Pilates History

“Self-confidence, poise, consciousness of possessing the power to accomplish our desires, with renewed lively interest in life, are the natural results of the practice of Contrology” – J.H. Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology

Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1883 near Dusseldorf, Germany. As a child, he suffered from several ailments including rickets, asthma, and rheumatic fever, and in an effort to overcome them, he began studying anatomy, yoga, martial arts, gymnastics, boxing, and many other Eastern and Western movement disciplines. As a result of his practice, he became so physically fit and toned that he worked as a model for anatomical renderings. 

In 1912, Pilates moved to England to pursue a boxing career, and at the outbreak of World War I, was interred as a German National in an English war camp on the Isle of Man. During his imprisonment, he began working with fellow inmates, including those who were bedridden and unable to move without assistance. His work was so effective that during the 1918 influenza epidemic, none of his patients or any inmates following his exercise regimen fell ill. 

After the war, Pilates returned to Germany. His work there was such a success that he was pressured to train the New Germany Army. This brought him to New York City, where he and his wife, a nurse, began collaborating with such luminaries as Balanchine, Graham, Laban, and Holm. Pilates worked for more than 40 years in his studio, training movement specialists.

Today, Pilates is taught all over the world in a variety of settings. In the Department of Dance at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Pilates is taught as a way to develop mental focus, control, proper alignment, and balance between flexibility and strength, and to deepen one’s kinesthetic awareness.