Love All Around

Why write a book about Romana? I have been asked this more than a few times over the past six years. At first, I was surprised that someone could ask this. Wasn’t it obvious? She was the Grand Dame of Pilates, the Keeper of the Flame, the world’s Leading Expert. Her story must be told!

Picture1 Romana
Photo courtesy of Rebekah Le Magny

I am much calmer now when people ask why I am writing Romana’s biography. I smile and try not to get lost in the memories of this book writing journey.

The journey began with a few simple conversations with a client, Carol J. Craig. (Carol is now my co-author.) We talked about Joseph Pilates and his history. We talked about Romana and how little information there was available about her life. Carol is an amateur genealogist and began to search the internet for information about Romana. Carol found so much information that we had to add time to her Pilates lessons just so we could talk about her newest “find”. At one point we looked at each other and realized that someone needed to tell Romana’s story. Why not us; two unassuming Midwest gals that love the Pilates method and love learning about people.

Once we had enough information, we approached Romana’s family for their permission. Her daughter, Sari Santo and her son, Paul Mejia were a bit confused. Who were we and what did we want to do exactly? We were prepared. We had put together a small photo album of the information we had collected. I think what caught their interest was how much information we had about Romana’s parents and grandparents. (Spoiler Alert: Romana does come from royalty, sort of.) We must have made a compelling presentation because Sari and Paul both gave their permission and help.

Picture6 Romana in braids
Photo courtesy of family

Then the real work began; tracking down documents, files, photographs, people with stories to tell. One of the (now not so private) private jokes between Carol and I, was that I talk to the living and she talks to the dead. I lined up interviews with Romana’s family, friends, teachers, and students. Carol dug deep into the archives online and in libraries to help us tell this story. She even hired a researcher from Ukraine to track down Kryzanowsky family records. Our library of reference books grew so much she had to keep ordering book shelves to hold all the books we now own.

As of the writing of this blog, 90% of the research is done. I have spent as much time as possible over the past year or so writing. Seventy-five percent of the book is written. It has been a wonderful experience to put together all the “finds” that will tell the story of Romana and her family. Her father was an artist and we have found some of his original artwork that has never been seen before. Her mother was married four times but only had one true love in her life. Romana’s maternal grandmother ran a hospital from her home and worked as a midwife for many years. Her maternal grandfather owned a carriage and buggy company.

In the process of outlining this book, we realized that we had to put Romana’s life in context. As a result, we will also be telling the story of Joe and Clara Pilates, George Balanchine and other lesser known people who were important in her life. The reader will journey from St. Petersburg, Russia to Paoli, Indiana to New York City.

It is my intention with this blog to share some of what we have found. To share the side stories that went into the making of this book. To keep answering the question “Why write a book about Romana?”

Until next time. Love All Around.

Book Review: Survival Skills for Pilates Teachers

Title-Survival Skills for Pilates Teachers
Thriving in the mind-body fitness world
Author-Nicola Conraths-Lange
First published-2004
Format-Soft Cover book
Pages-172
Availability-Amazon new and used, $10-15
Reviewed by Cathy Barker Strack

When this book first came out in 2004 there were few resources available about the business side of teaching the Pilates method. According to Conraths-Lange, she saw this need then and still sees this need in the Pilates community. Fortunately, this book was well-received at the time and continues to be offered now, new and used, on Amazon.

There are eleven chapters in this easy to read book. The first chapter, Your Pilates Philosophy, asks the reader to start thinking about their belief system and approach to teaching Pilates, and then to translate that into their practice (i.e., how they care for themselves and their clients). Training is equally important as noted; “When we work, we don’t DO Pilates to others. We TEACH Pilates. The doing is a private matter. The teaching is a vocation, but it also requires skills that can be learned and perfected. The best way to witness teaching is by means of apprenticeship and mentorship.” Some historical background about Joseph Pilates is also included in this first chapter.

Chapter 2, Being a Pilatista: What It Takes, How We Get It! further explores what it takes to be a good teacher of this method. Key points are highlighted and expanded upon. Points such as knowing modifications to exercises, having a working knowledge of anatomy, developing a “good eye”, behaving professionally, and being a good role model are also raised. Different teaching environments are explored from working for a gym or having a private business in your home.

Unfortunately, Chapter 3, which deals with marketing, has many outdated ideas and information. With the progression of the internet and Facebook, the landscape of marketing has changed drastically.

The rest of the book continues to expand on teacher development, relationships with clients (personal and professional), mentorship, and self-care. This book is presented in a fun and interesting manner. Each chapter begins with a cartoon. At the end of the book, sources are cited and a resource list (probably somewhat outdated now) is given.

I would recommend buying this book, but just know that some of the information is outdated. It is an easy read and there is a reason I kept it in my personal library all these years: It is a good reminder of what being a teacher means to me. And as noted above, Conraths-Lange continues to see a need for a book like this, and she acknowledges the need for an updated version. Perhaps an e-book or series of blog posts.

Nicola Conraths Lange, is a dancer, choreographer and author. She’s currently on the faculty of Interlochen Arts Academy. She holds degrees in communications, psychology and theater arts from Eastern Michigan University. In 2005 she co-authored the Pilates Space, The Workbook for Inspired Entrepreneurs. In this second book she addresses the business side of Pilates and owning a studio.

Movie Review: Tribute to Joseph Pilates

Title: Tribute to Joseph Pilates – The Movie (2016)
Produced by: The Voll Pilates Group and Glaucia Adriana
Directed by: Glaucia Adriana                                                                                      Narration written and performed by: Chuck Rapoport
Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes
English only, subtitles in other languages planned for future releases.
Available: Only thru Vimeo for two day rental ($19.99) or purchase as a download ($39.99).

Reviewed by: Cathy Barker Strack

Spoiler Alert! I give this movie two thumbs up. It’s a movie that does justice to the life and work of Joseph Pilates. Glaucia Adriana and her team spent several years working to tell this story by travelling countless miles and conducting many, many interviews with well-known teachers and personalities in the Pilates community. Glaucia was frustrated by the lack of understanding around the world of who Joseph Pilates was and the richness of his work. She and her team decided a movie would be the best way to catch people’s attention. They tried to remain neutral and sought out representatives from many different “schools” of Pilates. Unfortunately, not everyone that was sought out was able or willing to participate, but an honest attempt was made.

Joseph Pilates story and personality are first revealed through historical information as shared by Eva Rincke. The viewer is treated to pictures and film footage of Joseph Pilates teaching his work. A local expert, from the German town that Joe was born in, reveals the documents he has uncovered about the Pilates family and some of their activities. As the viewer travels through the time line of Joseph Pilates’ life, new insights are shared, along with new opinions. For example, Eva Rincke points out that while Joe was interned at the Isle of Man, he had the time to work on his system of exercise that he might not have had while otherwise trying to live and work andraise a family.

A significant portion of screen time is given to notable teachers in the Pilates community, including several of the First Generation teachers or Elders. This includes Mary Bowen and Lolita San Miguel. For those Elders that have passed on or were unavailable (Mary Pilates), their representatives spoke on their behalf. They represented Romana Kryzanowska, Carola Trier, Eve Gentry, Kathy Grant and Mary Pilates, to name a few. These people shared their experiences and thoughts about who Joseph Pilates was to them and what his work means to the world. It was very entertaining to listen to their thoughts on Pilates.

Other highlights during the movie are an interview with Mari Winsor who is battling ALS. She is using her condition and Pilates training to bring awareness and help  new groups of people with neurological disorders. Chuck IC Rapoport tells his story of spending a day in the studio with Joseph Pilates and the photographs that have become world famous in the Pilates community. And finally, Friedman and Eisen clarify and explain how they developed their Pilates Principles to help organize the vast amounts of information they were taught when learning the Pilates method by Romana. Several other teachers and their stories are featured and presented in an informative and interesting manner.

The viewer is given a brief and humorous break when those being interviewed are asked to describe Joseph Pilates using only one word. Interviewees were also asked “If Joe were alive…what would you ask him?” Think about your answer and I will share mine at the end of this review.

In the interest of making this a balanced review, I do take issue with several points made in the movie. And I qualify these with the fact that I have spent the past 6 years researching the life of Romana, Joseph Pilates and the Elders (those that are both known and unknown to many in the community). First, while Pilates did work alone many, many people helped him including his brother Fred, more nieces than anyone knows about, studio helpers including Hannah Sakmirda and most importantly, Clara! (Please, someone take up the cause of Clara’s biography, please!)
Second, if Joseph Pilates didn’t learn your name, maybe it’s because he wasn’t interested. But believe me, he knew his clients’ names, was at their weddings, and parties, and took pictures of them and their families. At Christmas time the studio Christmas tree was piled high with gifts for him (ok, mostly booze, but gifts nonetheless.) He travelled around the country showing up on their doorsteps to teach them exercises while they were on vacation and at summer cottages. He published lists of those he worked with and was proud of having them as clients/students.

My third and final issue is the claim that Joseph Pilates died a bitter man; that his work wasn’t appreciated during his lifetime. I would offer that maybe he was bitter because he was dying, didn’t feel well and couldn’t continue his work. He was much appreciated and very well-known to many throughout his lifetime.
I highly recommend this movie to all Pilates enthusiasts. It is well done and very informative.
So, what would I ask Joseph Pilates if he were alive? I would ask him to give me a workout and then take him to McSorelys for a dark beer.