​The core of the big apple - Pilates in NYC

New York is known for many things - Broadway, Times Square, shopping, nightlight and more. NYC also happens to be the home of the first Pilates studio and was where the Pilates revolution started. During my time in NYC I was lucky enough to meet, learn and practice Pilates with an amazing and inspirational lady. Blossom Leilani Crawford has connections back to the founder of Pilates - Mr. Joseph Pilates. I was excited to experience traditional Pilates, learn more about the history of Pilates and of course work off some of that delicious New York pizza.

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First some history - Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. As a child Joseph suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. During his early years he studied many movement forms such as gymnastics and martial arts and was fascinated by how exercise could help with pain and illness. During World War 1 Joseph worked as a carer in a hospital and attached pulleys and springs to the hospital beds to help injured patients exercise. This later  became the reformer system that we still use today. After the War, Joseph  Pilates migrated to New York it was on this boat where he met the love of his life and later to become wife, Clara. Mr. and Mrs. Pilates then opened the first Pilates studio next to the New York ballet studio. Because of this connection ballet influenced and was incorporated into the technique. Joseph Pilates spread the word and taught the concepts of Pilates to several Pilates "elders". One of whom was Kathy Grant.

Kathy Stanford Grant (1921-2010) was born in Boston and worked as a professional dancer arts administrator and Pilates teacher. Kathy was one of two Pilates elders to be certified by Mr. Pilates himself. It was in 1993 that Blossom Leilani Crawford, a new dance student, first met Kathy Grant. Blossom went on to be Kathy's student, teaching assistant and protégé.

Blossom's gorgeous studio sits nettle in the side streets of an area called Dumbo in Brooklyn. After getting lost and completely saturated in the heavy downpour of New York's summer rain, I arrived to her bright, warm and inspiring abode. I went with a list of questions and things to work on. However blossom only asked what piece of equipment to use. As we started, she observed and modified the session as she saw fit. Her exercises, cueing and hands on adjustment were amazing. And on reflection, she covered all the things I had written on my list and more.

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What I  would like to share with you is Kathy's song. This was the fundamental basic behind how to engage and align in five steps and then "you just float".

  1. Zip – visualise you are putting on a tight pair of jeans, slowly and carefully do up the zipper to just below your belly button.
  2. Belly button to the lowest part of the waistline to create neutral spine.
  3. Belt – keep a belt around your waist.
  4. Vest – put a light vest on to help draw your shoulder downs and back.
  5. Tape measure – imagine you are getting your chest measured and tuck your lower ribs in.

Kathy Grant explains it in her own words here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2BSt3zjdxs

I also participated in Blossom's mat class in the community. As I arrived to the centre I found the room where the class was next to a booming Brooklyn  hip hop dance class. The feeling in the community centre was electric and everyone arrived after work to exercise together. Blossom knew all of the twenty plus participants by name. The mat class incorporated many positions and a wide range of muscles and spinal movements. My favourite exercise sequence was when we were standing and practicing single leg balance, calf raises and the skill of lifting each toe in isolation and combination. It was interesting the addition of participant vocalisation by counting or humming to help engage. Variety and challenge was achieved by changes in tempo and combined movements. Blossom truly glowed as she told stories, and we all got lost in her instructions so much so that the time flew by.

I feel so lucky to now be part of the Pilates chain, learning and passing done the work of Blossom, Kathy and ultimately the man himself Joseph Pilates. After my experience in New York, I'm going to start spreading the news - Pilates is awesome.

A.J.Ward