Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 in Dusseldorf, Germany . He was a frail and sickly child who developed talents in diving, circus training, gymnastics and boxing. This helped improve his physical fitness and body image. He was living in England training Scotland Yard detectives when the First World War broke out.
He was interned because of his nationality and developed a fitness programme for the internees to maintain their fitness levels. Joseph Pilates always claimed that this training was the reason not one of his internees died from the influenza epidemic in 1918.
Returning to Germany , he came into contact with the world of dance, in particular through contact with Rudoph von Laban, the originator of 'Labanotation', which is the most widely used form of dance notation.
In 1926 he decided to emigrate to the United States of America . On the boat trip he met his future wife Clara, with whom he set up his first fitness studio in New York , at an address he shared with the New York City Ballet. His studio soon began to attract the 'elite' of New York with leading ballet dancers coming to him because his exercises perfected and complemented their traditional exercise programme.
Actors and actresses, sportspersons, the rich and the famous were all attracted to a workout that built strength without adding bulk, balancing that strength with flexibility, and achieving the perfect harmony between mind and muscle.
Now today, Pilates is the preferred work-out regime for leading personalities from the worlds of entertainment and sport. Yet, until the late 1990’s, Pilates remained largely unknown to the general public. This has now changed and an estimated 25 million people now take regular Pilates classes in the USA and approximately one million in the UK.
Pilates today is taught in several forms, directly reflecting the legacy of Joseph Pilates, who developed the method some 80 years ago. He did not lay down a formal training programme, with the result that, on his death, his 'disciples' continued teaching by adding their own variations to the core philosophy and exercises. This flexibility in approach is one of the reasons why Pilates has been so successful over this time period.