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About Pilates

Joseph H. Pilates was born on December 8, 1880 not far from Dusseldorf. Pilates traveled to England in 1912. After WWI broke out in 1914, he was interned along with other German nationals in a camp for enemy aliens in Lancaster, England. There, he taught wrestling and self-defense, motivating others to follow his fitness program and boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before their internment.

It was here that he began devising his system of original exercises that he later called "Contrology." Taking springs from beds and rigging up exercise apparatuses for the bedridden, he devised his earliest rehabilitation equipment.

After the war, Joseph Pilates returned to Germany and worked with the Hamburg Military Police, training them in self-defense and physical conditioning. He also began taking on personal clients during this time. In 1925, Pilates decided to emigrate to America because he didn't like the direction Germany was heading in politically. En route, Pilates met a young nurse named Clara. She became his wife and shortly thereafter, an integral partner in helping develop and teach his method.

By the early 1930's, Pilates and Clara opened their gym in the same building where several dance schools and rehearsal spaces were located. News of Pilates’ skill at working with injuries spread by word of mouth and Pilates' client base grew rapidly. His clientele was diverse: It included people in New York City's high society, such as members of the Gimbel and Guggenheim families; along with movie stars Vivien Leigh, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn and others. He also worked with doctors, circus performers, gymnasts, musicians, dancers, business people, tradesmen and students.

The 30's and 40's were the early years of American ballet and modern dance. Many luminaries such as George Balanchine, Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Dennis, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, plus many other lesser-known dancers studied with and sent injured dancers to "Uncle Joe," to be "fixed." "Contrology" became an intrinsic part of many dancers' training and rehabilitation.

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