Maintaing the Integrity and Spirit of Pilates by Amy Taylor Alpers

Romana Kryzanowska (1923 – 2013)

Maintaining the Integrity and Spirit of Pilates

by Amy Taylor Alpers, Mar 29th 2017

Romana Kryzanowska 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, who was one of his lifelong students, 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 she traveled the world teaching workshops and directing her own teacher training programs, until she retired in her late 80’s. She inspired an entire generation of hundreds upon hundreds 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 maintain the original integrity and spirit of Joseph Pilates’ method.

Romana was born in Farmington, MI, near Detroit, on June 30, 1923.  Both of 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. When she was very young, her father died and her mother then moved them to her sister’s orange plantation near the Florida Everglades. 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” who, years later, also helped his wife, Tanaquil LeClerc, after 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 advocate. 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.


In 1944, when she was just 21 years old, 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 that was half aristocratic lady of the estate and half mountain shepherdess, tending alpaca at 14,000 feet in the Andes. Her two children, Paul and Sari (whom Joe called “his Pilates babies”), were born in Peru. He had special child-size springs made and sent to them. Throughout her time in Peru, Romana taught “Contrology” to friends and family, and stayed in touch with “Uncle” Joe and Clara.


Political unrest combined with the death of her beloved husband led Romana to return to New York City 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 Carola Trier, another student of Pilates who had opened her own studio, and was a dear friend and co-worker of Kathy Grant’s there.


Although the influence of another 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”.

Rachel, Romana and Amy


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 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 New York City, 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 various legal issues prevented her return. Through working with her for nearly seven years, she changed our lives forever. And our commitment is still to her and to sharing what she so generously gave to us.


View the published article on Pilates Intel