Melissa Rathbone began studying with Kathy Grant in 1989 when she was a 3rd year dance student at Tisch School of the Arts. She studied with Kathy until Kathy's retirement in 2010. She credits her work with Kathy as the key thread that kept her body aligned and strong as she pursued modern dance and then a career in massage therapy. Melissa became a licensed acupuncturist in 2003 and maintains a private practice in Manhattan. She feels very fortunate to continue her pilates studies with Blossom.
What made you go to KSG in the first place? How long did you stay?
It was 1989 and I was in my last year in the dance dept at NYU. I knew someone named Kathy Grant was working with people in a tiny studio, tucked away on the 5th floor (the studios, classrooms and theater were on floors 2-4) and I was curious. Students with injuries were allowed to work with her one on one. I didn't have an injury but I was struggling with the program and whoever was in charge of the referrals agreed that I could see her. I was lucky enough to study with Kathy until she retired.
Did KSG ever make up an exercise for you? If so, what was it? Do you still do it?
A lot of my work with Kathy, especially in the earlier years, was focused on immobilizing my shoulder blades. She used to say I used them for everything walking, talking... everything.
She would have me lie face down on the raised mat with my arms extended out at 90 degrees. She'd put a tennis ball in one of my hands and then she would kneel down and use both of her arms and all of her weight to pin down 1 of my shoulder blades. If there was someone else in the studio, she'd ask them to pin down the other. Then she'd tell me to lift the tennis ball without using my shoulder blades. She'd kneel there and I'd lie there struggling to lift that ball even an inch. I'd start to think about moving and she'd grip my shoulder blade harder and say sharply, "No. That's not it. No. Find somewhere else." Over and over. Sometimes in a sing song voice, she'd say, "It doesn't weigh that much." I'd try again and she'd pin me again. "Nope," she would say.
We could be there for quite a while. She would say, "I'm not patient, but I don't give up." Perfect description of her approach to teaching. I can still physically recall the feeling of finally being able to lift that freakin' ball. Definitely one of my favorite victories!
Is there something in your movement practice or teaching practice that came from or evolved from a movement or an image from Kathy Grant?
When my hip flexors get too tight, I lie on my back with my knees bent and my feet flat on the floor. I use Kathy's image of twirling pasta around a fork to engage my lower abdominals and as the fork turns, my knee can follow that motion and float up toward my chest. No hip flexor engagement, just a big fork twirling pasta to lift a knee.
Do you recall a correction she gave to you? Or some comments she had about you and your body?
Kathy had eyes in the back of her head. She could be working very intently with another person in the studio, but if you decided to just roll through an exercise because it wasn't your favorite or you couldn't quite remember it and thought you could get away with it because she wasn’t focused on you, you'd always hear, "What was that?" as soon as you finished. She saw everything.
What do you think is an important thing for people to remember about Kathy?
She was an undiscovered national treasure.
How do you think Kathy would feel about the current atmosphere of the Pilates world?
I don't know what she'd think about the Pilates world, but I know she'd be furious about the current political situation. As a black woman who lived her early years in Boston, Kathy was on the receiving end of a lot of harshness and discrimination. Having to see this man hold the office of the president would make her apoplectic.
If you could ask Kathy one more question, what would it be?
I would ask her to please tell me her entire life story in detail starting with day one.