The 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.
Response: australianwritingThis 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 ...