“Bite your hips, not your lips” – Romana-isms to live by


We loved this piece that Pilatesology member Christl Marcontell wrote for her blog. So in honor of Romana’s birthday, we’ve reposted it here. Visit Christl at her lovely studio in Seattle at Kinesia Pilates.

I teach Romana’s Pilates. When I tell people that I teach Pilates they never ask what style. In the mind of the general public Pilates has become a generic term – “such as yoga or karate”. However within the Pilates community it is sometimes a bilious issue. Is it Classical? Is it Contemporary? Which is better? Is one “dangerous”? I think it is fair to say that other physical disciplines with a lineage (such as Yoga and Karate) have the same lines of discord.

First Generation

Romana on the Swedish Bars (photo credit: unknown)

Romana Kryzanowska started training with Joe Pilates as a teenage dancer from Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. When I met her she had been teaching for over six decades. She was in her 80’s, a tawny-maned Lioness with a throaty voice who punctuated her teaching with dynamic humor and playful teasing. She was a feisty, insightful healer. When she walked into a room everyone grew two inches, no-one would dare slouch in her presence. If you were sloppy she would let you know, and when you showed control and mastery she would give you a sweet smile and teach you something new.

I have met very few people as passionate about their mission. Romana’s was to preserve Joe Pilates life-work, and she is credited with keeping it alive after he passed away. To me, she was a healer – body and spirit.

Romana did not like people haphazardly changing The Work, which she viewed as a complete work of genius. As a trained dancer she valued the role of the choreographer, and considered Pilates teachers Rehearsal Directors (Repetiteurs) who can remember the compositions, and keep the spirit and the intent of the Choreographer’s vision.

She said; “if you change it then give it your own name.”

“Body-to-Body Training”

In 2011 Pacific Northwest Ballet presented a re-staging of the haunting fairytale ballet “Giselle.” This ballet originally premiered over 175 years ago, and Artistic Director Peter Boal had restaged it using recently discovered notation of the ballet, combined with other historical notation from choreographers Coralli & Perrot, and Pepita’s original version.

At the Q&A after the ballet I asked Peter Boal if he found many differences between the new notations, and the dance preserved in the repertoire. He said, “as far as the actual choreography goes, the steps and the dynamic, the body-to-body training was exceptionally accurate”. This was a huge affirmation to me that it is effective to preserve original compositions through methodical training.

“The Work”

Romana’s Pilates teacher training remains a personalized apprentice/mentor program. During the apprenticeship our bodies are transformed. Romana said that Joe believed that the teachers of Pilates had to be the example of The Work. Our bodies are our manuals. Our bodies become our memories of the method, and the memories of our teachers are trained into us.

2nd Generation

Stephanie and myself had the great fortune to have been certified by Romana herself. Stephanie apprenticed further with Romana at Drago’s Gym in Manhattan. Gay and Ian were also trained by Romana and certified by her daughter, Sari Mejia Santo.

When she certified us, Romana asked us to keep it pure. She wanted us to match her for integrity, passion, and intensity, and it is something that we strive to do every time we teach.

A few things Romana taught me:

Breath deeply, it improves your posture and makes you healthier and happier.

Never phone it in. Be all the way present or go home and take a nap.

Change the rhythm, the dynamic, the spring settings, to suit the individual.

Each exercise is a pearl, string them together to a beautiful necklace.

Sometimes it’s fun to pick out the all raisins. (Just do your favorites.)

“Bite your hips, not your lips.”

When she came to work depressed once, Joe made her eat pickled Herring from a barrel he kept in the teacher’s lounge. She never pulled a long face again.

Wear a scarf around your throat to alleviate neck-pain. (It worked.)

Learn how to do the Grasshopper on the 2nd Long-Box with the straps. (Still working on that one.)

If you aren’t sweating when you teach the “Rowing Series” you aren’t trying hard enough.

Always have some Champagne on hand.

Cheers Romana, thank you for passing us the torch!


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Alisa Wyatt

Alisa Wyatt

From the Community

  1. Alisa Wyatt

    Alisa Wyatt

    Member since 2011

    I have to add a note that Christl sent to me during the editing of this piece: “Here is one more thing I corrected – Romana was in her 80’s (not her 70’s). Hard to believe! When I first met her she asked me to sit next to her on the Cadillac so she could demonstrate the energy behind “Rowing – Hug”. I was an aerial dancer in my late 20’s and was worried that she was frail…. hahahahaha! She moved me off the edge as she pushed her arms open against me, effectively demonstrating the power of POWERHOUSE!”

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