Joseph Pilates, the inventor of Pilates training invented his first “apparatus” during WWI, where he attached springs to hospital beds so that bedridden patients could still exercise against resistance. Many don’t know that the Pilates Equipment exercises were invented before the Mat work. When he moved to New York in 1926 he met his wife Clara, and they opened a studio, sharing the same address with the New York City Ballet! He called his methodology Contrology (core, control, post war… makes sense). Most of Joseph Pilate’s students consisted of dancers once he moved to the New York city area, and it was through them that the work evolved to what it is today. That is why you may see Classical Pilates (Joseph) and Contemporary (the evolution).
Last Thursday I went to MOMA to see the exhibition, Judson Dance Theatre: the Work is Never Done. After seeing a live performance of Yvonne Rainer’s dances from the late 60s, I was overwhelmed by the playfulness of those works. During the show Yvonne (now 83) joined the dancers in MOMA’s second floor atrium turned performance space. She talked about this choice after the show, and casually said how she could still run and walk, so why not still participate in those aspects of the piece, and also be honest in exposing the movements that she can no longer do. That was the exactly Judson Spirit in its formative years of experimentation , to “lay it all out on the table.”. The very idea of exposing creative process is what struck my heart. The piece was made, and was being remade again in the moment.
This past summer at Jacob’s Pillow (a dance school and festival in Massachusetts) I spent hours watching Joseph Pilates footage from the 1940s and 50s. Not only was I reacquainting myself with the origin of Pilates but I was struck by the vigor and inventiveness of Joseph himself. He courted an air of experimentation throughout all of the archival footage that I witnessed . There were videos not only of Joseph teaching his students at Jacobs Pillow, but at his studio in New York. Dancers holding clip boards and wearing little shorts and tops practicing on what is called the chair. Hooks on barn door walls, pulling out against springs hanging from wherever. Or in his apartment, with his wife, who was sitting on what looked like a normal chair, until he flips it over, adds springs to it and starts to exercise. Movement was always in play and always in Process.
I think about these spirits as I sense what Pilates has done for me as a dancer. I heard many dancers speaking about a movement home. A modality that they could always return to as they experimented with other forms. These wonderful pieces of Pilates Equipment became a home for me along with the Pilates Mat choreography and principles. Both forms complimenting one another, but offering very different sensations. I could run with these on my own and always return to them for further learning and inspiration…… thus birthed 2nd Story.
What I am practicing as a student and as a teacher feels like mindful conditioning. Where is your breath? Where are your bones aligning today? How does this movement work? What am I doing within the movement? Questions that I will probably be asking and learning about for the rest of my days. I feel stronger because every day I am learning what my body likes to do or not do. Whether Pilates or Yoga, I invite you all to play, to inquire, to revisit and remake in the moment because every day, every decade feels different.