This digital project is dedicated to preserving the memory of dancer, arts administrator and Pilates elder Kathleen Stanford Grant through the sharing of intimate stories and unique exercises by some of her many students.
- Blossom Leilani Crawford
A Message from Blossom
Kathy Grant was my first Pilates teacher. I was seventeen, a hopeful girl from Hawaii who wanted to be a professional dancer. During my early years with Kathy at New York University, I struggled to understand how she saw what she saw. Kathy was uniquely intuitive. Kate Johnson, a long-time student of Kathy’s sweetly called her “witchy”. What did she see that made her teach that? What was the process that led her to give one exercise to one person and a different exercise to someone else?
I happened to meet her at the right time in my life (I didn’t have children or a business) and in her life (she wanted a daily assistant at her Matwork class). When Kathy passed away in 2010, she did not leave her work to anyone. Even though I spent seventeen years in close contact with Kathy, she did not choose me. I am one student she had, one of the many that she created on in the moment for whatever problem or need the student had.
Other students like Sarita Allen, Jill Williams, Wendy Amos, Kim Haroche and Stephanie Grosse worked with Kathy and came before me, and they worked as closely as she would let them. However, I had the benefit of an older Kathy Grant. She used to joke with me and say that she had mellowed out by the time I got to her. I would laugh because she didn’t seem mellow to me, and I knew that was the truth.
Linda Tarnay, the former chair of the NYU Dance Department, said, “Every friendship with Kathy Grant was hard-won”. Many people were reduced to tears and frustration, myself included. Sometimes, this would prevent people from ever returning to her studio. For me, I understood that she was dealing with her demons and even though she could do things that seemed unkind, she wasn’t trying to hurt me. In fact she was very empathetic and loving and treated everyone the same way. It didn’t matter if you were famous or not, rich or poor--we were all treated the same way. Except for men. Male clients did get extra kindnesses from Kathy Grant. The dance and Pilates world have fewer men and Kathy loved them. I think she enjoyed men that were comfortable being in a world where there was a woman in charge.
I worked closely with Kathy Grant first as her student at NYU for three years seeing her for Matwork classes and private sessions. After graduation, I assisted her during her Matwork class for 10 additional years, three of which I worked without any compensation. It was during this time that Pilates became well known, I got certified to teach Pilates by Romana Kryzanowska, and a lawsuit deemed Pilates as a general term.
After I was a certified Pilates teacher, I continued to bartend! I made more money that way at the time. Also, I didn’t know what to do as a Pilates teacher. I wanted to teach at NYU with Kathy Grant forever, and I would have if she let me. I wanted to accept invitations to teach workshops on the material that I had covered with her for 10 years, but she wouldn’t let me. I had to find my own way. I wasn’t going to end my friendship with Kathy, so I forged a path where I could maintain my relationship with her and figure out my Pilates life. I cried many tears during this time. I didn’t know how to move forward.
Moving forward for me meant opening my own studio, in 2006 and it was the best thing for me. For the first time, I was alone in the studio and had to figure out who I was. By 2008, I was a studio owner with my first child. In 2009, I had my second child. The next year, Kathy Grant died.
Before she died, other people like Jennifer Stacey and Cara Reeser were given permission to teach Kathy Grant material even though both lived thousands of miles away, I did not have her permission. In fact, if I did teach her work, I knew that would be the end to our relationship. She died without giving me her formal stamp of approval. Kathy literally told me that I was her competition! People would ask her to teach around the country and the world. Because of her age, energy level, and her comfort level with teaching workshops, she usually said no. Then if the person asked if I could teach in her place she would be furious. However, when she was ill and unable to teach at the PMA conference, I was the person she would send.
It has taken me years to grapple with this dichotomy. I was unhappy that Kathy Grant didn’t name her successor, but like some Kathy lessons, time and perspective has helped me understand. Kathy could not leave her work to one or even a few people. No one person can know or understand another entirely.
My path to teaching her work is a work in progress. Once Kathy Grant observed me while I taught a class at NYU. She sat quietly and silently while I taught the entire class. Afterward, she had a few things to say. One thing she noticed was a place where I struggled to teach one of her signature exercises. She laughed a little and said, “You were not ready to teach that one were you?” I agreed because I remembered stumbling and attempting to teach the exercise with words that she used. She said “You can’t teach like me, you have to be yourself.”
This has not been the final lesson from my beloved teacher. By the way she left this world and her Pilates legacy, I have found my way to creating this website and blog as an offering. As Kathy’s niece Carolyn Brown Digovich said, “…pay it forward as only you know can, in your own language.”
To know Kathy Grant’s work is to know her through the many people she taught. I hope this brings a new perspective or dimension to who Kathy Grant was and I hope it gives you some inspiration to use in your own teaching or Pilates journey.