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Original Pilates Gangster "OPG"Series: Romana Kryzanowska

The Original Pilates Gangster "OPG" Series: The 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 physical 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!

Early Life

Romana Kryzanowska was born on June 30th, 1923 in Farmington, Michigan

(Just outside Detroit). The only child of two artists, she began studying dance at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet at age 17.

Towards the end of that same year Romana injured her ankle, preventing her from dancing. Multiple doctors were called each telling her surgery was her only option. Eventually, George Balanchine (Mister B himself) was called and took Romana to meet his good friend Joe Pilates. According to George Balanchine “Joseph Pilates is a genius of the body.”

Time with Joe

Joe instructed Romana to hold off on all ballet for two weeks and to train with him three times a week, even promising to fully refund her if she didn’t feel better after the first three. Not only did Joseph train her in the studio, but he also sent her home with a 6-inch piece of wood, to be used three times a day as homework for her foot and ankle muscles. It is because of her training with Joe that Romana could get back in ballet faster. She also credited Pilates to higher jumping, better spinning, and overall better physical condition.

Joe and his wife Clara recognized Romana’s talent early on. She quickly was named a “helper”and later became protégéeup until around the mid-1940s, when she married Peruvian Businessman aka the “Peruvian Alpaca King,”Pablo Mejia. She moved to South America and raised her two children, Paul and Sari, all while teaching Pilates to her family and friends in a home studio.

While in South America, Romana stayed in touch with Joseph by mail. Joe would refer to her children as his “Pilates babies”even sending them child sized springs to work on. Fourteen years later she later returned to the states, single. She headed right back to the Joseph Pilates studio to begin working again, also continuing to teach ballet on the side to support her family.


Romana Kryzanowska took over as director of Joseph’s studio alongside Clara a few years after he passed away. When Clara passed away, Romana began to run the studio on her own, teaching and training pilates until she was 80 years old.

Romana passed away at 90 years old on August 30, 2013. She is one of the most well-known and highly regarded “keepers of the classical Pilates tradition.”It has been said by Jay Grimes that nobody knew Joseph Pilates’work better than Romana. She dedicated her life to Pilates and educating instructors all around the world. Her daughter, Sari Mejia Santo, both trained with Joseph Pilates and taught alongside her mother and now even Romana's granddaughter, Daria Pace, owns a studio called Romana's Pilates, with affiliates teaching classical Pilates all over the world.

Previous OPG Series articles: Lolita San Miguel, Kathleen Stafford Grant

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