On November 24th, 2014 we lost another legend of Pilates: Edwina Seaver Fontaine. Her statuesque presence was familiar to any student of Pilates who worked out or apprenticed at True Pilates (formerly Drago’s Gym). At 85 years old, Edwina was still teaching Pilates up until about 8 months before her death. Having taught Pilates alongside Romana Kryzanowska for decades, she shared a common history with Romana as a dancer for George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. Remembered fondly, Edwina seems to have slipped away with the same quiet grace that characterized her movement. She will be missed.
“Some Gurus sit on mountaintops. For others, life is more of a stretch-as it was for Joseph Pilates, founder of the eponymous studio where dancers (George Balanchine and his troupe among them) and athletes of all stripes go to align their bodies with their perfect wills. Now Romana Kryzanowska, and Edwina Fontaine, two veteran ballerinas, expound their serene but strenuous brand of muscle management to the Nautilus-weary in studios across the United States. Permit us to catch our breath…” – photo by Mary Ellen Mark for “100 Fearless Women”, Mirabella Magazine June 1994
This story, published by Edwina’s landlord and caretaker in her last years tells the sad details of her decline as well as her glorious youth as a dancer. Thank you Arthur Swartz for treating your tenant with such humanity. (Click on the title to view the entire story):
Deciding When It Is Time To Die, by Arthur Swartz, West Village News, Nov 2014
“In the course of getting Edwina in [to an assisted living facility], I had to supply information about her life. She told me that she had changed her name while in the NYC Ballet and that it was originally Edwina Seaver. So I Googled her, and voilà—scores of astounding photos of this gorgeous 20-year-old dancer published by Time Life and others. And as I helped her pack I found dozens more, along with theater programs. She hadn’t been a great star, but she was at the center of the ballet world in 1947, a historic survivor of a cultural renaissance in New York, a student of the great George Balanchine, and a long time teacher of little girls.”
As Arthur Swartz mentions above, there are many photos of Edwina as a young dancer out there, including this 6 page feature from Life Magazine, November 11, 1940:
“In a hundred good schools scattered throughout the country, American girls are now undergoing the rigorous physical discipline required for this newly transplanted art. Shown on these pages is the training of one of them. She is 12-year-old Edwina Seaver who, if promise holds true, will someday enchant the rapidly growing millions of U.S. ballet lovers.”
A ‘Letter to the Editor’ in the next issue of Life Magazine mentions Edwina by name. It captures the culture of the time where dance was seen as an unsuitable activity for women. Thank you Edwina for “squirming and fidgeting” your way into history. We’re grateful for women like you and Romana for making it okay for women and men alike to express themselves, strengthen their bodies and enjoy movement.
Memories of Edwina
“Our Dear Edwina was a proud Balanchine dancer who came to Pilates thru Romana’s encouragement. With sheer elegance and little tolerance for imperfection she became a teacher alongside mother for decades in the studio. They pioneered the path for retired dancers to consider teaching Pilates. We will miss her elegant artistry and love of classical movement in Pilates.” – Sari Mejia-Santo, daughter of Romana Kryzanowska, Romana’s Pilates
“I felt we had a connection perhaps because we shared a similar past in dance? Never questioned it. She was soooo funny! I’ll remember Edwina for her sense of humor, grace and our mutual respect. Loved her!” – Cynthia Lochard, Cynthia Lochard’s Pilates Method Studio & Romana’s Pilates
“For 16 years I enjoyed the time in studio with Edwina. Observing and experiencing her sharp eye and fine tuning of Pilates was quickly recognized by Romana and Sari. She inspired so many apprentices, teachers and private clients. May you rest in Peace and Love.” – Moses Urbano, StudioMo
“Edwina was as much a part of Drago’s/True Pilates as the walls that hold it up. She was always there with such a gentle hand and a soft word. She knew and loved the work inside and out, and never sought more than a place to work and people to work with. I remember when Pilates Style came to shoot and interview her… she was so shy. While waiting for her photo to be taken she and I reminisced about dance, as we often did. the light in her eyes became bright and you could see the passion that lived inside this eloquent woman. when the lights were turned on her, she pulled herself tall, as she often did, and her beauty shone. I was blessed to have know her and shared this work with her. Romana often spoke of her love for Edwina… well now they can reminisce together and dance Swan Lake all night long.” – Kathryn Ross Nash, American Body Tech
“I have the memory of Edwina as a warm person, who embraced me as soon as she heard that I came from Holland. Her dance partner was Job Sanders, my old ballet teacher on the Dance Academy in Rotterdam (the Netherlands) where I did my dance education. Of course she enjoyed dancing with him and had fun memories to share, which gave me such a great insight about my ballet teacher. In Drago’s gym, Edwina would come in on the afternoons to teach, and I would stay to get a feel for her strength in teaching the work, with such a tremendous softness, but detail, and so knowledgable. She showed tremendous finess in especially the mat that was very inspiring to me. And after certification, as I would return yearly to Drago’s, she would always take time to ask how I was and all was going :). A beautiful lady, ex-dancer who taught us with elegance and grace. That’s how I remember Edwina.” – Marjorie Oron, De Pilates Studio & Romana’s Pilates
“I remember Edwina during the early days at the 56th Street Studio. Edwina had regal Pilates posture and I can see her in front of a full-length mirror posing like a model—turning from side to side, checking herself out. She would look to the right and then the left admiring herself with hands on hips. This pose occurred rather often. When I think of her now, that image comes to mind.” – Gail Eisen, Co-author of The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning
“Edwina always said if you do nothing else do the wall She always said that is what Romana said.” – Carol McGuire, Co-Owner of True Pilates
“Oh sweet Edwina. I really adored her. I worked for a summer at Drago’s taking her clients while she was away. They were all so attached to her. I learned about client loyalty that summer. Before she left I taught a few of her clients with her and she offered her advice as I taught. She was most emphatic that her students be taught independence, that they come to “feel” the work in their own bodies and not depend on their instructor. From her I learned to only lay hands on clients when absolutely necessary and that there is no reward like discovering your ability without anyone’s help.” – Alycea Ungaro, Alycea Ungaro’s Real Pilates
We welcome you to share memories of Edwina in the Comments section below.