“Pilates is never going to go out of style.”
This week we celebrate the life of Eve Gentry, born Henrietta Greenhood, on August 20, 1909 in California, USA.
A Pilates Elder, Eve was first and foremost a modern dancer. She remained involved in the dance world for her entire life as a dancer, a choreographer, and a dance teacher. In 1936 Eve moved to NYC, where she joined Hanya Holm Dance Company. Two years after moving to NYC, she choreographed what became her most famous piece; A Tenant of the Street. A piece based on a childhood memory.
Eve was in constant pain, back and knees, from the touring and dancing. A dance friend suggested that she saw Joseph H Pilates. She remembered her first meeting with Joe – he looked at her in a way that gave her the impression of being x-rayed. Then, he “put her through” an entire workout using the Reformer, the mat and various apparatus. It was the first time in 3 years that she felt no pain. She ended the session feeling like she was floating. Eve or as Joe called her, “Eef”, continued her sessions with him and he soon started asking her to assist in teaching.
A radical mastectomy in 1955 left her unable to lift her arms due to the removal of her pectoral muscles. She used the Pedi-o-Pull for a year as “prescribed by Joe” to regain strength and arm movement and was able to return to dance and continue performing. This event had a significant impact on her life. As a Pilates teacher, she helped several women facing a similar situation and fought for the cost of their treatments to be covered by insurance.
As a result of her successful recovery, Joseph and Eve recorded an advanced Pilates workout to present to the medical authorities, on the rehabilitation benefits of Pilates. Bruce Gentry, Eve’s husband and a professional photographer, filmed the session. Sadly, they were told that no one would believe them. To prove the validity of their claim, Eve agreed to perform the same session shirtless, once again filmed by her husband. The plan worked. Unfortunately, once the medical officers found out that Joseph Pilates had no formal physiotherapy education, the project of integrating his work in the hospital fell through. (see link below for the videos.)
In 1968, Eve and Bruce moved to Santa Fe where Bruce got a job at the University of New Mexico. Joseph gave Eve an old fashion mat, a Spine Corrector, two chairs, a Wunda Chair and a High Chair made of metal, and had a Reformer built for her. She set up a studio below her garage and started teaching Pilates to young dancers.
Eve believed that Pilates was a concept, a philosophy, and her students had to learn and understand that concept. To Eve, Pilates was not just a list of exercises to be repeatedly performed; she developed her own work, the Gentry Work, a therapeutic approach to movement. She used it with all her injured clients and it is said that Eve had exceptional diagnostic abilities.
“Pilates is never going to go out of style. So, I have a big feeling of encouragement about the future of Pilates; it’s up to us; we are all responsible. It has to do with cherishing, maintaining, keeping alive our heritage, which makes us, what we are.” Eve Gentry, in a letter to a friend.
Eve passed away at the age of 84 on June 17th, 1994.
Written by Marie-Eve Fairbairn, PAA Committee Member.
Pilates Anytime: Pilates Legacy Project
Eve Gentry and Joseph Pilates a session (creative commons licence): https://vimeo.com/323830406
Original footage of Joseph Pilates working with Eve Gentry: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1638251419692811