In September of 1992 I arrived in New York City from Seoul Korea. I wanted to pursue my studies in dance and luckily I was accepted into the Master’s Program of Dance and Dance Education at New York University. This program combined studies in dance techniques as well as dance related curriculum. I was a foreign student with very poor English vocabulary. I took English courses before taking on the graduate courses at NYU. Due to the language barrier I chose to take courses that would be easier for me to understand but, yet, challenging and fun. My academic advisor suggested that I take dance technique and Pilates which was called “Dance Alignment” at that time. “Dance Alignment” was a required course.
I was totally new to Pilates.
I was totally new to Pilates. Students had to do various movements and learn techniques on the mat as well as learn how to use Pilates apparatus. In Korea I was professionally trained in ballet, modern dance, Korean traditional dance and some jazz technique. I found Pilates very challenging especially the mat work. I struggled with some exercises like “Rolling Like a Ball”.It just did not make sense to me. I had a strong dance background and had mastered a variety of movements yet I could not do some of the Pilates movements. This was very frustrating for me. I was definitely not as dedicated to Pilates then as I am now. I was more focused on the dance aspect of my classes. Ironically, I had to take Dance Alignment II the next semester. Needless to say, I was not very happy, but it was a required course. For the second year I completed my internship in Dance Alignment where I assisted the instructor. So, Pilates would be part of my two year graduate studies at NYU. Still, I was not very interested in Pilates.
“Rolling Like a Ball”
After graduating from NYU, I went back to Korea. I returned to New York to marry a young man I met during my days at NYU. While in Korea he paid me a visit and proposed and since I was in love I returned to the US. I was thrilled to be back in NY and was very happy to be getting married but I had no sense of what I wanted to do as a career. All I knew was that I wanted to work. I started taking dance classes again and taking part in dance auditions in order to save my dance career. The world of dance is very competitive and very age sensitive and I realized I was getting older. One day, a classmate from NYU, Makiko, came to see one of my dance performances. After the performance, she recommended I become a pilates instructor due to the fact that I was physically strong and had a dance background. These would help me in learning the difficult Pilates techniques. All I could think about was that mat exercise “Rolling Like a Ball” which I could not do very well while at NYU.
I became a Certified Pilates Instructor
I was suddenly curious and very excited about this new possibility. Makiko took me to the Pilates studio where she was working. She showed me Pilates apparatus which I was not exposed to at NYU. The most interesting of the group was called Cadillac. I was very intimidated by this apparatus with its straps and springs hanging from the poles. But, for anyone, this apparatus could be a great tool for stretching and strength building. The poles were like upgraded ballet bars to me. I decided to take classes at The New York Pilates Studio. It holds the first and oldest Pilates Teacher Training Certification Program in the USA. I learned the techniques and became a Certified Pilates Instructor.
All of my movements became so much easier and effortless
Makiko told me that Romana Kryzanowska, the renowned protégé of Joseph Pilates, was the master teacher of the Pilates Teacher Training Certification Program at the NY Pilates Studio. Makiko was still an apprentice but ahead of me. She was a wonderful guide as to what I needed to do to finish the program successfully. The program was physically and mentally challenging so I was very fortunate to have someone guide me through it.I started taking lessons in technique so that I could audition for the comprehensive course which was made up of 42 private lessons. Because of my dance background, I was able to perform at advanced levels even before starting the first workshop of the program. I couldn’t wait to meet Romana and show her my technique. I was learning Pilates only to perform in front of others just like with dance. I was also taking dance classes which were being enhanced by what I was learning in Pilates. I could jump and lift my legs much higher as well as hold my balance longer. What surprised me the most was how much stamina and strength I had built. All of my movements became so much easier and effortless. Due to my stronger physical condition, I started to build more self-confidence. I noticed that my posture while walking changed and most importantly my posture as a dancer totally improved. I will never forget my sister’s comment when she picked me up at the airport in Korea. While waiting at the airport she noticed a very familiar young lady walking toward her. She was simply glowing and her posture and walking style reflected a wonderful sense of confidence. Then she realized that it was me, her sister!
I passed the auditions to enter the program at the NY Pilates Studio. I was thrilled with this great accomplishment. The NY Pilates Studio had two locations which could be used toward accumulating apprenticeship hours. The main studio was located at 2121 74th Street on Broadway and the other one was on 57th Street which was called Drago’s Gym. Romana was the teacher at this location from 7am to 1pm Monday through Friday. Makiko told me about Romana and how she was very well respected in the world of Pilates but that she was also very strict and passionate in her instruction. I was extremely nervous to meet her but excited to see her teach. The program required 600 apprenticeship hours before testing for completion of the program. I was counting 600 hours in self practice, observation of teaching, teaching practice and lessons at the studio. I was getting close to 300 hours but still had not met or seen Romana. I still believed I was not ready mentally or skill wise to meet her. I heard so many wonderful things about her. I believed I could never measure up to her. One day, my supervising teacher, Bob Liekens said to me “Junghee, why don’t you go to Drago’s and see Romana? You must learn so much from her. Don’t be scared. She will love you.” He read my mind.
Romana was the encyclopedia of Pilates
I was very nervous my first day at Drago’s. I wanted to make sure that I presented myself with confidence and knowledge. As I entered Drago’s I looked around for some type of direction. It was quiet obvious that I was a stranger in that studio. Romana and her daughter, Sari, came over right away to greet me and asked me “How can I help you?” I introduced myself “Hello, I’m Junghee and I’m a new apprentice. It’s my first time here and I don’t know what to do.” Then Romana said “I’m Romana and this is my daughter Sari.” I was a little bit in shock to meet Romana for the very first time. Her eyes sparkled like shinny crystals and I could see that she was a very special and extraordinary woman. She had a very powerful aura about her. She was in her 70’s, very wise and stood very straight with her feet together in a pilates stance. Romana was very meticulous in her explanation as to where the dressing room was, where I should put my bag and most importantly what was expected of me at the studio. She spoke slowly and very clearly.
I was thinking that she must recognize that I am a foreigner from my thick accent and she must also have many foreign students which meant she would know how to communicate with me. I truly felt her kindness and generosity come through. I had such a deep respect for her. Yes, as soon as I met Romana I knew she would always have a significant effect on my life. As soon as I looked into her eyes I felt warmth just like you feel when you look at your own mother. I knew she was going to bring my Pilates knowledge and skills to another level. I knew she would be my mentor from the first day I met her. On my first day at Drago’s I saw some familiar faces from the NY Pilates studio. After some time, Romana looked at me and another apprentice and said “I have a cancellation. Would you like a lesson now?” We excitedly said “yes.” The other students said to us “You guys are so lucky. This is very unusual.” I was very anxious during the workout and actually had butterflies in my stomach. The session was at an intermediate level and as a duet. I was still not totally confident with my skill set, but I was in great physical condition and had a great desire to learn. My weakness was the language barrier. The only thing I could show this amazing woman was my physical strength and openness to learning. I wanted so much to earn her respect and acceptance. She was considered one of the best in the instruction of Pilates. I was still very young and continuously learning. Romana was interested in my dancing and did ask me about it on a couple of occasions. She knew I came from the dance world. She was a very perceptive individual.
I continued to attend my study at Drago’s. I was at the studio every day from 7am until Romana left at 1pm. I started taking her lessons on a regular basis and whenever possible. I felt like Romana was the encyclopedia of Pilates and I wanted to learn everything that I possibly could from her because I knew that she would not be around forever. I was right. She moved to Texas in 2004 and did not return to NYC. I consider myself truly blessed and fortunate to have trained directly with her for my apprenticeship. I believe that timing is everything in life and I was at the right place at the right time when I met her.
Once on a while, at the end of the day, Romana would ask each apprentice “What did you learn today?” She pointed to an apprentice and each had to answer. She would show disappointment and frustrations if anyone was not able to answer the question and she would say, “I don’t understand, you were in this studio for hours and you didn’t see or learn one single new thing?” She wanted every apprentice to learn something new with each day. She wanted us to be focused and creative thinkers. Part of the training was to also be aware of your surroundings as well as becoming a Pilates instructor. It is about being aware of yourself and everyone else surrounding you. We were not only learning Pilates techniques but how to be an instructor to clients as well as other students. In the studio we were students learning to be instructors. What you learned in that studio would stay with you for a lifetime. How wonderful to have such a great learning opportunity! I didn’t realize it until much later in life.
A more positive, healthy and happy way of life
Time goes by, and I continue to reflect back on those days and I am still learning from Romana, more now than before. I can hear her speak to me in her deep voice, teaching me new things every day. I truly miss her! Even though she is no longer here, she continues to teach and be an inspiration to me. I learned very much just from being at Drago’s studio. I saw elder individuals, hair totally gray, moving with such ease almost like gymnasts. When I saw these people, I started taking Pilates instruction a lot more seriously and continued to enhance my skills in Pilates technique. I wanted my life to be free from pain just like these individuals. Moving freely is beautiful and such a healthy way of life. Through Pilates you can achieve your dream of true physical and mental health. It will motivate you to pursue a more positive, healthy and happy way of life. Pilates teaches you how to reach this goal. Pilates is not just about learning exercises it is learning about yourself as an individual and enhancing your physical as well as mental wellbeing.
My memories of Romana and Drago’s are like a child’s fantasy of a magical world where dreams come true. She was able to help so many people just through her positive energy. When she walked into a room everyone would just continue working but in a much more peaceful manner. Just her presence changed the entire atmosphere of the room. There was a stillness and peacefulness about her. I still have a vivid memory of a little boy with polio struggling with an exercise and when Romana went to him he stood up and held the Magic Circle between his hands no longer struggling with it. She did not touch him or help him in any way. Her energy was that strong. I was far away and watched as this scene took place. It really surprised and touched me.
Romana instilled a power in us to trust and believe in ourselves. She was able to make us do things that we thought we did not have the ability to do. During one of the lessons she asked me to do the hanging exercise on the Cadillac, a Pilates apparatus. I had to jump and place my feet onto the dangling small fuzzy straps while holding the parallel poles, which to me was impossible to do. I told her, “Romana, this is not the way I learned it in the workshop”. She said, “I remember exactly how uncle, Joe (Joseph Pilates) taught me. Do it now.” I didn’t have a choice. Romana was asking so I had to try it. I took a deep breath and I did it! Again, it was magic. Romana always managed to pull you to a higher level.
New York City was not the same
After completing the program, I worked at the NY Pilates Studio in New York City. Then on September 11, 2001 the tragic disaster took place where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. Many people lost their family members and friends. New York City was not the same. People were just sad and trying to pick up the pieces. I started missing my family and my life in Korea. I didn’t want to live in New York any more. At that time, my husband was in another country for his PhD research. I received a call from a colleague of Kyung Hee University. I went regarding new PhD Program in dance was opening and my previous professor invited me to apply for the PhD Program of Kyung Hee University in Seoul, Korea. She heard I was doing Pilates in the US and that I should bring Pilates to Korea. No one was familiar with Pilates in Korea at that time. I got into the PhD program at Kyunghee University in Seoul. My new chapter in life began.
Pilates in Korea
I met my business partner, Dr. Kim MD, through Official Journal of Korean Society of Dance Science. We opened the very first Pilates studio and I brought the Power Pilates Teacher Training Certification Program to Seoul. It was an immense struggle to bring the program from the US because I needed to choose what aspect of the program to introduce in Korea. There was an issue with the NY Pilates Studio and the separation of Romana whereby she was creating her own new program. So, there was much chaos between The NY Pilates Studio and Romana’s Pilates.
Dr. Kim and I were anxious to bring the US Pilates certification program to Korea. Our new studio was opened and I worked by myself. The studio was growing fast and we needed more teachers. I was extremely busy with teaching undergraduate students, attending the PhD Program and teaching at the pilates studio. Many people were curious as to why I was back in Korea. TV broadcasting companies, magazines and newspapers started to reach out to me. Yes, I was popular and was approached by many business individuals asking me to switch partners. I was very young and had no business background. I was just a formal dancer, PhD student and pilates instructor. After living in the US for 10 years, being back in Korea resulted in a bit of a culture shock. I had changed while in the US. I adapted to the American culture quite well. I felt like a foreigner in Korea even though I spoke Korean fluently. Actually, even today I speak Korean fluently and am not fluent in English. Another issue was that my last name was Kallander from my previous marriage. I was born in Korea lived in Korea, yet needed a visa to live, work and study in Korea as opposed to the fact that I had American last name and was an USA citizen.
Back to the USA
After three years and a separation from Dr. Kim I decided to move back to the US. I continuously struggled with the business partners, the heavy responsibility of the daily management of the business and most importantly my struggle to keep Pilates pure and at the forefront. I felt the burden become heavier and heavier with time. I was burned out by the excessive amount of responsibilities I took upon myself and/or were expected of me. I felt truly lonely, missed my time with Pilates and my friends back in NY.
I felt that my work in Korea was not successful and that I was running away from the problems. In my mind I was a failure. I was in a desperate situation. I still had Pilates and I turned to it. Pilates was the one thing that I loved doing and gave me comfort. I realized that business and politics were not worlds I want to be part of. I am an artist and being in a creative and nurturing environment is what truly drives me and makes me happy. I was truly torn and my heart was breaking for the fact that I did not complete my work in Korea. I wanted to leave something behind that reflected my love for Pilates.
Finally, I came to the realization that I educated my students well. I showed them my love for Pilates and left them with the same sense of passion for it. I showed them how important it is to truly love what they do and that would reflect in their Pilates instruction to others. Today, they are still teaching Pilates in Korea and some have opened their own Pilates studio. I’m so proud of them and feel good about being the driving force behind their success. I am also very proud of completing my PhD theses in 2005. My PhD study was one of earliest studies in Pilates. I could not find any PhD research materials in Pilates at that time. I’m truly proud of my work. My PhD theses title is The Effect of Pilates Method on Dancers’ Cognitive Style and Body Awareness. I wanted to prove the philosophical beliefs of Joseph H. Pilates on health. My PhD study proved that Pilates reformed the quality of life through balance of mental and physical exercise.
I am blessed to have found my way to Pilates
After all of the trials and struggles, these quotes remains very dear to me ‘Sometimes you fall down, because there is something down there that you are supposed to find.’ ‘Happiness and Trial come together.’ ‘People cry, not because they’re weak. It’s because they’ve been strong for too long. I’m back in the US and still teaching Pilates. I never stopped teaching Pilates. I teach Pilates for the love of it and hope that my knowledge can bring forth a new sense of mental and physical wellbeing to each of my clients. I was the key to Pilates being introduced in Korea and through my teachings I left a legacy for many generations to come. I am very happy at my current studio. I don’t have my family at my side because they live in Korea but I have my Pilates friends and my work which I love. I am blessed to have found my way to Pilates and to be standing, today, as a teacher. I also travel around to teach Pilates to the Pilates instructors internationally as well. I’m happy to share my knowledge to new Pilates instructors who will live with the passion like I do.