Special #3297

Greene Street Studio

15 min - Special


Deborah Lessen's studio, Greene Street Studio has been at it's location officially since 1983. In this video, you will learn how Deborah started her studio with the equipment she had made, which eventually expanded over time. She also talks about the difficulties of having a studio at her home and how she was able to find a balance between work and life.
What You'll Need: No props needed

About This Video

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Jan 17, 2018
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I'm back and this one I'm really excited about. It's another studio tour for Pilates Anytime. And still in New York City at one of the studios that's the longest existing one I know of in the same spot, which is Deborah Lessen's Greene Street Studio. Let's go inside. (doorbell rings) Greene Street Studio.

Miss Lessen, we're here. Entrer, please. Reminds me of what they said Joe's studio was like. Except they had an elevator. Hello. Pilates Anytime,

welcome to the Greene Street Studio. Can we come in? Absolutely, please come in. This is Lola's home, as well as my Pilates studio. Well, I'm so excited to do this one.

I've been here before. It's a really, really cool space. It's both where Deborah lives. It's where so many of our favorite people come to train, like Peter Roel, Blossom was just here. I think you used to train Brett Howard at times.

And I'm on a mission to get back here and spend some more time with you. But anyway, this is, how long has it been here? I moved into this space in 1978, but I wasn't teaching Pilates yet then. I started teaching here in 1982, but more officially in 1983. So, the studio originally was not this much space.

It came came up to about here. Was there a wall or something, or what do you mean, you just-- No, I three theater flats that were screwed together. At that time, I was working at Carola's. And my boyfriend at the time was an architect cabinet maker. Oh, how nice.

Yes. So, we measured Carola's equipment and he replicated. This was the first reformer, which is the exact dimensions of Carola's. You can see it's much shorter than other one. Yeah, is this it that he was able to make, or is this-- This is the one.

Wow, I didn't know that. This is quite old now and it should and will be replaced soon. So, it's not Gratz, or Peak, or Balance Body. No, and we made a couple of small changes. I lowered the foot bar because I didn't want people practicing their footwork with their legs angled in front of them, because they never extend through the hip joints.

Carola's foot bar was padded. You can see up in these photographs. Yes. And I just ran with that and made it bigger. So, you have much more surface area, much better proprioception, better for both your hands and your feet.

Were hers wood like this? Yes, and that's a funny story. Now, if you remember, Judith Covan's interview. Yes, one of my favorites. Good, every year, Carola would have her equipment repainted silver, because at that time, metal was the craze, and they all wanted it to look like metal.

So, it was wood painted silver. So, you can also see in these photographs that the platform floated above the tracks. Oh yeah, I've never noticed that. How interesting. So, I actually never saw any other kind of reformer for about 10 years.

This is just wood that's very well anchored. And the bottom, we put leg springs here. So, a center spring, and two side springs. Oh, it's like a wall unit or a-- Yes, it's like one end of the track table. And these were for the roll-down bar, and I had a very wide mat here that everybody loved.

And I actually, they're not here anymore, but I have the two bottom-- I remember that. Foot straps anchored in the floor. The last time we were here, the hooks were here. Oh, okay. Yeah, we were like, watch the hook.

So, I had that and the mat. I had the reformer, this spine corrector. The same one? The same one, that very one. And that chair, which is a replica of Carola's, except that I sized it up, because hers was quite small.

Hers also was metal frame and the sides were open. Okay. So you could see the springs on the side. Who were your clients then? My very first client was my travel agent.

And then a bunch of dancers. And my travel agent used to always look around and say, "You're all swans and I'm a duck." I'd tell her, no, you keep at it, you're gonna be a swan. Were you working with people at the same time? Yeah, semi-privates. Semi-privates, okay.

So, their first session would be a private. And then I tried to schedule them so that I didn't have two or three people that needed a lot of help at the same time. Actually, I don't think I ever had more than two people at the same time. The trap table came later. And I think the last piece was the ladder barrel.

So, how important for you was it that you had each piece of apparatus prior to adding more? Now, we have two Cadillacs and two reformers. Okay, well now-- Was it a size thing? Now, most of the time, I have another teacher here also. In your home?

Yeah. I mean, I know it's the studio. Yeah, so there are two of us teaching, so it's either two privates or one private and few semis, or two duets, something like that. Do you ever teach classes? No, I don't teach classes because unless everyone was either at the same level, or knew their body and their program, they need more individualized attention than that.

And I'm not comfortable with it, never have been. You hear about people who have a room in their house, but often it's, maybe it's the garage, or it's detached, or there's a separate entrance, but not here. You come in, and how is that since 1978 that you've lived here? When you live by yourself, or you're just a couple and your partner goes to work early in the morning, it's fine, but when I had a child, it was very difficult. If there're a lot of people in the studio, so when I started doing teacher training and I wanted those trainees to stay as long as they could, and work with lots of different bodies, it felt like there was always someone coming in the door, and that became very intrusive.

I would think so. And did you just establish just different ways of doing that? Yes, I mean first of all, we added this wall divider, which originally I wanted to fill in the bottom. And then I thought, "No, that would "be really claustrophobic." It just serves as a way to separate the space, but still allow light and air. And I make it very clear that the other side of the divider is my home, and this is the studio.

Yeah, I would think some version of that had to happen for everyone. Yeah, so of course, everyone goes through my space to use the bathroom, which is fine, but I shoo them in the door and into the dressing room so they don't start leaving their stuff all over the living room. I noticed that you're very particular about the shoes immediately, a lot of us are, I suppose. But I would think especially-- That's for everybody because they're walking around barefoot in here. And New York City sidewalks are covered with unmentionables, and I don't want us walking around on that.

That makes sense, yeah, perfect sense. So, you have, is it two dressing rooms, or is one storage? No, this is just one dressing room. It's big. As someone who, I mean, I like people, but I like to be alone, too.

So, I would think when you're finished work, to have someone else doing the same job, it would be cut away from it. Years ago, the studio was open from eight in the morning until 10 at night, and then it was eight at night, and then it was 6:30, and then six. And finally, I couldn't work that many hours any longer either. And I didn't want my son to feel like his home wasn't his home when he came home from school. Sure.

So, now we primarily work from early in the morning until mid-afternoon and that's it. And frankly, for two people, that's enough hours. Yeah, I mean, seven to 2:30 or two-- Yeah, I mean, if you have an afternoon shift and you employ other people, that's fine. But because it's my home, I don't feel I need to do that anymore. This was at the Waldorf Astoria.

His 85th birthday, 1965. So what? I guess-- It's Joe and Clara. Three years before he passed, no two years. My most favorite, and this is a photograph that came from a wildlife calendar. And this is where I really got the inspiration for size stabilization exercises.

Oh my gosh. I love this animal. Balancing in perfect stabilization on a rock. Just like chillin'. From the tip of the nose to the end of the flippers, I just love it.

It's really great. And of course, these fins in 1st position. Oh right, of course, of course. (laughing) And I have to say, I've been teaching for many, many years, and we all have periods of burnout and I wanna do something else. I actually never felt that I wanted to do anything else.

And what I've learned over the years is that if you really apply yourself no matter how you feel, you find the energy and the strength to carry on. And it actually gets you clearer in your direction. The interesting thing is when you cut your hours down, because of surgery, or age, or whatever-- Yeah, hours down practicing or teaching? Teaching, what I found is that I put the same amount of energy that I used to spend in six hours into four hours. (laughing) So, it's not a saving, you're just not spreading it out over more hours.

Over more time, sure, sure. That's really good advice. Because you can't hold back when you're really applying yourself. You either are or your aren't. No, your mental discipline requires that you push yourself.

It's all good, it's all good information. And then you're your own accountant and you do all that, or do you have help with that? I learned my bookkeeping system from Carola. I still do it the same way. Yep, I recognize those-- I learned, you know, I never would have dreamed that I was being handed a vocation by Carola.

And over the years, I just get more and more grateful to have had that experience with her. She taught more than you knew. Who would have known? Yeah, yeah, well, thank you for sharing it the way that you do, and letting us into your home and your studio. I'm so happy to have you here.

And I will come here and stay here. And I don't mean in your house, but I will come here and study with you. Excellent, I would love that. If it's the last thing I do. I'd love that. Thank you.

So thank you. My pleasure. And thank you for everything you've done with Pilates Anytime and reaching many, many people that otherwise would not have access to Pilates. I couldn't help myself to try the same thing. I could cut it down though.


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2 people like this.
wow... SO cool to nosey around Deborah's studio! Thank you for sharing. Great questions from Kristy about home studio/life balance.
1 person likes this.
Thank you...for the open house-studio, thank you for the open words... Thank you!
This is awesome Thank You for sharing
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so lovely and so New York! Such an inspiration, thank You!
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oh my! Deborah! what an inspiring space! Would be interested to hear when you replace the "original" copy of Carola's reformer, what will you replace it with?
The privilege of doing these studio interviews is not lost on me. I am very grateful to learn from all "Studio Tour" teachers in any capacity, but to see inside their daily practice in this way has taught me nuance I could never get in a class alone. Thank you (again) Deborah.
1 person likes this.
Wow, Kristi you know Deborah is right when she says that if not for PA so many of us would not be exposed to the history, mind blowing teachers and genuine kindred spirits. Its so fun to go there with you too! How cool is that studio, in NYC! Thank you!
Really fascinating thank you. Combining my love of houses with such knowledgeable and inspiring Pilates teachers - what could be better!! I feel I've found my vocation a little late in life (50 this year!) but I have found it none the less. Much love from the UK and hope you are recovering from the mudslides in CA. Sarahxx
2 people like this.
I love these extra features! Thank you for doing these! Kristi, have you done one of these on yourself? I would love to have you sit and talk about your beginnings with PA. As a Pilates teacher, I don’t know what I would do without you!
1 person likes this.
Thank you so much!! Loved this insight.
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