Pilates Elder, Master Teacher, and Mentor
Romana Kryzanowska: June 30, 1923 – August 30, 2013
I was deeply saddened to learn that Pilates Elder, Master Teacher, and one of my first Pilates Mentors, Romana Kryzanowska passed away today. Romana was a vibrant and feisty woman with a zest for life and a deep passion for sharing and passing on the legacy of the Pilates Method as she learned it from Joseph and Clara Pilates.
Romana Kryzanowska was born in Detroit in 1923, the only child of artist parents, and studied ballet as a child. At age 17, while studying at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, she suffered an ankle injury, and was taken by Balanchine to Joseph Pilates to see if exercise rather than an operation would resolve the problem. Her Pilates exercise program helped her successfully recover from her ankle injury, and she continued to study with Joseph and Clara Pilates. In 1944 she married Pablo Mejia and moved to Peru, where she danced and taught the Pilates technique. Returning to the US in 1958, she began working again with Joseph and Clara Pilates at their studio in New York City. In 1970 Romana became the director of what was by that time called “The Pilates Studio.” She has spent the last 60 years passionate and dedicated to the work, traveling the world teaching Pilates to clients and instructors of all ages.
I met Romana when I began my initial Pilates teacher-training program almost twenty years ago. Believing in the early 1990’s that she was the last living “link” to Joe, and wanting to study as close to the source as I could for my Pilates education, I completed my Intensive Pilates Teacher-Training Workshops at Suny Purchase, and spent many weeks at Drago’s Gym in NYC over the next year as a “fly on the wall” quietly sitting in the corner furiously taking notes, observing, and learning. Earning the privilege of assisting in the studio was exhilarating and terrifying. And what sweet success it was to finally teaching on my own under Romana’s ever-watchful eye, hoping that I could impress her enough and show off my teaching skills to “pass” inspection and earn my Pilates teacher-training program certificate of completion.
It was scary, thrilling, and absolutely fabulous to be in Romana’s presence. She was always 100% committed to helping you learn and grow, but only if you did EXACTLY what she said with no back talking, excuses, or whining… After a lifetime of teaching, she had an innate sense of knowing what you were capable of, and pushing you mentally and physically to your limits to challenge your body to improve, and deepen the understanding of how to move well, and do Pilates.
I was always amazed at how from way across the room Romana knew exactly what springs you had on the Reformer (and if they were correct or not!) She was also quick to shout out and remind you when you’d gotten off track and were NOT doing the correct exercise for a client’s workout. There might be 10-12 clients and 4-5 apprentices teaching and she knew exactly what everyone in the room was doing every minute of a Pilates training session!
I still find it hard to believe that Romana was in her seventies when I was in the studio! She had the energy of a teen-ager, and while I never actually saw her do a full Pilates workout – it was always amazing to watch her move. When she didn’t like the way a client was doing an exercise, she’d kick them off the equipment and demonstrate what they needed to be doing. Completely un-warmed up she would whip out a few reps of a beautifully executed exercise! Sometimes it was something basic, but most of the time it was a more intermediate or advanced exercise that I couldn’t fathom diving into cold. And from just looking at Romana – hunched over the end of a Reformer teaching, you would never suspect she could move so magnificently. But Romana had been eating, sleeping, and breathing Pilates her entire life. Every fiber of her being knew exactly what to do to be in control and coordinated for the safe execution of effortless movement. She was a joy to watch move, and I learned so much about EVERYTHING watching her teach.
I feel extremely blessed and fortunate that Romana Kryzanowska was one of my very first Pilates mentors. Learning the exercises and Pilates system from her gave me invaluable insights for the power of Pilates, the importance of the order of the exercises, “riding” the breath, working consistently with precision, control, and concentration to ultimately transform bodies for better health.
For all who knew and studied with Romana, we were truly blessed that she shared with each of us a piece of her heart and passed on to us the legacy of her Pilates knowledge. I am forever indebted to the gifts she shared with me, and only hope that I will have as much time as she, to share the memories of my mentors and continue to pass the Pilates legacy forward to younger generations of Pilates teachers and students.