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An Animated History of Pilates

An Animated
History of Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates and his wife Clara

As a child, Joe was riddled with health issues which inspired him to study anatomy and movement. He soon overcame his illnesses and went on to become a boxer, a gymnast, a trainer in self-defense and ultimately the creator of 'Contrology.'

While Joe was living in England WWI erupted and as a German national he was detained by the British Army. During his internment he began teaching his fellow detainees his exercises which we know today as Pilates Mat work. The Army became so impressed with him that he was transferred to another camp and instructed to help rehabilitate enemy soldiers who had been seriously wounded and now bedridden. Faced with an almost impossible task Joe drew inspiration from the hospital beds. He reconstructed them in order to use their springs and along with pulleys and some rope he created a system of support to aid the soldiers' movements. Even nowadays looking at a Pilates trapeze table or reformer the design evolution from hospital bed is evident.

Once the war ended he returned to Germany and in 1926 he boarded a ship from Europe to America. During the crossing he met his future wife, Clara. She had a background in teaching and nursing. Together they opened the first Pilates studio in Manhattan and worked alongside one another until Joe passed away in 1967. Clara continued to teach and run the studio until her death a decade later. The Pilates Method went on to become more popular than either one of them could have imagined. Today it is practiced the world over. As more people learn about its numerous health benefits it validates one of Joe's most recognized quotes, "My work is 50 years ahead of its time."

Joe and Clara had distinctly different styles in their teachings of the Method.

With Joe's past experience as a gymnast and boxer it's no surprise that his approach was what we would call today as "hardcore." He could be abrupt in his instruction to his students and was unwavering in his pursuit of excellence. He worked and played hard and many would characterize him as the outspoken force behind the Method.

Alternatively, Clara used her approachable style and nurturing character to develop special Pilates techniques tailored to each individual's body regardless of fitness level or health. She was the kinder, gentler Pilates Master whose role in developing the Method into a positive form of movement-based exercises recognized around the world is undeniable.

Joe and Clara PilatesTogether they formed the perfect union in developing a repertoire that has stood the test of time. Because Pilates is not just a series of exercises but also a movement method, it can be used to challenge the most advanced athlete and with minor modifications help restore another from injury. It is a testament to the Method that practitioners across all levels of fitness, health, occupation and recreational interests turn to Pilates for its wide-ranging benefits.

At Joe & Clara we pay homage to these distinctive styles of teaching ensuring we deliver suitable and appropriate results to the diverse needs of all our clients.