something, I have a gym in my house and I use it. Sometimes, I use it at 11:30 at night but if I haven't gotten a chance to use it in the daytime. I adjust the cooldown that I do, I wouldn't be as energetic or if I can use it to energize. So, Pilates has changed some. It's a credit to his genius, really, how little it has changed but it has changed some.

I believe that we must stay on top of sports science that since 1967, there has been an enormous growth in our knowledge of kinesiology, of sports science, of the body and that there are certain things that I was taught that I don't follow. For example, I was taught to imprint, when you lay down, every single vertebrae had to be on the floor. It was no problem for me because as most dancers, I had worked out the curve on my back and so I imprinted, never thought about it but then, much later on, I started to think, well, wait a minute and sports science and what I read talks about these curves in the body that should be respected as shock absorbers and that I can achieve the same thing by thinking of my belly button towards the spine and lifting my abdominals without compressing my vertebraes down into the mat. So there is one, no, yes, if your knees are bent, almost everybody has an imprinted back but if your legs are straight, depending, of course, and the weight of the person how much fat tissue there may be or muscle tissue there may be in the rear, the spine may not go down flat to an imprint. So I do not imprint or teach people to press the spine down like I was taught.

Back in my days, we used to bounce a lot. If you went to a jazz class, you came out a milkshake. (attendees chuckling) Because you bounced and you bounced and you bounced and we thought that we were achieving maximum flexibility by bouncing. Well, again, we have been taught that a muscle and that it will be more flexible and you will achieve more flexibility by taking that position and holding it, breathing into it, stretching, lengthening rather than bouncing in and out of it. We used to go, for example, we worked on a mat that had legs and often, the legs would be brought over, let's say on a rollover, below the level of the mat.

So, in order to do that, certainly, the weight was very much in your cervicals and I personally had little red spots back here always, I had those little red spots. I always thought of it as part of my Pilates but that's another thing that I have changed and that is, I do a rollover but I stay parallel to the floor, keeping the weight on the shoulders and not taking it back into my cervicals. We are much more aware of protecting the cervicals and everything. For example, chin to the chest used to be really chin to the chest, touching. Now, I say you have a tutu of air or kiwi or an apple, whichever imagery you want to use but when you bring your head forward, you do not compress your cervicals.

The same way as when you take your head back, you do not compress your cervicals. Your head down, the weight of your head down. So, these are ways in which the method has changed. One thing that I think we have lost that I'm working hard to keep alive, I think, there is much less awareness of feet. The feet have gotten neglected.

And I, for one, work a lot on feet because I feel the feet, that's what we stand on and how you are standing on your feet is going to reflect itself all the way up your legs, your hips up to, so therefore, one of the first things you have to be aware of is your feet and as we age, we know that feet suffer a great deal and they suffer just as much for the males as they do for the females because at least, we change, vary the height of our heels. The gentlemans usually stay at the same level and they lose flexibility. But the feet are so important that we get back into the feet and when you think about it, look, Joe invented the arch corrector, the toe stretcher. We used to work with little balls, right? And bigger balls on the feet.

The Pedi Pole, the Pedi Pole, what is it? It's to check that foot. It's not for pull arms, it's really the feet, ped. And it's that tracking. Is that are you pronating?

Are you supinating? Are you rolling in? Are you rolling out? And not to say anything about the harm that the six-inch heels are doing, right? And the flip flops because there's no way that you can contract the notch and walk on it and not have it be harmful, right?

So, that's another one of the things that I would like teachers to get back to, teaching awareness of feet and the fact that your posture starts at the feet. And that in itself will alter everything else if it's wrong. We have, it's a different society from Joe's day from the '60s. Like you say, he was in the City of New York. In the City of New York, people walk, you know?

Very few people have the luxury of driving around. People used to five flights. Two or five flights, six flights was nothing. People nowadays, they don't walk, their car takes them everywhere, they sit in front of a computer, which makes them kyphotic, which makes them round shoulder with a forward head and all of this, it's a whole different posture than if you're carrying groceries around that is gonna make you straighten up and perhaps, arch your back. So it's a very different, our posture has changed because of our habits, daily habits.

And let's face it, to me, Pilates equals posture. And it's not easy to achieve. But what good is it if you come to me and take it three times a week and then the rest of the time, you walk around like this or you sleep like a pretzel? Well, the body doesn't know the difference.

Chapter 7

Subscriber Questions

Well, my dears, any more questions?

Some of the PilatesAnytime subscribers joined in. So these are from other people, not here. Anything that holds one's attention for so long must have a lot of depth and this particular person wants to know what is the depth that you've taken your own Pilates practice to or maybe a client? It's how far do you see it? Or do you see it as just a continued practice of exercise?

Well, first of all, I believe you never stop learning and I truly sincerely believe that if I go to the PMA Conference when I'm not teaching, I'm going to someone else's conference because I wanna keep growing. I don't believe you stand still. And I believe if you do, becomes a job, you become stale and stagnant and the work loses its excitement. And that is very sad. So, the more, I mean, I just took, two months ago, a reflexology course just to see how it would add to Pilates.

The lady says, "Well, if you gonna teach us, I know reflexology." But I want to see how it adds to, and I'm also certified by Polestar Pilates Education because I wanted to have more input on rehabilitation. I wanted to have input in what's happening now. I read everything that comes out. In all my trips, my husband is a very intelligent man in many, many subjects. I am like this.

(all laughing) We'll get on a plane and he'll see me looking at something and he would say, "What what are you reading?" And I turn the page and he said, "Oh, another Pilates note." Well, I don't tire, I don't tire of reading them. And absolutely, I say to you, keep growing. Keep growing. Joe was creative. Joe, he was always, like if I was working out and I was doing it too well, he would find a way of challenging me, to make it more difficult.

And I used to love that, I used to call that play. I'd call Kathy and say, I have some playtime with Joe today. How old were you when you started your apprenticeship and how long did it last? 28. 28.

Wait, wait, it was 1958, 24. 24. That was, no, when I started going, not the apprenticeship, when I started doing Pilates was 1958. Okay. Okay?

My apprenticeship with Joe was in the '66, '65, '66. And how long did the apprenticeship last? Six months. Six months. 20 hours a week.

And then you stayed at studio after that? When he passed on. That was soon after- Yes, yes. Did he charge you with the apprenticeship? No, he was paid.

The Career Transition Program for Dancers paid him to train both Kathy and I. Yes, any other questions? This is something at dinner you mentioned briefly last night I would love to hear more. You were teaching in some country and one of the students had said to you. Oh, yes, yes, I know the story you mean.

Yes, this is a wonderful story. It's not a story, it's true. I was in Montreal, Canada and I was doing a workshop for Chantel Peron, lovely lady in Canada and the Friday, the workshop was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. On Friday we had like a reformer, three hours of reformer after which, there was gonna be a cocktail party and a wine and cheese and whatnot. When we finished, this lady comes to me, very sweet lady and she offers me a bottle of brew that she had made and loaf of bread that she had made for me and I said, "Well, how lovely." And she said, "Well, I really was so looking forward to meeting you," and I said, "Well thank you." And she says, "I've just enjoyed this so much." Then she looks at me and she says, "And I wanna tell you that I do channeling." Well, at that moment, all I could think is she swims the English Channel.

(all laughing) She swims the English Channel and obviously, I was blank but then she continued and she said, "And I've been trying to channel Joe and I have not succeeded." Well, I was like, "What are you saying?" And so, that evening went on, then Sunday was the last day that I was going to be there and I finished and we had a luncheon and I see that she's waiting, she had a carpool some people in and they're saying, "Come on, let's go," and she says, "No, I have to talk to Lolita." So I said, "Oh, something awaits me." And so, finally, everyone leaves and she takes me into a corner and the tears were rolling down her face and she says to me, "I was finally successful in channeling Joe last night." And she said, "I told him that I would be seeing you today. And I asked him, is there anything you would like me to say to her?" And she said, "And he only said one word. Unity." I mean I was dumbfounded. Like every hair stood on and I said, "Well thank you, Vivian," and I hugged her and it was, but to me, that was so beautiful because there has been so much strife in the Pilates world, there still is and it doesn't really matter whether somebody opens the studio. The more people that do Pilates, and I always feel if you're teaching good Pilates, they'll know the difference, right? And it's time we pull together because we do have something so beautiful to offer that can reform a lot of people and that it's been fragmented long enough.

So if we can bring unity, that would be absolutely lovely. So, on that word, I leave you. Yes, thank you. Thank you. (attendees applauding) Thank you.


1 person likes this.
Wow. That was great. Thank you so much for posting it. I am glad to hear more about Joe, good to remember he was a real guy and had his own issues, yet obviously a genius when it came to movement and the human body.
Lisa Hubbard
I absolutely love the authenticity of your Afternoon with Lolita! I can't get enough of it. I love the memories Lolita shares, the compassion and love for Pilates she exudes. Triumphant!
Reiner G
Thanks for sharing. This was great. I am really looking forward to more of this.
Two more chapters added today!
Ted Johnson
I like how the Wunda chair was meant to be living room furniture and how he designed a bed for sleeping/exercising. Maybe due to being in New York and designing things for people in tiny apartments?
Wow..what an amazing story and beautiful memories she has of Joseph Pilates. Thanks for sharing!
Can we receive cec's for watching this workshop?
Thank you, Lolita, for sharing your experiences and insights. I am grateful to you and to Pilates Anytime for providing this resource to pilates instructors near and far. I moved to South America recently have been trying to visualize how my pilates teaching practice will evolve here. There are many studios but all Spanish speaking...I often imagine Joe in his broken English cueing exercises as I envision teaching here...I have been learning Spanish...quickly. This workshop really gives me food for thought and access to in-depth pilates topics. Access to this amazing community is a gift and I am thrilled to be a part of it! Thank you!!
We're glad you're all enjoying Lolita... She's coming back! She will film a workshop devoted to working with Seniors as well as a mat class and some attention to what she calls "Body Walk." Janet we hope to offer PMA CEC's for the upcoming workshop, but the History of Pilates Workshop does not offer CEC's. This lecture was purely for the fun of knowing what is might have been like. Just think, It was only 50 years ago that Lolita was working with Joe!
Thank you so much for offering this wonderful talk by Lolita. I have not had the opportunity to see her in person and it was such a treat to hear her speak! Very inspiring!
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