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The origins and development of Pilates


The above image is shared shared courtesy of the Manx Museum and National Trust (Joseph Pilates is seated at the bottom right during his internment at Knockaloe, Isle of Man)


The second image is shared thanks to the grandson of a 1st generation teacher, the late Virginia Butterfield. Joseph Pilates is standing behind his partner, Clara Zeuner, in their New York studio.

How it all began...


Joseph Pilates was interned here on the Isle of Man during World War 1 and later told people that he used that time to develop his exercise method.  Shortly after the War ended, Joseph returned to Germany which was in great social and economic turmoil at the time, so he then emigrated to New York in 1926 where he and his partner, Clara Zeuner, opened the first ever Pilates studio.


Joseph warned of the ill-effects of the tempo of modern living and of the need to keep the body and mind healthy.  In the 1920s Joseph was creating ways of combating the effects of using telephones and cars.  He published his matwork exercises describing them as "a remedy for the effects of what we now call "stress" and the results of limited physical exercise.


Joseph developed many pieces of large equipment, many of which have been reproduced and are commonly used in Pilates studios all over the world, including the universal reformer, Cadillac, Wunda chair, foot corrector and many more.  

Although his incredible method was not widely accepted or practiced during Joseph's lifetime, several key clients of Joseph's went on to teach his method and referred to it as "Pilates" rather than "contrology" as Joseph had originally named it.


Pilates then spread further afield and first returned to the British Isles when Alan Herdman was commissioned by the London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) to train under Robert Fitzgerald in New York (Alan later also furthered his knowledge under Carola Trier).  Alan then set up the first Pilates studio in Britain at the Place (the home of LCDS).  Initially the studio was for the dancers at the school, however, board members and office staff at the school soon joined in and then the studio was also opened to the public.


Alan went on to train other students to teach Pilates, many of whom opened their own studios in Britain and further afield and who then also trained other teachers.  One of the students who apprenticed under Alan in those very early days was Michael King who recently asked and helped Jonathan to compile the first timeline of the British history and development of Pilates, which has been published by the

Society for the Pilates Method


Jonathan has also uncovered many previously unknown parts of the history of Pilates which are shared in his Facebook Group:    

Joseph's Legacy - Pilates 100 +

The information shared on the Group has been welcomed by thousands of Pilates teachers and enthusiasts across the world.  Membership requests are vetted, but Group membership is generally open to anyone with a genuine interest in Pilates. 

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