Filmed at Mind Your Body Studio.
[Kathy] taught me that my bow legs caused my pelvis to be out of alignment, and how my outer calves were built up out of proportion to my inner calves. She created an exercise for me, having me lie prone on the long box on the reformer with different sized ball between my ankles, calves and thighs, and I would simply bend and straighten my knees trying to keep those balls in place. It may sound simple, but it was anything but.
Diana Simkin danced professionally from 1971 – 1980 performing with the Phyllis Rose Dance Company, the Rudy Perez Dance Company and Lenore Lattimore. She received her MA in Dance from the NYU School of Education and her personal training certification from Marymount Manhattan College. She managed and taught at the Jon Devlin Dancercize Studio on 86th and Madison, and from 1974-1982 taught Lamaze classes and ran the Elisabeth Bing (co-founder of Lamaze in the US) pre and postnatal exercise program. She founded and ran Family Focus, Inc, a parenting center, on the Upper East Side, from 1983-1994.
Diana’s first book, The Complete Pregnancy Exercise Program, was published in 1980 and is dedicated to Kathy Grant. Most of the exercises in the book are Pilates-based. Diana’s third book, published in 1990 and co-authored with Beverly Savage is Preparation for Birth: The Complete Guide to the Lamaze Method.
She currently works as a personal trainer and teaches Lamaze and Infant Massage. She continues her Pilates classes at the Mind Your Body NYC studio on the Upper East Side.
What made you go to KSG in the first place?
I was first referred to Kathy back in the 1970’s when I was a modern dancer with a hip injury. At that time her studio was behind the hair salon in Henri Bendel’s department store on West 57th Street. One could always tell who was a shopper and who was going to the studio – we exercisers were the only ones in cloth, not fur coats AND the only ones to walk up the stairs when the elevator was out of order!
I went once or twice a week from the mid-1970’s until about 2002, though I took occasional breaks when she was unkind to me or seemed to ignore me while she focused on newer clients or the NYU students once she moved the studio downtown.
Kathy rarely missed a day of work (even when she was sick) but she did trust me to take charge of the studio a handful of times. She was so exacting about her equipment that even though I knew the studio very well, she would spend an hour going over her attendance book, and specifying where the balls, weights, or sticky mats “lived” the day before I would take over. She also “certified” me as a Pilates instructor though I had not completed any established training programs. It pains me to read that she didn’t certify Blossom as well.
Did Kathy ever make up an exercise for you? What was it? Do you still do it?
One of Kathy’s (many) talents was to discover what caused an injury in the first place – what muscles were overused, and which ones were weak. She taught me that my bow legs caused my pelvis to be out of alignment, and how my outer calves were built up out of proportion to my inner calves. She created an exercise for me, having me lie prone on the long box on the reformer with different sized ball between my ankles, calves and thighs, and I would simply bend and straighten my knees trying to keep those balls in place. It may sound simple, but it was anything but. Balls dropped out constantly, but in the end, I was finally able to keep them in place and achieve proper pelvic alignment and develop balanced calf muscles.
The other exercise that was exceedingly helpful was one that taught me how to lift my legs using my abdominals instead of my over-used hip flexors. She would have me lie on my back with my legs straight and against a wall. Kathy would put her hands on the crease where my legs met my hip and say “No!” every time my hip flexors would pop up as I even THOUGHT about lifting my leg off the wall. I think I spent months working on that until one day my leg actually, magically, DID float off that wall!
Is there something in your movement practice or teaching that came from or evolved from a movement or an image from Kathy Grant?
Goodness – where to begin! Kathy’s training and instruction are a total part of me in both how I move and how I teach. I learned about how crucial touch is as an instructor, the power of imagery, how to work from the inside out, how not to “cheat” on abdominal exercises. She taught me how to make the weaker, smaller muscles stronger with exercises that allowed only the tiniest movement. If my head was a bit off center she might say “Listen with your left ear” and that would do the trick. She taught me that one doesn’t always need to eliminate an exercise if it hurts, but simply to decrease the range of motion or perform it in a different way. When walking was painful I learned that just taking smaller strides could eliminate the discomfort.
I still do and teach the 10 count sit-ups, the wave, pistons, and countless other of her exercises. I think it is Kathy’s training that has kept me able to move (and dance) even though I am now in my late 60’s.
Filmed at Mind Your Body Studio.
Do you have a personal memory of Kathy you would like to share?
One memorable story she told me was about a client who was a window dresser by profession and that while he worked he would step back, lean into one hip and put most of his weight on one leg, putting strain on his whole body. It illustrated for me how important it is to be aware of how one moves during the day, not only in class. I remember when Kathy would start with a new person, she would do a lengthy interview, detailing everything about this person. Then she would understand later that the person’s left side might be weak because that was the lung with pneumonia many years ago.
I also remember when the arthritis in her hands was very bad. She bought herself the game “jacks” and forced herself to toss the ball and pick up those jacks to make her hands move. Her determination to work through any problem started with her and came through in her work with us.
What else can you tell us about Kathy?
Kathy was a feminist before the term was even created. She always had a strong independent streak and was a pioneer in many fields even prior to her career as a Pilates teacher. Though married, she kept her given name, unusual in her day.
She regretted having to stop dancing due to a knee injury that modern surgical techniques would have corrected but that were unavailable when she had her operation. It upset her to no end that her dance career had been cut short.
Kathy was adamant about individualizing an exercise routine. She talked about how different people who worked with Joe Pilates would know different exercises because they were based on what that person needed; how Carola Trier was a “back" person and Kathy was a “knee” person. Kathy gave each of us different exercises and expected us to remember what it was. She couldn’t tolerate students who didn’t remember their personal routine! To avoid her wrath, I created a stack of index cards, with one exercise on each card so that new movements could be added or subtracted as needed without ending up with pages of scribbles.
Though Kathy had a heart of gold, she was quick to anger, especially when she was fatigued, and she had NO patience to hear any of us complain. But we all stuck with her because she worked wonders, especially with people with scoliosis. Her use of balls to correct alignment was magical.
What do you think is an important thing for people to remember about Kathy?
I would hope that Kathy would be remembered and respected as the genius she was. I don’t think Kathy was recognized to the degree she deserved during her lifetime, and it would be great if current and future teachers could know about her, appreciate her contributions and continue her work. Thank you, Blossom!!
How do you think Kathy would feel about the current atmosphere of the Pilates world?
I think that Kathy would have been conflicted. On the one hand, she would have been very pleased that Pilates has become so popular and that it no longer has the reputation of being mostly for dancers.
She would also have been happy to see all the new exercises and pieces of equipment. When stability balls entered the fitness world, she brought one into the studio and made up all kinds of exercises on it. She also experimented with a wooden disc someone brought in and taught us how to use it to stretch our backs or how to stand and outwardly rotate correctly. Kathy was always open to learning and I think her knowledge and expertise would have evolved with the times. She was never satisfied with the status quo.
On the other hand, she would have been appalled by the large group classes now taught at various gyms. She saw the need for standardization but would have disapproved of how large companies such as Power Pilates divides Pilates into Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced categories, and how they discourage touching clients. Kathy was extremely hands-on, and not only individualized our routines, but also HOW we did them – increasing or decreasing our range of motion, changing our position on the equipment or the tension of the springs.