by Marjolein van Sonsbeek
Romana Kryzanowska was born into a very artistic family on June 30th 1923, in a town near Detroit. She always remained the only child in the family. Without a doubt Romana was the one who remained most loyal of all Elders to Joseph and Clara Pilates. Unfortunately Romana died not too long ago in her sleep, on August 30th 2013. Her death is a big loss to the Pilates community.
Faithfull to Joe’s method
In my opinion; there wouldn’t be traditional Pilates in the Netherlands without Romana Kryzanowska. Maybe something would exist that would resemble it, but I don’t think Contrology would exist. Joseph Pilates initially called his method Contrology and that original heritage is what Romana taught the world. She never stopped to pass on Joseph’s original version. She has never deviated from the original and has always remained true to what Joseph has taught her since 1942.
Joseph’s biggest fan
In 1942 Romana came to Joseph’s Pilates studio for the first time. That same year she got accepted as a dancer to The School of American Ballet; George Balanchine’s school. Due to track, Romana was unable to dance anymore. She was 19 years old at that time. After some visits to doctors who couldn’t help her, George Balanchine (a client of Joseph himself) took her to Joseph’s Contrology-Art-Studio-Pilates of Joseph Pilates. When she got there, she was ordered not to dance for at least two weeks, and do the assignments Joe had given her instead. She later told her mom she hated the studio. It was an old, dark building and the studio reeked of sweat. She also thought it was odd that this weird, surly and intimidating man had barely looked at her foot. She didn’t want to go back, but her mom made her. But, in no time Romana changed her mind. Not only did her ankle and foot heal, her dancing had improved and so had her stamina. She became Joseph’s biggest fan.
Follow in Joseph’s tracks
Romana continued to come to the studio as often as she could next to her dance practice, sometimes even twice a day! She mostly worked on the machines, because matclasses were mostly taught to clients that often travelled. She learned all Contrology- techniques and after a year Romana became an assistant and taught classes herself. She did not get paid for her services, but she got the knowledge about the method.
When Romana was 21 she married a wealthy businessman from Peru; Pablo Meija. They decided to move to Peru, which saddened not only Romana’s mother, but Joseph and Clara too. She had became a good friend to them, and also indispensable to their studio. Romana and Pablo had 2 children; Paul and Sari. She always kept in touch with Joseph and Clara, and in 1958 Romana returned to America and started teaching in Joe’s studio again. At that time Joseph and Clara had gotten pretty old, but they still worked in their studio every day. Their friendship became even closer and she called them “Uncle Joe” and “Aunt Clara”. Together with John Winters Romana started managing the studio. In her copy of “Return to life through Contrology”*, Joseph wrote that Romana was to be the one to step in his tracks.
Romana kept the studio running
Romana kept working and studying in the studio until Joseph died in 1967. Clara and Romana kept the studio running and in 1970 Romana became the manager of ‘The Pilates Studio’, which was the name of the studio at that time.
After Clara died in 1977 Romana kept working in the studio in New York together with her daughter; Sari. They later founded Romana’s Pilates and travelled all over the world to teach other trainers about true Contrology.
Romana closely watched the level at which exercises were performed. She was very strict. She wouldn’t accept her students doing their exercises halfheartedly. She demanded full dedication, but her sense of humor and her “every day is a party”- attitude made her a well- loved person. A few trainers even lived with her, where they were able to train with her intensively. Romana continued – even until she was very old – to demonstrate the pure Pilatesmethod all around the world; she demonstrated advanced exercises on the Cadillac with ease until she was 80.
She often came to Marjorie Oron’s studio on The Hague to teach Pilates. Her daughter Sari Meija Santo is now in charge to teach Joseph’s heritage to the world.
It later became apparent that Joseph started a few myths. She never thought it was true that he had been untrue about his age and other things. Javier Pèrez Pont and Esperanza Aparicio Romero wrote the biography about Joseph Pilates – The Biography; Joseph Hubertus Pilates – at her request. For years she relentlessly asked them to write this book about her hero and this resulted in a bulky and complete work about the life of this genius. The authors, Javier and Esperanza, frequently passed on what they had found out about Joseph’s life to Romana. Romana just couldn’t believe, even though this was proven by clear facts and documents, that Joseph had not always told the truth.