Joseph Pilates was born in a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, he was a small and sickly child. Joe was given an anatomy book by a family physician and began his study of the human body at an early age. Using movement of his own body to learn and memorize every page of the book, by 14 he was modeling for anatomy books himself. The son of a gymnast father and naturopath mother, Joe later became a skilled boxer, gymnast, circus performer, skier and diver; he also practiced yoga and Zen meditation. Through his own physical transformation, Joe came to realize the simple truth and Power Pilates motto: Movement heals.
While in England when WWI broke out, Joe was interned in a camp for German nationals. This is where he began to develop his system of original exercises that he later called ‘Contrology.’ He taught wrestling and self-defense to other interns, and also worked with the incarcerated and the diseased. Creating exercise and rehabilitation apparatus to provide resistance training, the men Joe worked with were the strongest and healthiest in the camp.
Returning to Germany after the war ended, Joe trained military police and worked with personal clients. Unhappy with the political direction of Germany, in 1925 he left for the U.S. En route to New York City, he met his wife, Clara, and they opened a gym upon arrival in 1926, side by side with several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. ‘Contrology’ – today known simply as Pilates – soon became a staple for dancers, used to strengthen, balance and rehabilitate them. Clara and Uncle Joe, as he lovingly came to be known, continued their training of both dancers and pedestrians for decades. After Joe passed away at the age of 87, Clara continued to teach and run the studio until her death 10 years later.