ROMANA'S PILATES LEGACY
Updated: Apr 24
In the mind of the general public Pilates is kind of a generic term - “such as Yoga or Karate”. However, within the Pilates community, it is a contentious issue. Is it classical? Is it contemporary? Which is better, more evolved, more based on science, safest, most challenging? Like both Yoga and Karate, I think it is fair to say that other physical disciplines with a lineage have similar arguments.
Does it matter to the average fitness enthusiast? I think that a studios reputation and the teachers skills are always the first thing to consider when considering adding Pilates to your workout regimen. It's also worth noting whether the class or lesson you are taking is really Pilates or just marketed that way. Ad-hoc core exercise laying on your back is not what makes Pilates a lasting fitness method.
I teach Romana’s Pilates, sometimes called True Pilates or Authentic Pilates. Romana Kryzanowska started training with Joe Pilates as a teenage dancer from Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. When I met her she had been teaching for over six decades. She was in her 80’s, a tawny-maned Lioness with a throaty voice who punctuated her teaching with dynamic humor and playful teasing. She was a feisty, insightful healer. When she walked into a room everyone grew two inches, no-one would dare slouch in her presence. If you were sloppy she would let you know, and when you showed control and mastery she would give you a sweet smile and teach you something new.
I have have never met anyone as passionate about their mission. Romana dedicated herself to preserving Joe Pilates life-work, and she is credited with keeping it alive after he passed away. To me, she was a healer - body and spirit.
Romana did not like people haphazardly changing "the Work", which she viewed as a complete work of genius. As a trained dancer she valued the role of the choreographer and considered Pilates teachers Rehearsal Directors (Repetiteurs) who can remember the compositions, and keep the spirit and the intent of the Choreographer's vision.
This isn't to say that teachers can't be creative in their own work. For instance, most seminars ended with movement phrases. Sometimes they were said to have been some simple choreography from Martha Graham. One of my favorites is a lunging sequence that I recall her saying it was from a scene from an opera, slaves dramatically hauling a great weight across the stage. Imagine, step into the lunge and cast your torso forward, then throw your weight back to take the next lunging step, all done to a dirge-like rhythm.
She said; “if you change it then give it your own name.”
In 2011 Pacific Northwest Ballet presented a re-staging of the haunting fairytale ballet “Giselle.” This ballet originally premiered over 175 years ago, and Artistic Director Peter Boal combined recently discovered notation of the ballet with other historical notation from choreographers Coralli and Perrot, and Pepita’s version.
At the Q&A after the ballet, I asked Peter Boal if he found many differences between the notation and the dance preserved in the repertoire. He said, “as far as the actual choreography goes, the steps and the dynamic, the body-to-body training was exceptionally accurate”. This was a huge affirmation to me that it is effective to preserve original compositions through methodical training.
Romana’s Pilates teacher training remains a personalized apprentice/mentor program. During the apprenticeship, our bodies are transformed. Romana said that Joe believed that the teachers of Pilates had to be the example of The Work. Our bodies are our manuals. Our bodies become our memories of the method, and the memories of our teachers are trained into us.
Unlike a ballet, Pilates is personalized and adaptable to the individual. Each person who is awarded a certificate has to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the technique and the purposes of over 500 exercises and countless modifications. Our bodies are our manuals and the learning continues with every client that we work with, every day.
I had the great fortune to have been certified by Romana herself in 1999. When she certified me, Romana asked me to keep it pure. She wanted me to match her integrity, passion, and intensity, and it is something that I strive to do every time I teach.
A few things Romana taught me:
Breath deeply, it improves your posture and makes you healthier and happier.
Never phone it in. Be all the way present or go home and take a nap.
Change the rhythm, the dynamic, the spring settings, to suit the individual.
Each exercise is a pearl, string them together to a beautiful necklace.
Sometimes it’s fun to pick out the all raisins. (Just do your favorites.)
“Bite your hips, not your lips.”
When she came to work depressed once, Joe made her eat pickled Herring from a barrel he kept in the teacher’s lounge. She never pulled a long face again.
Wear a scarf around your throat to alleviate neck-pain. (It worked.)
Learn how to do the Grasshopper on the 2nd Long-Box with the straps. (Still working on that one.)
If you aren’t sweating when you teach the “Rowing Series” you aren’t trying hard enough.
Always have some Champagne on hand.