Pilates instructor Lynsey Kerr sent me this question by PM on Facebook:
Lately I have been wondering about whether Pilates was money orientated or not. With regards to how much he charged people to teach them his method? Or whether he found his richness in just being able to educate others about his method.
I liked Lynsey’s question, because it’s interesting and not easy to answer…
Let’s start with how much he charged his clients. Until the beginning of the sixties a 45 minutes session in the Pilates Studio on 8th Avenue was 5 US dollars, in the middle of the sixties he raised it to 7 US dollars. Compared to what similar institutions for body workouts like Lotte Berk Method or Nicholas Kounovsky charged for workout small group workout sessions these rates were lower average. No chance to get rich on these rates.
In interviews Joseph Pilates emphasized that money was not important to him: “I don’t care for money. All I want is that everyone should know how to be alive.”, he told Frances Herridge for an article that appeared in PM December 6, 1946.
Did he really not care? To earn money was definitely not the driving force of Joseph Pilates. It was not only that he didn’t charge high rates for workout sessions. He also reinvested almost everything he earned by teaching in his method: he was paying huge amounts of money for patents (he usually patented his inventions in several countries), for film and photographic material (very expensive back then), for the production of his own promotion material and so on. So I don’t think money in itself was very important to him.
When he came to the United States in 1926 Joseph Pilates like almost every immigrant brought along his own American Dream. He expected to succeed in making his method famous – and I think for him this also implied a certain wealth. And even though he kept his studio going for over forty years and won a very devoted and enthusiastic client base, he never managed to cross the line to wide-spread fame and wealth.
Towards the end of his life there were several instances when he got very angry about money. In January 1966 for instance Joseph Pilates aggressively accused Ralph Hollander, a longtime client and friend who had set up the “Pilates Foundation for Physical Fitness, Inc.” with his wife Ingrid Luce Hollander, of not paying him. Hollander hadn’t been paying him indeed, but he had a good reason: Clara had asked him and his wife not to pay anymore, because they were helping them so much working for the Foundation that was trying to spread word about the method, establish an education program and support the Pilates couple in every possible way, also financially.
For me this touchiness when it came to money suggests that Joseph Pilates was not content with his financial situation – and the fact that he was helping so many people teaching them his method and rehabilitating injuries didn’t change that. As he grew older he started feeling he didn’t get as much recognition as he deserved.
So it would be wonderful, if we could say, that he had found his richness in being able to educate others about his method, but I don’t think this was the case. He was proud of his work, but the lack of recognition made him unhappy during his last years. If he had earned more money that certainly wouldn’t have been the solution to everything. But if he had been well off instead of struggling financially, he might have been just a little more content with his lifetime achievements.