Wednesday, February 1, 2017 | Our wonderful friend Basil died in September 2016, and when I searched for his obituary online, here’s what I found:
How odd that #1 on the Google search results was none other than my 2006 pilatesnun post which mentions Basil. Regardless of how curious I am about the legitimacy of that ranking, I decided to dig into my pilatesnun archive and unearth the referenced piece which appears, in its entirety, below.
Consistent with my philosophy of content generation, the value of the piece remains significant regardless of the insanity that has transpired in our industry in the ensuing 10+ years since its original publication.
RIP the integrity of the Pilates industry.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
In order to properly understand the genesis and evolution of Pilates, you simply must get Joe’s books and read them. Each is a one-night read yet they’re both very long on meaning and by reading them, you’ll understand how he wanted his work, his method, used.
If you think Pilates is a discreet physical experience, reading Return to Life and Your Health will immediately cure you of that silly notion. Reading Joe’s books are the very best way for you to begin to know Joe and to use him to help figure out how you, in your brilliantly perfect uniqueness, fit into the ever-broadening world of Pilates.
The main goal of the Pilates Nun is to help you find yourself in this work and, believe it or not, Joe and Clara are the best people to help us on our way to achieving that goal. It’s definitely all about Joe & Clara.
I’m not sure this will work, after all, I’m the Pilates Nun, not the Pilates Geek, but I think, I hope, I pray here are links to the Amazon entry for Joe’s books. Should these links deliver you deep into my personal Amazon account, please buy your books on my studio account – not my personal one – so I can expense them! Kidding! Yikes!
Buy them now and when you receive them, read them right away.
Brief sermon: If you’re going to be the best Pilater you can be, you’re going to have to be effective and efficient in all things. And that begins with this. Right here. Right now. Get the books. When they come, read them right away. Amen.
To hear Joe’s voice through those books is to glimpse his genius and his frustration. You’ll clearly sense his passion, the forcefulness of his will and his famous charasmatic style as he gives example after example of the benefits, great and small, of his method.
The overarching thesis of Joe’s books is that his method of exercise creates and supports a happy, healthy and long life. Whole body health and wellness is what we’d call it today, but Joe used a ton of words to say the the same thing; practice his exercises faithfully and the benefits of your very best life will automatically flow.
Beyond his books, both Joe and Clara had a whole bunch to say and they were both interviewed extensively over the years, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Thanks to the generosity of Gail Anderson, www.BalanceWithinPilates.com, a marvelously gifted teacher and a mentor of mine, I have copies of a bunch of those articles. It is my sincere intention to post those many articles in their glorious entirety right here on Pilates Nun but it is a huge job, I said it’s a HUGE JOB, to secure permission from the many publications. And, some of the most interesting articles have been copied so many times they no longer include publication information; I don’t even know whose permission to ask.
Until I have the time or dedicated help (apprentice project, anyone?) to secure the absolutely necessary proper legal permission, I’m simply going to pull quotes for you so you can get an idea of Joe & Clara’s mission as they articulated it beyond his books.
The Pilates Nun would never, ever break the law but the relatively minimal use of quotes is perfectly permissible so that’s the way we’ll go until the gift of time is visited upon me. Pray for that, will you?
Here are just a couple of my favorite Joe & Clara quotes followed by my reasons for loving them.
“How can we have world peace? No one is happy. No one is healthy. Not one man in the United Nations can do my first five exercises!”
Joe Pilates, The Eighth Avenue “Contrologist” by Evelyn S. Ringold, New York/Herald Tribune, January 5, 1964.
This article was published about 3 years before Joe’s death and I absolutely love how strident he is, even well into his 80s, about the link that exists between health, happiness and the larger issues in life and in the world, in this case world peace. And, as someone who loves the matwork above all else, I love that his “first five exercises” clearly refers to a basic mat routine.
The next quote is from Clara.
“I was trained as a nursery and kindergarten teacher. All my life I have thought of myself as a mother. I was the oldest in a family of nine, and people have always felt they could depend upon me like a nurse. This work came naturally to me.”
Pilates Bodies article by Toni Kosover, publication unknown. Clara Pilates at “either 89 or 90.”
How could she have put it any more clearly? Clara’s maternal traits were satisfied through her part in the creation of this work and, indeed, her motherly caring and kindness were at the substantial center of her relationships within the studio. It’s such a noble goal; to care about our client relationships in the same elemental way a mother cares about a child or a nurse cares about a patient.
Another one from Clara, and this time it’s from a personal letter that ended up in the public archives. It’s dated March 12, 1941, and it’s addressed to “Dearest Miss Ruth,” and in it Clara writes:
“Thanking you very much for your invitation for March 14th. Of course we will be there!
Joe gave me the order to bowl (sic) you out for not having been in the studio for so long, believe it or not, I don’t know how to do it so I think it is better to leave this to the big strong He-Man Himself.
We are anxiously looking forward for a delightful hour with you!
With love and admination, Joe and Clara”
How personally revealing and utterly adorable is this? Clara’s famed sensitivity transfers beautifully to her writing and she’s able to convey both sincere appreciation for a invitation as well as relaying disappointment from the “He-Man” about Ruth’s absence from the studio. And my favorite part is how Clara innocently admits she simply doesn’t know how to reprimand.
And this last one (for now) is from Joe’s obituary as it appeared in Dance Magazine.
“You feel depressed? Forget it. Get to work!”
Joe Pilates. From Joe’s obituary in Dance Magazine, November 1967.
Not to minimize the seriousness of depression and the great lengths many go to for treatment, but Joe believed if you just moved and kept moving almost everything would be fine.
So it’s the late 1960s and now what?
Now what, indeed.
How the work transferred from Joe to those who carried it forward into today’s modern market is the perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the social history of Pilates. Do you know any of these stories? Do you care? You should.
Lengthy Sermon: Precious and dear lambs of God, you must know that misinformation plagues our industry and you must know that misinformation happens for a variety of reasons and you must know that sometimes people who are really good souls, truly wonderful people, become perpetuators of misinformation either out of ignorance or on purpose to serve their own interests or because they do not have the skills, the nerve, or perhaps the energy or the time to correct or fix the misinformation.
Should you learn of misinformation here, through your Pilates Nun, and should you learn that someone you respect has knowingly or unknowingly perpetuated that misinformation, do not dispair. My very purpose and the essence of my service to you is such that I will help you understand how this can happen and I will help you find ways to still respect the misinformer, no matter who he or she may be.
We must all get along and we all must find common ground. We must. Do 5 Roll Ups.
Much in our past is undocumented. We rely on the highly fallable human memory which deteriorates with age and we rely on the retelling of stories which often shift over time. We must trust the story teller, yes, but we must also be aware of changing stories, shifting “facts” and we must, with appropriate love and respect, scrutinize the story teller.
There is a reason I write for myself as the Nun and not under an editor and certainly not for a magazine. The reason is that, writing this way, I can lay it all out, just as I’ve researched it, just as I’ve been told it and in my own time and in my own way.
In depth and factual with unbiased analysis . . . that’s my motto. My sources are revealed and my motivation is transparent.
I want the truth. I want it for Joe & Clara, I want it for myself and I want it for you, whether or not you know, whether or not you care.
Sermon over; back to our history.
To minimize the most significant transition in technical and emotional ownership of our work by casually saying the work passed from Joe at his death to Romana, or to say, as Romana often does, that Joe “left” or “willed” her the work, is wrong, wrong, wrong. Do 10 Teasers.
Prior to Joe’s passing in ’67 and in an effort to secure his legacy, Joe asked more than one long-time client/teacher to take over his studio. We have no proof – no letter of intent, no contract, nothing in writing – of who Joe asked but at least three of our “First Generation Teachers” have said that Joe asked them to run his studio.
Ron Fletcher and Eve Gentry had already moved on to LA and Santa Fe, respectively, so when Joe asked Romana Kyrzanowska, who was still in NY, a succession plan of sorts evolved and that’s how Romana came to work along side Clara in succeeding Joe. Romana eventually took over the studio completely once Clara was no longer able to keep a schedule.
And we all, each and every one of us, owe Romana a debt of gratitude so great that we will never be able to fully repay it. Simply put, our industry would not be what it is today without her. Now, that can be said about several of our leaders, but what I’m talking about here is that without Romana, our industry would be unrecognizable from what it is today. I’m talking vastly different and without the historic work at its center.
During those pivotal years while all of Joe’s other top teachers were out in the world doing great things, Romana stayed put in NY and she taught like the war-worn soldier that she is. She trained many brilliant teachers and although she continued to make lousy, expensive and embarrassing choices about business and business partners, she was a rock and she held our entire industry together when nobody else could or would. For that, she has my respect and she deserves yours.
God Bless Romana.
But now, well into her 80s, Romana’s become a Pilates revisionist.
Before I lay out specific examples, let’s decide to not get upset about this or anything else. After all, your Pilates Nun is all about peace and happiness and getting along with each other. No spikes in blood pressure, no running for the vodka. It’s not worth it. Besides . . . there but by the grace of God go I, go we and go us.
Lord willing, we’ll all live to be her age and perhaps we too will occasionally struggle with the “facts.” In exchange for the enjoyment of the benefits from decades of her selfless labor, join me in giving Romana and any other of our 1stGen’ers the benefit of the doubt. I forgive her these departures from the truth because I can still watch her and listen to her objectively and I can point out to anyone who cares to listen when she’s wrong and when she’s right.
Taking total responsibility for my own thinking and the formation of my own beliefs about this work allows me to be kind to those with whom I disagree. If discussing the “issues” in our industry brings about in you something approaching apoplectic rage, you might consider getting some help – it’s not normal, it’s not healthy and it’s not helping anything or anybody.
Try doing it like me.
I am not a parrot and I do not dutifully repeat what I’m told. I think for myself, I’m in charge of what I believe and what I question and if I’m wrong, it’s my fault, not anyone else’s.
I stick to the facts, I stick to what I know and the all the rest of it very easily takes care of itself. This simple plan of action works for everyone. Truth is easy. Truth is brilliant. Truth brings peace. Praise the Lord!
Should you have fallen prey to blind trust, here’s a little something just for you.
Let us pray: Lord, keep me from abdicating my own inquiring intelligence. Keep me from blindly believing every word out of Romana’s – or anyone else’s – mouth. Help me look for proof. Help me find out if there’s a self-interest angle. Help me develop my own trusted sources. Help me become a trusted source. Above all, help me use my God given common sense in this and all matters. Amen.
Here are a couple of examples of Revisions by Romana.
Romana and her followers believe she is the only person entitled to Joe’s work and that all subsequent teachers who hope for legitimacy must be trained through her organization. She has made this claim for years and she makes this claim on the strength of her version of Pilates provenance.
Romana frequently says that Joe “left her” or “willed her” his studio and his work. She’s brazen; she’s even put it in writing. Romana penned a letter in 1993 endorsing a teacher she’d trained and in that letter, which was widely circulated and yes, the Pilates Nun has a copy of it, she stated that “when Mr. Pilates died he willed both his Method and Studio to me.”
This is untrue. It’s a self-serving lie that only helps to falsely create and falsely enlarge Romana’s standing in a business market that’s she’s chosen to separate from and, as a consequence of her self-imposed isolation, is leaving her behind.
And in the telling of such nonsense, repeatedly and over many years, she disrespects Clara’s 10 year survivorship of Joe and she also disrespects all those who helped, loved and sheltered Clara in the last years of her life.
When Romana tries to create exclusivity or rarity in her credentials, she opens the door for scrutiny.
Romana’s 15 year absence from the Pilates Studio from 1944 to 1959 begs for comparison with the other first-generation teachers, each of whom experienced continuity in working with Joe and Clara well beyond Romana.
The dates I cite are from the findings in the Pilates, Inc. vs. Current Concepts, Inc. decision, which also states that Joe did not leave a will.
Precious Lamb of God, if you have not read this document, you must. It’s as important to your understanding of our history as reading Joe’s books.
You can find it at http://www.pilates.com/html_files/resources/aboutpilates/pilates-decision.pdf,
Related to but not in direct conflict with the misinformed Romana version of our shared history is the one Ron Fletcher brings forth. On his website, www.Fletcherwork.com, Ron shares copies of letters from Clara Pilates which give us a glimpse into the intimacy of their relationship and Clara’s hopes for the future of “Contrology.”
And it’s clear in Clara’s letters that if anyone was given this work, it was Ron. Clara told him he was the right person to carry it forward and to protect it and to expand it. And Clara told Ron that in letters dated 1971 and 1972.
Do you see any significance in the timing of Clara’s letters to Ron?
Here’s the line that connects the dots: In the several years following Joe’s death in 1967 and while Romana was running Joe’s studio, Clara wrote letters of support and encouragement to Ron Fletcher telling him that he was the best person to foster the Pilates Method.
Ron has shared with the world Clara’s actual letters to him so we can all see, and we can all know, the truth. Reading these letters is super important to your understanding of our history. Go to Fletcherwork.com, click on Ron’s bio, then on Clara’s letters.
And, in the letter under the “Quotes” section above where Clara admits that she’s unable to reprimand, she gives us a clue as to why she didn’t directly address Romana about any preference Clara may have had as Romana continued running Joe’s studio in the years that Clara survived Joe.
Romana has also stated, authoratively and unequivocally – and yes, your Pilates Nun has heard her say it – that Joe & Clara had no immediate or extended family. But we know from the Clara quote above that Clara was one of 9 children. And immediately after venturing outside the Romana force field that was my primary training, I learned about Clara’s family here in the US and even met them at the PMA conference a few years ago. If that’s not family, what is?
Again, Romana does not need to falsely inflate her importance or contribution to our industry. She totally rocks just by being who she is and having done what she has. She can relax.
Another less impactful untruth that Romana is at least partially responsible for has to do with the hiring of Gratz Industries.
In the past 6 months, I’ve read twice in Pilates Style magazine that Romana hired Gratz after she’d taken over Joe’s studio. In the December 2006 issue, page 36, in the interview with the smart & lovely Colleen Glenn, the story goes “While Gratz became the first manufacturer of Pilates’ equipment after the founder’s death, the door opened for others to create and improve upon the original apparatuses.”
This is not true; Joe personally hired Gratz in the 1960s.
I met Basil Blecher, President of Gratz Industries, in 2000 when I was in my primary training program. Basil is a great guy, loads of integrity and he always, always tells the truth. The Pilates Nun is very curious about all things and I always ask lots of questions about everything and I wondered how Basil’s company became part of the Pilates legend.
What he told me then back in 2000 is the same thing he re-verified for me when I phoned him for confirmation the morning of October 30, 2006. It’s the truth, then, now and always. Here it comes.
Gratz is and has always been a high-end metal fabricator and in the early 1960s they were called to Joe’s studio to work on a handrail of some sort. While Mr. Gratz was there taking measurements and assessing the job, Joe asked if Mr. Gratz would be interested in manufacturing Joe’s equipment. The Mr. Gratz that was in the original Pilates studio that day was the grandfather of the Mr. Gratz that is Basil’s business partner today. Gratz worked off of Joe’s original plans for the equipment, and those original blueprints were signed by Joe. Basil places the year at 1963 or 1964.
That’s the truth.
But can you see that other equipment manufacturers may benefit if they are able to create the perception that none superseded another?
Gratz was first. Gratz was hired by Joe. It matters. It counts. It’s the truth.
But it doesn’t in any way discredit or demean the excellent work subsequent manufacturers have done and are continuing to do.
And, it’s important to be reasonable in our expectations.
Pilates Style magazine is not going to print these types of corrections. They rely on peaceful relationships with advertisers and if they alienate even one major spender, survival of the magazine is in jeopardy. As we say in the South, don’t poke the bear.
I can’t enforce ethics on anyone else, I can only do my part to be honest and teach the truth; as such, I do not expect the magazine to fix these types of things. I expect to fix them myself, and I expect all those who care about the truth to help in that effort. Can I get a witness?
And these types of deviations from the truth are an example of a serious problem we have in our industry, and in our culture generally,and it has to do with how much is enough.
Just as all good studios are busy and even good teachers within bad studios are busy, all good equipment manufacturers are doing well.
There’s room for us all. We don’t have to put one down to elevate another. We don’t. We shouldn’t. And any reward we enjoy if we do is false.
And much farther down the impact list of mistruths comes this.
There a Romana incursion into the name-claim of equipment, albeit obscure.
In 2005. I ordered a Gratz Breath-a-cizer and when it arrived I was shocked to see “Romana’s Breath-a-cizer” etched on it. I called Basil and said “yo, s’up with this Romana stuff?” (the Nun is definitely street). To which he said, she’d gotten to Donald Gratz years ago, asked for the change, Donald agreed to it and it’s been the Romana Breath-a-cizer ever since. It’s Joe’s Breath-a-cizer, not Romana’s, and putting her name on it is wrong. I asked permission to return it and he graciously allowed me to send it back.
It seems like a small thing, but there’s linkage that extends further up the chain.
I will not support Romana taking credit for something she did not invent. I wonder why her own achievement aren’t enough for her. I wonder why she feels the need to encroach on Joe’s. I wonder.
So, you can see with matters great and small, it’s important that someone is the keeper of the truth.
There are many influential leaders and innovators among us – who’s to say there’s not another Joe among us? – but of utmost importance is that we know where we came from. Without someone holding firm to that truth, shifting versions will distort us and what we lose will change what we become.
I have a bias and it’s to Joe & Clara.
There’s room in this vast industry for us all. There’s room, at all levels of the spectrum, for good teachers and kind souls. There’s a place for the part-timers. There’s a place for the obsessed. There’s a place for the innovator. There’s a place for the traditional. There’s room. Welcome one, welcome all. No need for trying to shoulder your way in front. Relax. Breathe. Settle in and settle down.
Instead of trying to one up your fellow Pilater, how about trying to help them. How about trying to be your best by helping others be their best. What a revolution we could start. I say, bring it on. I say, be part of it. I say, through us Joe & Clara live the good and strong life in peace, in relevance, in perpetuity. Amen!
And to finish up with this abbreviated version of our history . . . after Joe’s, then Clara’s passing, schools started up, groups organized, branches formed, some people rose and other people fell, stuff happened, tears were shed, money was wasted, millions were made, some people got sober, others burned out, word spread and in the blink of an eye, it was 2000, the Pilates Method Alliance formed and our industry began its journey to legitimacy and we’re all part of the history that is to follow.
The section titled State of the Industry will pick it up from this point on, so patiently await its posting.
Until then, carry on the Lord’s work, recite the principles of Pilates 3 times, do 10 Teasers and take a nap. Amen.
in In the Beginning at 13:25