Interview with Cathy Barker Strack, Pilates teacher and biographer of Romana Kryzanowska
Strong Women of the History of the Pilates Method, 1
Carola Strauss-Trier was the first person to open a Pilates studio – following Joseph Pilates himself. She has contributed significantly to establish the Pilates method in the field of rehabilitation. The story of her life is just as interesting as the life of Joseph Pilates – but it contains so much suffering and terror that it’s not easy to handle. She was unable to finish her memoirs, because so many of her memories were too painful for her to bear it – and yet: she survived and lived her life and accomplished great things!
Carola was born in 1913 in Frankfurt, Germany. Her father was Eduard Strauß, a professor for chemistry who also taught comparative religious sciences at „Jüdisches Lehrhaus“ a Jewish open university in Frankfurt. Carola grew up in an inspiring intellectual environment – Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig were close friends of the family. She pursued an artistic career and started studying dance at Folkwang school in Essen.
In 1933, shortly before her 20. birthday, the Nazis came to power in Germany. Most dancers supported this “movement” hoping for renewal and new glory for the German nation. Being Jewish this was a tragedy for Carola. During the first two years of Nazi reign she scratched a living by dancing for small entertainment shows and tried most of all not to attract any attention. In 1935 she couldn’t bear it anymore and went to France. Without documents she supported herself as a dancer in nightclubs. Looking for a new career option she became interested in acrobatics. This was how she met Marcel Naydorf, an acrobatics teacher. They fell in love. She developed her own show, dancing on roller-skates. The show was successful and her life seemed to stabilize.
Then World War Two started. The German Wehrmacht invaded France and Carola was interned by the French. From their point of view she was a German, an enemy alien. That she had fled the Nazis didn’t count. From Paris she was sent to the internment camp Gurs. Marcel Naydorf followed her. He was able to supply her with additional food and finally managed to have her released.
The following years were full of anxiety. Carola and Marcel settled in the so called zone libre (“free zone”), the part of France that had not been occupied yet. She waited in despair for a visa for the United States. In June 1942 at last she received it. She was rescued in the last moment: Shortly after she set off on the complicated trip via Algeria and Casablanca to the United States, the “free zone” was raided: several thousand Jews were detained and most of them sent to Auschwitz.
Carola had escaped. But upon her arrival in the United States she was interned again: In Fort Howard near Baltimore she was once more regarded as a potential enemy alien, until her status as a refugee had been proved. Now she was able to start a new life – trying to get over that fact that she had had to leave behind her partner who had not received a visa for the US.
Very soon Carola was back on stage with her skating show – her roller-skates were among the few things she had taken with her on her journey from Europe. In 1944 she had an accident on stage. Dr. Henry Jordan, the specialist for orthopedics who treated her at Lenox Hill Hospital suggested that she should go to Joseph Pilates’ studio for rehabilitation. He was a client himself.
Meeting Joe Pilates for the first time was probably difficult for Carola. After her experiences with the Nazis she certainly wouldn’t have picked a man like Joe with his strong German accent for her rehabilitation. But she trusted her doctor and took it on. She was thrilled! She was fascinated by the efficiency of the Pilates method. She realized that Joseph Pilates had developed an ingenious method for the rehabilitation of dancers. After she had successfully finished her own rehabilitation she stayed a permanent guest of the Pilates studio and observed Joseph Pilates closely, especially when he was working with rehabilitation patients.
Carola also educated herself further regarding the medical side. Dr. Henry Jordan allowed her to observe him treating rehabilitation patients, even during operations, she started working closely with him. Towards the end of the Fifties, after she had learned from Joseph Pilates for more than ten years, she decided to open her own studio. In the meantime she had married Edgar Trier, so she opened her studio as Carola S. Trier.
Her studio was located on 58th street in New York, just two blocks away from Joe’s and Clara’s studio on Eighth Avenue. Her cooperation with Dr. Henry Jordan and William Liebler from Lenox Hill Hospital and her connections to show business brought her many clients from the world of dance. Her firmly managed, up to date studio was different from the original.
Carola Trier’s studio was modern and rather minimalistic while many clients felt like they had gone on a journey back in time when they were entering Joe’s studio. On Eighth Avenue every client was required to take care of his or her own workout – in Carola’s studio you worked one on one. Carola and her assistants prepared the apparatus, gave instructions and feedback. The studio was doing so well that Carola was able to hire several assistants. Big names like Romana Kryzanowska and Kathy Grant used to work for Carola Trier.
Despite these differences Carola and Joe Pilates were resembling each other in many ways. Like him she seemed severe and she also had an explosive temper. Like Joe Pilates she didn’t like it, if people were talking a lot in her studio. And like him she was speaking English with a German accent all her life. Another similarity between the two was their wish to present their work to the public. Carola Trier was doing a successful job regarding public relations. In 1961 Dance Magazine published two articles about her work with dancers. In 1963 she managed to have some of the exercises she had developed herself promoted by Newsweek and Vogue.
In the glossy magazines she had presented exercises she had developed herself, so she didn’t see any necessity to mention the name Joseph Pilates. He didn’t like that and their relationship cooled down during the last years prior to his death.
From today’s perspective it seems clear that Joseph Pilates and his method have benefited immensely by Carola Trier’s work. She run her New York studio successfully until she retired in 1986. Her work in the realm of rehabilitation was the groundwork for the Pilates method to be used in that area. Today the method is established in rehabilitation worldwide and it’s benefits have been proofed by many scientific studies. Carola Trier trained many Pilates teachers, among them some of the most influential master teachers of today’s Pilates world: Lolita San Miguel, Alan Herdman, Deborah Lessen, Jillian Hessel and many more. She’s the role model for a job profile many dancers pursue following their active dancing career: they become Pilates teachers!
More information about Carola Strauss-Trier’s life and work :
Order an reproduction of the wonderful picture of her on the Reformer in Jillian Hessel’s webshop!
Glaucia, you are one of the producers of the movie “Tribute to Joseph Pilates”. For one year you were touring the world, visiting the most important places of Joe’s life and talking to so many experts of Pilates and Pilates history! Why did you decide to spend so much of your time and energy on a project about Joseph Pilates?
Glaucia: Yes Eva, I’m one the producers alongside with the Voll Group owners, Rafael Juliano and his partners, Henrique Wolf and Vinicius Machado. The idea came from Rafael, during a conversation we were having regarding Pilates and its scenario in the world and how people, even professionals in the field were leaving the roots and the history of the Method behind. I was enchanted by the idea of producing a documentary, but to tell you the truth I never thought it would be so amazingly well done, as it turned out to be. I’m also a studio owner and an educator, and the more I traveled to different countries the more I could see the History being left behind. When you don’t know where you came from, your roots, then you can easily loose track of what makes sense in this work, then you start inventing “new things” and calling it Pilates. I think that getting to know the History, getting to know what Joseph really wanted to accomplish with his Method can help us step back a little and maybe, start thinking twice before calling any movement we invent “Pilates”, but more than that, the general public will definitely be able to fall in love with Pilates, even if they have never had a lesson in life.
You were speaking with so many legends and important people of the Pilates world! Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen, Mari Winsor, Elizabeth Larkam, Brooke Siler, Kathi Ross Nash, Ken Endelman – just to mention a few. How did you do that? How did you get access to these busy people?
Glaucia: Well, I’m still thrilled that so many people got on board and trust us enough to be part of this project. It was done in baby steps, I sent each invitation one by one. And the first thing I made sure to tell each of of them is that this movie would not promote brands, schools, approaches or anything else other than Joseph Pilates himself.
Do you remember all the places you visited for the movie? Can you name the most important and maybe tell us why you went there?
Glaucia: I remember, I think I do, the most important ones were NY and Mönchengladbach, no doubt about it. NY because it was the place where I did all my research prior to start the footages, and Mönchengladbach because we had access to all the Archival Material, and amazing details about Joseph’s previous life before immigrating to America. I can’t forget to mention Denver as well, where we were able to film during the PMA Conference, therefore getting to insert many of the big names of the industry in the documentary.
During all your research, travel and interviews: Was there a personal highlight for you? Maybe a moment when you felt especially close to Joseph Pilates?
Glaucia: Wow, that is a very hard question. There were many many moments that I felt this way. But if I need to choose one moment, I would say it was during the interview with John Steel, mainly because he was the only person to really talk about Joe’s death, and to be personally close enough to him, to really describe very interesting facts. I remember that Mary Bowen was also listening to his interview. After we finished his interview, I interviewed Mary Bowen, and he was there during the whole time, also listening to Mary. When I finally finished Mary’s interview, and the crew was getting ready to leave, I stayed there for more than 1 hour, just talking to John, I was not interviewing him anymore, but we kept talking about Joseph for hours to come. But I can’t just ignore the fact that most of the interviews we’ve made changed me personally and professionally in so many ways that I can’t even describe.
You knew very much about Joseph Pilates and his life already when you started this project. Can you tell us, if you came across information about him that really surprised you?
Glaucia: I thought I knew about him, but after reading the 2 biographies available, and having your biography specially guiding me during this process now I can really say that I know the man behind the Method, not only the eccentric German that immigrated to America to open his first Studio. What really surprised me was his drive to accomplish something, I knew he wanted to be a hit, he wanted his Method to be around the world, but I had never seen how focused he was, how insanely intelligent and clever he was, and mainly his skills for marketing in the 30ies, 40ies …it’s still blowing me away when I start reading his articles. So his drive and sureness that his Method would somehow change the world – that’s what really surprised me.
After you have worked so much for one year (I know that you didn’t get much sleep during the last weeks of editing the movie) – was it worth it? Would you do it again?
Glaucia: It was more than a year actually, we started to organize all the details almost 2 years ago. So there was much work besides the interviews, I mean, I don’t know how we did it, really. It was worthy for sure, I never thought not even in my wildest dreams that the final result would be so good as I think it was. When you do something that you really love, and you put 100% of yourself in it, I think you are ready for everything that comes out of it… meaning, I know there will be criticism, but I’m so happy and thrilled with what we accomplished that critics of any kind can’t reach me, can’t bother me. We did what we did out of passion, and to honor Joseph, and I think we did it well. At least I can speak for myself, I would have done it exactly the same, if I was to start all over again…I would just maybe balance more my life, and sleep a little more during this process.
One last question: During the interviews for the movie you asked every one, what they would say, if they had a chance to speak to Joseph Pilates personally. What about you? Is there anything you would like to say to him or ask him?
Glaucia: You know I did answer this question, the crew made an interview with me, a surprise interview, that was supposed to be inserted in the movie, but I didn’t make my own cut, can you believe it? I didn’t see a reason for me to be in the Movie, not this time, not now, maybe in some DVD with extras in the future. But I can’t even remember what I answered in the interview. But I can tell you that if I had the chance to meet to Joe and talk to him I would ask him so many questions, I would definitely need to spend hours talking to him. First I would thank him! Without even knowing he’s been changing the lives of so many people around the world: Every time a client comes to my studio and leaves feeling better than when he first came in, it’s because of Joe that this has happened. I would ask him, if what he is seeing today, with his Method being taught with so many versions around the world, some very good approaches and others not so good, but if it’s really what he wanted to accomplish with the Method? I would bring him to a Pilates Studio, and ask him: what kind of apparatus would he invent today having all this technology in our favor to built pretty much what we envision to build!
Thank you so much, Glaucia, for your answers! It was great for me to learn more about your experiences during the making of the movie! Thank you for your time and that you gave so much to create this wonderful Tribute to Joseph Pilates!
Last Friday I was standing in Carolin Dyckhoff’s beautiful candle lit Pilates studio in Aachen, holding a cinnamon roll in one hand and a glass of tea in the other, and I suddenly felt the urge to say „Thank you!“: A big Thanks to all of the wonderful women who invited me to readings and presentations during the last year!
You give me courage! And I need it more than ever right now. Last week a man who lacks every trace of respect for women was elected the new president of the United States. I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world of women who put up with everything and attach themselves to machos they consider strong. I want her to be strong and independent. I want her to choose you as role models!
Never in my life have I met so many strong women like in the Pilates world. Enthusiastic teachers who dared to take the step into self-employment and became a studio owner, a businesswoman. You are successful – you took a risk and it was worth it. No wonder: After every reading in a Pilates studio rapt clients approached me to rave about their wonderful studio owner, amazing work-outs, a great atmosphere and about how much they enjoy spending time at this particular place.
I want to thank you for the great job you’re doing every day, and that you show us what women are made of! You give me courage!
I’m starting a new series on my blog about the women who made the Pilates method big. The first post will be about Carola Trier: After Joseph Pilates she was the first person to open a Pilates studio!
Thank you: Bea Eggimann, Britta Brechtefeld, Carolin Dyckhoff, Caroline Schmid, Corina Hengse, Davorka Kulenovic, Elizabeth Abraham, Ge Gurak, Glaucia Adriana, Joanne Cobbe, Kerstin Bredehorn, Kristina Dietrich, Petra Weitzel, Priska Jessberger-Merle, Sabine Blum, Sylvia Klemperer, Ute Weiler, Wiebke Schüssler, Yaelle Penkhoss
Doing research about the clients of the Pilates Studio on 8th Avenue in New York was sometimes so intriguing that I kept going astray. Suddenly I realized that I was actually doing research about the biography of a client and had for the moment completely forgotten about Joseph Pilates. In a few instances my meandering unearthed unknown sources about Joseph Pilates…
George Hoyningen-Huene, the photographer who took the pictures for Joe’s book Return to Life through Contrology was one of those who fascinated me the most. The son of an American mother and a Baltic father from an aristocratic family who had held the prestigious position of an equerry for the czar was born in 1900 in St. Petersburg. His path of life led him to Yalta, London, the Caucasus and Paris, to New York and finally to Los Angeles: So in terms of the number of the places of residence he could take on Joseph Pilates!
George Hoyningen-Huene met Joseph Pilates in the latter’s studio on 8th Avenue in New York in the end of the 1930ies. At that time George Hoyningen-Huene was working as a photographer for the American fashion magazine Harpers Bazaar. Before that he had been working in Paris for Vogue. Now he turned to Joe Pilates, because he needed more strenghth for his work:
One of my handicaps during my photographic sitting was the strain of lifting and moving lights, scenery and props. My collegue the late George Platt Lynes advised me to take a course in Physical Fitness at the gymnasium of Joseph Pilates. Joe’s method struck me as the most reasonable and scientific approach and after a few months I had to have all my clothes altered. Apart from becoming a great friend of Joe’s and his wife Clara, I kept up my studies for five years and in the end we made a motion picture documentary and I photographed his entire routine for his book RETURN TO LIFE. I owe Joe much in the way of moral support, kindness and genuine friendship.
In return Joseph Pilates owed George Hoyningen-Huene not only the wonderful photography in his book Return to Life Through Contrology, but probably also the fact that the book was published at all. After years of looking for a publisher it finally was released in 1945 by J.J. Augustin – the same house that had published George Hoyningen-Huene’s illustrated travel books.
When George Hoyningen-Huene left New York City in 1945 he not only terminated his relations with the fashion world – it was also the end of his workouts in the Pilates Studio. He became a photography professor at Art Center School in Los Angeles. But he still had some connections to the world of glamour. As a couselor for colors in the new technicolor motion pictures he collaborated for years with director George Cukor and assisted him in movies featuring Judy Garland, Ava Gardner and many other stars. George Hoyningen Huene died at the age of 68 because of a stroke. He died in 1968, one year after Joe Pilates had died.
A breathtaking life story, isn’t it? Have you heard about George Hoyningen-Huene before? Are you just as fascinated as I am? I’m looking forward to your comments!
Here you find photos by Goerge Hoyningen-Huene:
Doing research for a book you find all these whimsy details that are not exactly relevant for your topic, but you still keep thinking about them. For me one of those is Clara and her Christmas trees.
In Bruce King’s Obituary for Clara Pilates in Dance Magazine I learned that she liked trimming Christmas trees – not only at home but also in the studio.
“Every year she trimmed the Christmas tree in the new studio, continuing the tradition she had established in the old one.”, Bruce King wrote.
This little detail fits very well with how those who were working out in the Pilates studio were remembering Clara: her emphatic way of teaching, her presence, the way she poured oil on troubled water after Joe Pilates’ outbursts in the studio. Of course this woman loved trimming Christmas trees!
For me Bruce King’s memory also brought to light another part of Clara character: her determination. When the studio moved from the old building on 8th Avenue to new premises on 56th street Clara was 89 years old. She almost couldn’t see anymore, walking was very painful. But still she insisted on trimming the Christmas tree herself. A resolute old Lady!
Probably the story came to my head just now, because there are two little Christmas-tree-trimmers bustling about in our flat. My kids are much younger than Clara in the 1970ies, but they are just as determined about taking on the tree and preparing the world for Christmas, no matter what. Wait a few days? No, please Mom, let’s start NOW! I won’t be able to keep them back much longer. Then we’re going to take the tree inside to the living room and start trimming away! Nothing’s gonna stop us, we’re just like Clara!
A wonderful Christmas for all of you – with or without a tree! And above all: a Healthy and Happy New Year!
Today it’s 132 years since Joseph Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, December 9, 1883. At 3:30 am on a Sunday he saw the light of day – and there was not much evidence indicating that his name would be known throughout the world more than a century later.
The circumstances of the infant’s family were humble: his father Friedrich Pilates was a metal worker, his mother Helena was a housewife and former factory worker. They could not afford any comfort or an easy life for their children, but Joseph’s father gave his son something really precious: his enthusiasm for gymnastics, boxing and heavy athletics.
Joseph grew up and did a job training as a brewer – while his passion was reserved for the body and movement. His internment as a civilian during the First World War which brought him to Knockaloe on the Isle of Man, finally made it possible for him to spend all his time pursuing his passion.
Back in Germany he founded a boxing gym in Gelsenkirchen, then he moved to Hamburg where he was teaching self-defense-training to police men of Ordnungspolizei and worked in rehabilitation. In 1926 he emigrated to the United States where one year later he opened his studio for body contrology in Manhattan. He ran it successfully for forty years!
Joseph Pilates was convinced that developing his method he had found a way to make people happier: „Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness“, he wrote in his book Return to Life through Contrology. Today many people share his opinion. Several millions of people practice Pilates all around the globe!
That’s a reason to celebrate! Thank you so much for everything, Joseph Pilates! Happy Birthday!
If you would like to find out more about the life of Joseph Pilates, have a look at the English excerpt of my book! Excerpt Eva Rincke – Biography of Joseph Pilates_First Chapter