I ‘footnote’ Kathy constantly in my mat class. I think the premise I use most often, is the combination of rib cage breathing and transverse abdominus contraction or ‘doming’ as Kathy would call it. I start every class with clients on their stomachs just breathing and accessing and coordinating stability, release and breath.
Karen Gstalder-Dring Bio
Karen Gstalder-Dring MSPT, graduated from Tisch School of the Arts and danced professionally for six years. After an injury in 1986, she met Elder Kathy Grant and began what would become a lifelong journey practicing and teaching Pilates. Along the way Karen earned a Masters degree in Physical Therapy. Since 2000, Karen has run her own private practice where she combines her kinesthetic background with her manual skills in a Pilates-based rehabilitative setting. Karen currently lives in Westchester where she runs KGD Studio, which provides physical therapy, Pilates, yoga, massage and acupuncture.
What made you go to KSG in the first place? How long did you stay?
I was a first-year dance student at Tisch school of the arts at NYU, I had developed bilateral ankle tendonitis. The faculty sent me up to see Kathy at Bendel’s 3 times a week at 7:30am before dance classes started. Kathy made me do mat work with the weighted shoes for the first 4 months before I was deemed strong enough to begin the machines. I continued my early morning appointments all the way through my remaining 2.5 years at Tisch. Kathy lost her lease at Bendel’s the spring that I graduated so I moved on to study with Jean Claude West. By that fall, ‘88 Tisch had hired Kathy. I returned to study with Kathy on and off for the next 20 plus years while I danced.
Did KSG ever make up an exercise for you? If so, what was it? Do you still do it?
I think because Kathy tailored an exercise so much for each individual person, she often made you feel like she was making an exercise up for you. I felt that way about the Horseback on the standing barrel. She would shove that ‘squooshy world ball’ in my crotch and have me lift up off of it. I don’t have a tall barrel in my own studio, but I sometimes adapt that exercise on a physioball for myself. That reminds me, I had to laugh when I gave Kathy her first physioball at a time when she was experiencing a lot of pain (was it hip? I don’t remember). I gave it to her so that she could sit and be more involved in her poking a prodding than what she was able to do from her stool in the corner. I returned a month later and she had created over half a dozen exercises with the ball. So much for her new chair...
Is there something in your movement practice or teaching practice that came from or evolved from a movement or a image from Kathy Grant?
I feel like I am inspired by Kathy daily! While I was studying to become a PT, I went through a painful phase of questioning everything I had known and taught up to that point. As I integrated my new medical paradigm, I recognized that I needn’t throw any past information away. In fact, I am frequently reminded what a self-taught genius Kathy was. I ‘footnote’ Kathy constantly in my mat class. I think the premise I use most often, is the combination of rib cage breathing and transverse abdominus contraction or ‘doming’ as Kathy would call it. I start every class with clients on their stomachs just breathing and accessing and coordinating stability, release and breath.
Do you recall a correction she gave to you? Or some comments she
had about you and your body?
Just how weak I was (and I was!) Sometimes I felt like I would spend 20 minutes just finding my ‘green room’ sit ups. I can still hear “What was that?” when I work out. She also would hound me on breathing. Her telephone sit ups were so ahead of her time….
Do you have a personal memory or story you would like to share?
Oh, some are too personal. But I still can see her gnarled hands furiously wrapped around my feet as she guided my ankles over small balls. I called this work ‘voodoo balls’. I think it had evolved from work on Christine Wright’s ankles? I was in awe of the magic behind it. Now, I realize how the passive and the active assisted range of motion coupled with my mental practice or imagery helped improve my motor planning and create new neural pathway. Again, so amazing how intuitive she was. Her dedication to us and our success was so inspiring.
What do you think is an important thing for people to remember about
How intuitive and dedicated she was. How she embraced new ideas and other perspectives more and more as she aged.
How do you think Kathy would feel about the current atmosphere of
the Pilates world?
I think she would be happy with the growth and sharing of information. She was very supportive of the work evolving.
If you could ask Kathy one more question, or say one more thing to her, what would it be?
That I loved her.
How do you think Kathy would want to be remembered today? Or what do you think Kathy Grant's legacy is?
Kathy was extremely humble but at the same time a proud woman. I think it was important to her for us to remember that she was a black woman who grew up in a segregated country. I remember so clearly when she was slated to speak at a PMA conference and withdrew because it took her out of state during the primaries. When asked about considering an absentee ballot she was aghast. I realized then how I really couldn’t imagine all that she had lived through.
I think that her work lives on in all of us who studied with her. As with her experience with Joe, she tailored the work for each of our unique bodies. Her legacy is in her creative ‘pre-Pilates’ mat exercises, her zany verbal cues and imagery, her intuitive sense of anatomy, kinesiology and physiology, and her zeal for her students to excel.