Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born on the 8th December 1880, in Mönchengladbach, near Düsseldorf. As a child he suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. That was the reason he started early with body training, gymnatics, body building and skiing. He was very interested in far eastern methods such as yoga and zen meditation.
In 1912 he went to England and earned a living as a boxer, a circus performer and trained Police Officers for Scotland Yard in self-defense. As a German he became interned in England during WWI. In this time he began his concept that he then called „Contrologie“ and taught the other prisoners. It is said that all the people he worked with survived the influenza pandemic of 1918 due to strong body constitution.
After the war Pilates returned to Germany. At the time he worked with Rudolph von Laban, a visionary of movement and modern dance. Because he trained the police of Hamburg, he was requested to train the German army. Unhappy with the political situation in Germany he decided to emigrate to New York.
On the boat to New York he met the young nurse, Clara. She became his wife and helped develop his method. In New York success came quickly. A lot of his clients were from New York's high society, such as Vivien Leigh, Katherine Hepburn & Sir Lawrence Olivier. People of all different backgrounds were his clients.
At this time the dance scene discovered him. He taught stars from the dance world, George Balanchine, Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Dennis, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm. Many of his first generation teachers, such as Carol Trier, Eve Gentry, Romana Kryzanowska, Ron Fletcher, Kathleen Grant, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel were his dance clients.
Joseph Pilates worked individually and was extremely creative. He designed special exercise programs for his clients. He taught into old age and wrote books about his method. He died at the age of 84 in New York.