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Original Pilates Gangster "OPG" Series: Kathleen Stanford Grant

The Original Pilates Gangster "OPG" SeriesThe original Pilates teachers, otherwise known as The Elders, were taught by Joseph Pilates himself. Each of these teachers took his work and had their own individual interpretation depending on what era of his work they were with him, and what their background and issues were. Many times they invented their own original moves out of Joe's teachings. For example, the jump-board work we do in level 2 classes was NOT actually part of the original exercises designed by Joe. His famed student Romana Kryzanowska, was the first one to introduce this addition to the repertoire. Another fan favorite is Eve’s Lunge. Have you ever wondered why it’s not called Joe’s Lunge? His protégé Eve Gentry added this delicious move into the original choreography. Each of the Elders, brought their unique touch and interruption to his work. Each month we will feature one of these original teachers, also called 1stGeneration Pilates Teachers. As you read each one can you catch a glimpse of your Zen teachers in them –maybe even take a guess which linage your favorite zen teacher came from. Each "OPG feature was written by one of our Teacher’s-In-Training as part of their training certification program. Enjoy!

OPG: Kathleen Stanford Grant by Valerie Rene

“I want you to move without moving. No matter where you go, you have to remember your center. You don’t do it physically. You do it mentally. You do it from the inside.”

Early Life

Kathleen Standford Grant was born on August 21, 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1930, at the age of 9, she began taking ballet classes at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Because of the racial attitudes of that time she was forced to take privates because of her color of skin. During her high school years she spent her summers in New York studying ballet at Carnegie Hall. After school, she moved to New York City and had a successful career as a dancer on Broadway. She then danced abroad in Spain and Italy with Claude Merchant and returned to the states to continue dancing with Arthur Mitchell and Donald McKayle. In 1954, she needed knee surgery and was referred to Joseph Pilates for rehabilitation by Pearl Lang. She taught at Carola Trier’s studio, healed up and then for the next ten years continued dancing with Arthur and Donald. In 1963 she married Jim Grant, a law attorney.

Time with Joseph

That same year she approached Joseph along with Lolita San Miguel to participate in an apprenticeship program for a certification through the New York State Vocational Rehabilitation Program. During the program they completed 2,200 hours of observation and were the only two to be certified by Joseph Pilates to teach his work.

Application of Pilates

In 1970 she became the Administrative Director at the Dance Theatre of Harlem where she taught morning class that included the Pilates Mat work and Jazz. She became the first African-American to join the National Endowment for the Arts panel and was on the New York Council of the Arts. Two years later she left Dance Theatre of Harlem and ran a Pilates Studio in Henri Bendel’s Department Store. She gave dancers a discounted rate as well as teacher the store’s wealthy patrons. She could never walk away from her dancing roots. She partnered her Assistant Directing, teaching dance with teaching Pilates.

Her Style:

She created her program that consisted of preparing the body for Pilates before starting the Hundred. She wanted to get the body strong before beginning the program. It was important for her to know you’re your body, the knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses to prevent injury. She taught by cueing through “song”. Her “song” consisted of strong images to help the student understand. For example, “zip tight jeans”, “belly button to the lowest part of the waistline” meant connecting into your abdominals. These cues got shortened so she just needed to cue by short hand “zipper”. She was known for knowing bodies better than anyone. A story I read shared about Kathy facing away and telling a student across the room to put her raised shoulders down! She taught seeing how the body moved was an experience that deepens the relationship between student and teacher as well as to what makes a good teacher great. She was a no-nonsense person and insisted that you did the work. You never stop being the student and would be in class herself. “You must learn something every time you teach and you must stay present with your students and with yourself through your teaching." She taught Master Classes at the Pilates Method Alliance as well as lecturing with Balanced Body. She died on May 27, 2010 at the age of 88.

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