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My Friend Kathy: A Reminiscence

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Kathy Grant and Lolita San Miguel, Pilates EldersKathy Grant and Lolita San MiguelThe Pilates community was saddened by last week’s news that Kathleen Stanford Grant passed away at age 89. A dancer, choreographer and protege of Joseph Pilates, Kathy taught the Pilates Method for more than 50 years, most recently at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. Here is a touching portrait of this influential teacher from her longtime friend and fellow first-generation teacher, Lolita San Miguel

By Lolita San Miguel

There are certain relationships one makes which quickly and deeply evolve to form the unbreakable bond of true friendship that neither time, nor the distancing that personal or professional commitments usually cause, can ever shatter. 

Kathleen Stanford Grant and I had that type of friendship for 52 years. We would see each other after not communicating for months and pick up as if we had just seen each other the day before. 

I first met Kathy when in 1958 I suffered an injury, and upon the advice of Dr. Henry Jordan, a renowned doctor who treated injured dancers, I went to Carola Trier for rehabilitation. Kathy and Romana Kryzanowska were Carola’s assistants at the time. Kathy was a thin, muscular, ex-modern dancer with short-cropped red hair, freckles, polite and disciplined and already had that wonderful “eye” for corrections. My sessions were in the early afternoon, which coincided with Kathy’s shift.

Kathy and I had two additional strong bonds: dance and being very proud of our heritages. The 1960s and ‘70s were passionate years of change, and we both felt a responsibility to give to our people, she to the African-American community through Dance Theater of Harlem and her husband’s Broadway projects as a producer, and I to the Hispanic community in New York through the Puerto Rican Dance Theater and other Hispanic activities. Our training and background and the talent and privileges we had received gave us a strong social conscience. So these two “kindred spirits” became friends instantly and often we socialized and went to dinner with our husbands.

It was Kathy who gave me one of the biggest surprises of my life one day while we were talking in front of Carola’s studio at 200 West 58th Street in Manhattan. After many years as Carola’s client, I had decided to train as a Pilates instructor and possibly open my own studio and was about to finish my 6-month, 520-hour apprenticeship with Carola. I expressed my concerns to Kathy, however, for I didn’t feel ready to open my own studio and told her that I would just integrate Pilates into my ballet teaching.

Kathy casually said, “Why don’t you go to Joe’s?”        

“Joe who?” I asked back.

“Joseph Pilates,” Kathy said.

All through my years of doing Pilates with Carola Trier I had thought the creator of the Method was long dead in Germany. 

“He is alive and well and his studio is three blocks away,” she continued. “In fact, let’s go there right now and ask him to allow both of us to apprentice and be certified by him.”

We did just that and after six months of 20 hours a week we both received our certificates from the State University of New York on Feb. 2, 1967. Because Joe died that same year, Kathy and I were lucky to receive Joe’s latest thoughts on his Method. An incorrigible perfectionist, he was always looking for a “better” way or finding a way to challenge us. We called these opportunities “play time” and loved them. Even though Kathy went in the morning and I in the afternoon, we always shared our latest “moves” from Joe, Clara, Hannah or Bob Seed. When occasionally we coincided in the studio, it was great fun and we were very competitive.  

When Kathy became the Director of Clark Center for the Performing Arts around 1970, she conceived a breakthrough idea in teaching Pilates. She asked me to teach a 1 ½-hour, Pilates Mat group class to be done on the floor, twice a week. As far as we both knew—and we were well-informed about such things—this was the first time what is now commonplace the world over—a Pilates Mat group class on the floor—was done in such a manner in New York City. At the time, to “do Pilates” one went to a Pilates studio and primarily did exercises on the various apparatus. The classes went on for years and proved very successful.  

Then I started the Puerto Rican Dance Theater, inspired by my former Performing Arts High School classmate Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH). Kathy, who was Arthur’s assistant, counseled me and was always there with excellent suggestions. It was at DTH that I started to combine Pilates Mat with ballet. My ballet class was two hours long and I gave Mat to the dancers prior to going to the barre. 

My husband Hiram Cintron and Kathy’s husband Jim Lloyd Grant shared a love for jazz and we all would attend the Blue Note in Greenwich Village and always had a lovely time. But when I sent Hiram, who was taking my Mat classes at Clark Center, to Kathy at Henri Bendel, although she was very fond of him, she intimidated him totally, saying things like, “Is that the way you’re going to do it?” and “What you doing there?” I laughed when he told me. She later told me, “He’s very stiff!”

When my husband was transferred to Puerto Rico in 1977, I accompanied him, and we liked it so much that we stayed for 26 years, and I founded Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico there in 1978. My company toured New York every year. Whether we performed in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, New Jersey or Long Island Kathy would come to see us, and I looked forward to seeing her and hearing her comments and introducing her to the dancers.

Our last get-togethers were at the Pilates Method Alliance conferences, where we would attend each other’s classes. We also did a workshop at Alycea Ungaro’s studio in New York with Kathy Corey and had a good time. We loved working and sharing a glass of wine together, and we always laughed a lot at our many memories of Clara, Joe and Carola.

In all our conversations we would always remember Joe Pilates during the last year of his life, when he would often have his “bad days,” depressed because he had not accomplished his goals of universal acceptance of his Method, and how Clara would give him a hug to comfort him and cheer him up.

“If only he could see the thousands of teachers and millions of people doing the Method,” Kathy would say.  We both agreed that although he probably would not approve of everything being taught as “Pilates,” he would indeed be happy and pleased to see the growth, development and popularity of his work and how it has proved such a wonderful and indeed astonishing contribution to the well-being of society.

This month (May 2010) we spoke on the phone for almost one hour. She was not well and was in a rehabilitation center. She said she felt very confined and bored because she was not allowed to walk unattended since they were afraid she would fall.

“They take me to the gym where they give these stupid exercises for old people,” she said. I laughed and asked her if the trainers knew who she was. She said no. I told her to give them her résumé and demand they give her the most advanced moves.

As our conversation ended, I told her I was on my way to do a conference for Pilates On Tour. She told me to say hello to all and to tell them, “I’m still here.”

Well, my dear friend, you, like Joe, were “one of a kind” and they threw the mold away. You will “still be here,” forever engraved in the hearts, minds and bodies of the thousands who were privileged to know you and learn from all those whom you taught.

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  • Response
    Response: australianwriting
    This very sad news to not Pilate’s community but all the people who have known her. She was great woman in nature and one of the icons to be remembered for the life time. Her service towards the people has brought good name to her. She never failed to fulfill her ...
  • Response

Reader Comments (8)

Oh My! Thank You,Thank You for sharing such a beautiful tribute.

June 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurette Ryan

What wonderful memories of a lovely lady. We can learn from Kathy's rehab hospital experience with the exercises she was given for "old people". Geriatric clients love that we help them realize their full movement potential by using this wonderful Pilates method. Thank you Lolita and thank you Kathy for inspiring us to carry on with this amazing body of work. Now, I must go and do one of Kathy's lovely Cat movements in her honor...and yes, Kathy, "You are still here"

June 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSherri Betz

What a beautiful, moving tribute to Kathy Grant. Thank you so much Lolita for sharing your memories of your long friendship with Kathy.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Anderson

Lolita,thank you so much for sharing your experience with Kathy Grant and your journey and education with Joe, Clara and Carola. I am privileged to know you both.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Hall

Thank you so much Lolita. That was so beautiful and heartwarming. Kathy was lucky to have a friend like you. I hope she knew how much she meant to so many of us as well. She was a genuine inspiration.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Taylor Alpers

Now Kathy is free and will live on in the hearts, minds and bodies of all who she came in contact with.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMargherita Shaw

Thanks Lolita. Kathy was truly one of a kind.

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAl Harrison

I hate to have found out about Kathleen Rusty Stanford, after she has passed away. I first found out about Ms. Kathleen Stanford through some films (soundies) she danced in during the 1940's. I was attracted to her wonderful, graceful dancing and vivacious personality. She wasn't credited for many of her appearances in the soundies, but she was credited in one where she danced with Cab Calloway doing a dance with a funny title, Foo A Little Ballyhoo, and I was so happy to find out this special dancer's name that I had been admiring. Something told me for years, she had to be someone important, but I didn't know her name so I couldn't research her, when I finally found out her name a few days ago, I googled her and I was correct in thinking she was someone special and important, but also sadden that I found out about her too late. She passed on before I could have possibly met her or found out about her amazing career. She was apart of a great entertainment era in Harlem in the 40's, and I currently do research on female dancers like her. I wish I could have met her to let her know of my appreciation of her and to possibly have helped her tell her story. She's one of many unsung black entertainers who contributed to entertainment but haven't received their due. Now that I know about Kathleen Stanford, I will let everyone know about her. I hope I can meet people who knew, I would like to know more about her. My email is dewberrysquish@aol.com

August 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAT

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