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Romana Kryzanowska’s students remember the life of the Pilates pioneer

Romana Kryzanowska
Brooke Siler with Romana Kryzanowska.

On August 30, Pilates luminary Romana Kryzanowska passed away, at age 90.

Kryzanowska was one of Joseph Pilates’ most dedicated students, and she is widely credited with passing down and popularizing the most pure form of his method around the world—and for doing it with spunk.

Many of the new guard of renowned instructors around the country, including Brooke Siler, Mari Winsor, and Alycea Ungaro, trained with Kryzanowska.

A memorial service will be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where she was married in 1944) on Friday, September 13 at 4:00 p.m., followed by a celebration of her life at True Pilates on West 57th Street.

To remember the life of Kryzanowska and pay tribute to her incredible impact on the Pilates and wider fitness worlds, we asked some of her most renowned students to share their reflections.

Brooke Siler
Re:Ab Pilates

I started training with Romana in 1994, at the age of 26, and studied directly with her for 10 years including sitting on the Pilates Guild board of directors with her during that time. I have SO many incredible memories from my years with Romana that to pick just one is impossible, but I can say that the mischievous twinkle in Romana’s eye always let you know she was going to give you the toughest workout…with a giggle and a grin! Romana was definitively the keeper of the Pilates flame. And while many talented teachers worked with Joe, without Romana, Joe’s original work would have been lost!

Alycea Ungaro
Real Pilates

I trained with Romana beginning in 1993, until she left New York. One of my fondest memories of Romana was seeing her demonstrate moves daily with profound ease and power. She would jump on the Reformer at a moment’s notice and demonstrate a move in her silk jogging pants as though it were the simplest thing in the world. A particular series known as the Stomach Massage requires the student to sit at the very edge of a moving carriage and press the legs against maximum Spring Tension. Done sitting, this move is affectionately called the “pants remover” as you can sometimes slip back as your pants slip forward and under you. But not Romana! She’d complain that the students weren’t using their Powerhouse (abdominals) and move the carriage at top speed, her waistband intact the entire time.

For those of us who knew her personally, she taught us to be better at everything. To strive harder, to work longer, to rise early, spring into action, work out with zest and have a glass of champagne every Friday to celebrate yourself and your friends. It’s hard to write about her in the past tense. I speak her words every day when I teach, and hear her words every day when I work out.

Kryzanowska with Mari Winsor, Daria Pace, and Karen Winselmann. (Photo:
Kryzanowska with Mari Winsor, Daria Pace, and Karen Winselmann. (Photo:

Mari Winsor
Winsor Pilates, Gaiam’s Pink Ribbon Pilates

I started my training with Romana at the end of 1992, glued myself to her side, and I received my certification in New York in the summer of 1993. I continued to study with her as long as she was able, and I hear her instruction in my head and feel it in my heart every day.

She used to love to entertain her students and friends in her home. I have many memories of having dinners with her in the little restaurant downstairs from her five-flight walk-up apartment.

Romana was always dedicated to the true work of Joseph Pilates. I always remember her saying when asked a question outside of the Pilates method: “I only teach Pilates.” She was a sassy one, but her joy of the work and her love of life and people were infectious to all. She left an amazing legacy, something that I hold precious in my life. Her legacy will live on as the best Pilates instructors in the world were trained by her.

Susan Moran
Power Pilates

I trained with Romana from August 1989 until January 1990, daily from 7:00–11:00 a.m. There was no manual; I took copious notes and hung on her every word. She was extraordinary, lovely, and so generous with her knowledge and passion. She was also very stern, as she wanted me to be the best teacher I could be.  I am forever grateful for those quiet moments I had with her alone. There was no formal training program; it was “old school.” As a dancer, I craved the knowledge and discipline she demanded of me, all from a place of wanting me to maintain the authenticity of Pilates as she knew it.

Pilates has been in my life since I was 18, and now at 48, I attribute my health, wellness, and zest for life to Pilates and the passion and dedication I experienced from Romana. She will forever be a part of who I have become through this wonderful method!

Brett Howard
Pilates Haus

I trained with Romana from 1997–2003. I remember when I was an apprentice, I had arrived early to Drago’s Gym one day before the studio opened. I decided to go have breakfast at a small diner around the corner from the gym. Romana was at the diner having breakfast as well, and asked me to join her. It was just the two of us and we had such a lovely conversation. She was such a warm and nurturing person. Later that day when she was teaching the other apprentices and I, she brought up a point from our breakfast conversation for all of us to consider and learn from. I was amazed and honored that she remembered and had put thought into our earlier discussion. At the end of every day,  Romana would always ask if we learned something and what had we learned. That day I learned how observant of a person she was how important of a quality that was to being a successful Pilates instructor.

Romana had an amazing ability to inspire. She also was the preserver of the Pilates Method. The Pilates industry owes a great deal to Romana and her legacy.—Lisa Elaine Held