Ian McNulty Ken Lambert/ The Seattle Times PHOTOGRAPHLarry Gibas had been a physical fitness trainer and dancer for years when he first discovered Pilates, a regimen focused on aligning and strengthening the body through targeted exercises. Intrigued by the way it combined so many of the goals he sought out using a variety of other methods, he decided to explore the process with its most widely renowned practitioner, Romana Kryzanowska, the one-time ballerina turned Pilates pioneer in New York.
“I wanted to get it directly from the source, the way someone who really wants to learn yoga goes to India to get it from the yogis there,” Gibas says.
That pilgrimage is about to reverse course. This month, Kryzanowska will travel to New Orleans to host a series of master classes for Pilates teachers at Uncle Joe’s Pilates Studio, the Uptown fitness center Gibas runs with business partner Juan Williams. The classes, scheduled for Oct. 20 and 21, are intended to help local instructors better understand the fundamentals behind what Kryzanowska calls “true Pilates.”
Pilates’ popularity has grown wildly in recent years but in the process it has often been modified or outright transformed by various practitioners. In fact, Pilates began as an exacting method originally called “contrology” that Joseph Pilates created early in the last century.
Born in Germany in 1880, he was a sickly child but dedicated himself to the study and refinement of physical fitness. He was living in England when World War I began and was sent to an internment camp with other German citizens. There, he devised fitness training to help his fellow inmates and along the way laid the foundations for his Pilates method. He emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s and founded a studio in New York to work with athletes and dancers. In the ‘40s, he helped a teenage Kryzanowska overcome a ballet injury and the two began a friendship and learning relationship that lasted until his death in ‘67. A few years later, his widow passed the reins for the original Pilates studio on to Kryzanowska.
Now in her 80s, Kryzanowska frequently visits studios around the country to help preserve Pilates’ original approach. She also came to New Orleans in 2002 to be part of the grand opening of Uncle Joe’s, which was named in honor of her mentor.
“She has an incredible way about her since she’s been part of this almost from the beginning,” says Gibas. “She has remained true to Joe’s vision and shared this with other instructors. It’s like any discipline: if you want to paint, you study the masters first.”