Maintaining the Integrity and Spirit of Pilates

Romana Kryzanowska, June 30, 1923 - August 30, 1930, loved life and she lived a full, rich, colorful, satisfying, adventurous one, always surrounded by family, friends and students. She was part “American Annie Oakley”, part “Russian prima ballerina”, part “Peruvian shepherdess”, and part “elegant European grande dame” - and she always had a twinkle in her eye! And, if possible, a glass of sparkling champagne in her hand! And for Joseph Pilates, she was part dutiful daughter, part muse, part assistant, part workhorse, and ultimately, torchbearer and keeper of the flame.

When Joseph Pilates died in 1967, Romana Kryzanowska, a lifelong student of his, stepped in to help his widow, Clara, run the studio. When Clara died 10 years later, Romana took over the business.  And there she stayed, teaching students and  teachers by the hour, and later, traveling the world teaching workshops and directing her own teacher training programs, right up until she retired in her late 80's. She inspired an entire generation, 100s upon 100s, of amazing Pilates teachers, who continue her legacy and that of Joseph Pilates.

Romana always said, "I'm not a creator - I just teach what 'Uncle Joe' taught me." And that was her enduring commitment to Pilates - to maintain the original integrity and spirit of Joseph Pilates' method.

Romana was born in Farmington, MI, near Detroit, on June 30, 1923. Both her parents, Sari and Roman Kryzanowski, were artists - her father's work even hung in the Detroit Museum of Art – and they instilled a life-long love of the arts in their daughter. At a very young age, her father died, and her mother moved them to her sister's orange plantation near the Everglades in Daytona, FL. Romana loved to tell the story of having been given a pistol as a gift when she was still quite young so she could protect herself from the alligators and panthers nearby. It's a perfect image as Romana herself was quite a pistol!

In the mid-1930s she and her mother moved back to Detroit where Romana started ballet. Soon after, they relocated to New York City and Romana enrolled in George Balanchine's ballet school. She often recalled how much Balanchine loved her Russian name! In 1941 she developed a bone chip in her ankle and Mr. Balanchine took her to see Mr. Pilates. Balanchine felt Pilates was "a genius of the body," as he had helped his wife, Tanaquil LeClerc, when she was struck with polio.  Mr. Pilates told her, "I can fix your ankle in 5 sessions or your money back!" And he did. From that moment on she was a lifelong convert. She said he gave her an advanced workout on the very first day, including the 'star' exercise. Eventually she became a "helper", at which point she didn't have to pay anymore, she liked to say with a grin, and that was the beginning of her long and illustrious teaching career.

However, in 1944, in her early 20s she was swept off her feet and whisked away to Peru by the handsome, wealthy Peruvian “Alpaca King”, Pablo Mejia. There she lived a life half aristocratic “lady of the estate” and half mountain shepherdess, herding alpaca at 14,000 feet in the Andes. Here she had her two children, Paul and Sari Mejia whom Joe called “his Pilates babies.” He even had special child-size springs made and sent to them. During all this time Romana taught "Contrology" to friends and family, and stayed in touch with "Uncle" Joe and Clara.

Political unrest and/or the death of her beloved husband led Romana to return to NYC with her children in 1958. While carrying her daughter one day, she fell into an open manhole and badly damaged her knee. That sent her right back to Mr. Pilates, and she never left again. During this time she also worked for Corolla Trier, another student of Pilates’ who had opened her own studio, and was a dear friend and co-worker of Kathy Grant's there.

In 1967, when Joseph Pilates died, Romana, always the "dutiful child," as Kathy Grant said, stayed on and taught with Clara. Upon Clara's death ten years later, Romana took over the studio. She continued to run the studio from that point on, through many changes of ownership and location during the following decades, carrying on the work of her mentor just as he had taught her to.

Although the influence of another other love of her life, classical ballet, colored her style and slipped into the exercises here and there, she always said, "Mr. Pilates was a genius," and vowed to continue his work exactly as he had created it. She felt very strongly that, if you thought you were a genius too and therefore, wanted to create your own movement system, you should simply name it after yourself instead of calling it "Pilates".

My sister, Rachel Taylor Segel, and I started studying with Romana in early 1987 at The Pilates Studio in New York City. She was exactly our mother’s age, having both been born in June 1923, and she reminded us of every wonderful ballet mistress and teacher we’d ever had, so there was an immediate connection. She felt very much like “home” to us. We studied with her for three years in NYC, following her to three different locations as the studio moved, ultimately settling at Drago’s Gym, where it remains today. With her inspiration, guidance and support we founded The Pilates Center and The Pilates Center Teacher Training Program in Boulder, CO in 1990. She continued to work with us, coming out to Boulder to teach our program, through August 1993 when trademark issues prevented her return. However, she changed our lives forever. And our commitment is still to her and to sharing what she so generously gave to us.