Over the course of the Fall, I’ve been engaged in a training program that delves into the pedagogy of Kathy Grant, (1921-2010) one of ten students who worked directly with Joseph Pilates and went on to have their own studios or worked as teachers themselves.

As I’ve written about briefly before, different studios and teachers are often committed to a particular line of Pilates – be it classical, Stott, BASI, etc.

Among the many valuable things I’ve learned participating in the program is that my instinct to rely on the classical method but keep an open mind to other pedagogies best serves my clients’ needs and enriches each student’s own Pilates journey.

Given the number of students Joseph Pilates worked with, it got me thinking more deeply about what “classical Pilates” truly means.

I studied Pilates and trained as an instructor with teachers who directly aligned with Joseph Pilates’s student Romana Kryzanowska (1923 – 2013), She developed a teacher training program to pass on the Pilates Method.

As I studied to become a teacher, I had believed it critical to adhere to a “classical” approach.

Any yet …

After working as a teacher, I came to appreciate that I don’t teach every student in the same way and no two students’ classes are the same.

I teach to the student in front of me.

So, for me, this means there is no fundamentally “right” way to do an exercise. As long as we don’t put ourselves at physical or emotional risk in our Pilates movement, we must allow for some level of variance to accommodate each student’s needs.

Does this mean certain movements should be labeled “classical” while others as variations … or just not Pilates, at all?

I say, come to each teacher’s approach with an open mind and dump the labeling.

I am indebted to Romana Kryzanowska for her hard work to codify the movements and protect the system as a Method. She built an incredible foundation for all of us practitioners! But the historical perspective of Joseph Pilates and his first generation students reminds me to be careful of purist thinking.

For example, another of Joseph Pilates’s star students was Eve Gentry who, after going through a double mastectomy, worked with Mr. Pilates to regain mobility and strength. Her experience in his studio was undoubtedly much different than Romana’s – but as valuable and critical to the Method’s heritage.

As can happen in religion or science, fundamentalist thinking in Pilates – as teachers and students – can close us off from valuable ways of understanding the human condition and problem solving for ways to move without pain and build functional strength and flexibility.

As I get to know Kathy Grant’s work, I understand more deeply the need to employ movement that serves the individual – rather than adhere to a particular school of training.

You won’t find me offering a Pilates-Yoga-Aerobic-CrossFit class anytime (yes, that’s a thing). But my toolbox is growing. When a student is struggling with an exercise or working on an injury – I can look to the work of Joseph Pilates AND first generation teachers like Kathy Grant knowing that a mix of solutions is in my midst.


Learn more about Kathy Grant

An interview with Kathy Grant about her dance career

Who Are the First Generation Pilates Teachers?