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Love All Around – The Romana Kryzanowska Biography A Review by Rebekah Le Magny
Full transparency– Cathy Strack is a dear friend of mine. I am even cited in the credits. This could present a dilemma for me – if the book was anything less than fab. Happily, that is not the case and I present to you, with a clear conscience, my one hundred percent truthful review. I know how much blood, sweat and tears Cathy poured into this book that is the culmination of many years of hard work. Actually, I did not witness any sweating or crying or bleeding, thank goodness, and Cathy did not complain, but I do know that she and her co-author worked tirelessly for years – driving all over the country for research, spending countless hours in libraries, scouring newspaper archives, and interviewing dozens of people. I could say that she worked like a dog, but I live with a nine-month old puppy and the canine work ethic has failed to impress me. During this time, she amassed enough information to fill several books, and I understand that she is already at work on a biography of Joseph Pilates, to be followed by a book about the Elders. Along the way, she rediscovered a lost piece of historical Pilates apparatus, the Resister, which was recently brought to life by Elaine Ewing and Sean Gallagher. Cathy has become the go-to historian for information on Pilates, generously sharing previously unknown facts and clearing up a few myths about Joe. She presents her findings at workshops across the country and is also on Pilatesology.
Although Romana is the centerpiece of the book, the biography traces the paths not only of her maternal and paternal ancestors, but also of George Balanchine and Joseph Pilates, two men who had a profound impact on her life. The stories lead us from Poland (Romana’s father, Roman), Russia (Balanchine), and Germany (Pilates) to America, the land of opportunity, where Romana’s maternal ancestors were among the earliest Quakers to settle in America. Most of the events in the book take place from the early twentieth century to the present day, where Romana’s essence is still omnipresent in the hearts and work of her students, despite the six years that have passed since her death. As an aside, and although this may not be the appropriate venue for a political statement, this biography is a timely reminder that America is a country built by immigrants. Two of the men who played inestimable roles in “making America great,” who shaped the world of dance and physical fitness in America for decades to come, Balanchine and Pilates, were not born in America. Romana herself, although American-born, was the product of a cosmopolitan upbringing with an international flavor.
America in the early twentieth century was an exciting place to be, a country where one could rewrite their destiny. We follow the lives of Pilates, Balanchine and Romana’s relatives (including many aunts and uncles) as they did just that. We see them through career changes, military service, multiple marriages, births and deaths (and we also learn that it was rare to be truthful about one’s age). The biography then delves into the life of Romana herself, following her from Detroit to Puerto Rico, New York to Peru and back to the New York, where she took over the Pilates Studio after Joe’s death. We learn about her childhood, marriage, career and children, and we also discover much about how the Pilates Method, through Romana’s efforts, grew to be the phenomenon that it is today.
The book is meticulously researched, with 688 endnotes. In this day, when much of the information that is available about the life of Joseph Pilates is based on speculation and rumors, and where false information circulates with lightning rapidity on the Internet, it is refreshing and essential to learn from sources that have been authenticated, and readers should really demand no less. A special bonus is the inclusion of several Russian recipes in the book – fitting because good food, together with dancing and entertainment, played an integral role in the lives of many of the subjects in the book, particularly Romana. Romana was famous for breaking out the champagne to celebrate all happy events, big and small.Throughout the book, Cathy manages to recreate a lively slice of life in America. With her descriptions of Romana’s relatives and the exciting lives they led, not only the men but also her many modern, passionate and strong female relatives– her grandmother, Melvina, her mother Sari, and her colorful aunts, it becomes evident how Romana became the person that she was, living each day to the fullest and spreading “love all around”, a phrase Romana was fond of saying. The book wholly succeeds in capturing the effervescence, generosity and warmth that defined Romana. The end is devoted to testimony from many of the teachers who learned under Romana and whose lives were forever touched by the time they spent with her. One of the things that has always struck me is the lasting impression that Romana made upon every single person that met her, no matter how briefly their lives intersected.
Romana Kryzanowska’s mark on the Pilates world is second only to that of Joseph Pilates. Our beloved Pilates Method would not know the success it now enjoys, and thousands of Pilates teachers today would almost certainly be practicing other careers were it not for Romana. This is not to discount the influence of the other elders or to disparage the quality of any Pilates school. However, most of the Pilates training centers today evolved from the Romana lineage, even if many have changed the work. Additionally, Romana was inarguably responsible for bringing the Pilates Method into the public eye, something from which every Pilates teacher in the world, regardless of lineage, has reaped the benefits. A history of the Pilates Method would be sorely lacking without a large portion devoted to Romana Kryzanowska. Romana’s story is an indelible piece of Pilates history that should be read by all Pilates teachers.
Title: Love All Around – The Romana Kryzanowska Biography
Author: Cathy Strack and Carol J. Craig
Foreword by Mari Winsor
Date of Publication: 2019
Reviewed by: Rebekah Le Magny