Joseph Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, a town west of Düsseldorf, in 1883. He grew up to be a beer brewer by profession and a sportsman by desire. Mostly self-taught, he will slowly piece together his method drawing from different sources: from the German gymnastics (leaders at this time on the subject) to the oriental physical arts, with some Greek flavored thoughts thrown in. 

Being forcefully interned in the Isle Of Man during World War I will actually allow him to expand his knowledge being surrounded by educated Germans and hundreds of books on the subject of fitness.

After his confinement in the United Kingdom he begins to shape his method and starts inventing ‘apparatuses’ and begins to apply for patents: the Foot Corrector and Reformer are from this period.

In 1926 (age 43) he moved to the United States searching for an audience interested in his method.

Slowly he build a rather fancy clientele that cover actors, lawyers, dancers, musicians and important people in the New York scene. Dancers in particular will be attracted to the method and eventually most of the teachers who would ‘pass on’ the method after his death were originally -or wanted to be at least- dancers. His client list would be the envy of any studio nowadays.

He continued to add inventions and exercises to the method and tried to market them along with ‘healthier’ versions of home furniture that were supposed to help you. While the method did ‘catch on’, especially with the educated class, his attempts to become better known don’t really succeed in a grand scale.

While he could prove practically that his method worked and many well known people would try to help him reach further, his own personality often got on the way: he never enjoyed massive success in his own lifetime. Genuinely interested in helping people with problems -in fact more interested in them than the regular clientele- his intense personality will repeatedly create problems.

Nevertheless, he managed to create a rather effective method and he did help an enormous amount of people during his lifetime.

By the time of his death in 1967 the studio had very few clients. Slowly through the years Pilates went from being something that you heard about through the grapevine to a major worldwide marketing success. While more often than not only a very few original exercises are taught, and rather poorly, the associations and success attached to the word Pilates would have probably pleased his creator. Maybe some of the ‘flavors’ of Pilates would infuriate him too but even then, they still are a testimony of his work.