Lolita San Miguel
I was born in New York City of Puerto Rican parents on October 9, 1934 and when I was 3 years old we moved to Puerto Rico. There I started studying dance at age 7 and loved it. When I was 11 we traveled to New York so I could attend the summer courses at the School of American Ballet. My father died of a heart attack 4 days after we arrived and my mother decided to remain in New York. I trained in ballet at the School of American Ballet and also studied other forms of dance such as Spanish, Modern and Jazz, as well as piano. I graduated in 1952 from Performing Arts High School, a wonderful school that pioneered the concept of combining the arts with a formal education.
Upon graduation I joined the Slavenska – Franklin Ballet Company and toured the U.S. on a bus for 48 weeks doing mostly one night stands. It was a wonderful experience for a young dancer. I was also a member of the Robert Joffrey Ballet and the Ben Harkarvy Ballet Companies. Both Robert Joffrey and Ben Harkarvy had been my teachers at Performing Arts High School. Among the many places I performed, I often danced at Jacob’s Pillow in Lenox, Mass. Jacob’s Pillow would become more meaningful to my life since Ted Shawn, the center’s Director, was a good friend of Joseph Pilates who taught there often. The company that I founded Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico would also perform at The Pillow many, many years later.
I then joined the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in 1954 where I became a soloist, married the Concertmaster of the Orchestra in a much publicized wedding and had the enormous privilege of working with the great stars of the Rudolf Bing years. Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson were a few of the wonderful stars with whom I shared the stage. The Met was my “University” and my home during more than 10 years.
While at the Met, in 1958, I suffered a knee injury and was taken to Dr. Henry Jordan at Lenox Hill Hospital. Dr. Jordan was Chief Orthopedic Surgeon and enjoyed treating dancers. He told me I did not need surgery but he recommended I keep the quadriceps strong in order to protect the knee joint and suggested I go to Carola Trier’s Pilates Studio. Carola Trier had been trained by Joseph Pilates. She was an ex-dancer and acrobat and her studio in Manhattan was frequented by dancers and athletes in need of fitness and rehabilitation. Ms. Trier had two assistants working for her Romana Kryzanowska and Kathleen Stanford Grant.
That was my introduction to The Pilates Method and the beginning of a romance, which has lasted till the present, more than 59 years as I write. After being a client of Mrs. Trier for many years she suggested that when I stop dancing, I become her apprentice to teach The Pilates Method. I apprenticed with her for 520 hours, (26 weeks , 20 hours a week) under the auspices of New York State University Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and I became the only person that Carola Trier ever certified. One day speaking to her assistant, Kathy Grant, I discovered that Joseph Pilates was alive and had his studio several blocks away from Carola’s at 939 Eighth Ave.
Kathy, who knew Mr. Pilates, and I decided to go see him and request he train and certify us as teachers of his method, under the same Department of Vocational Rehabilitation sponsored by New York State University. Off we went and I met my idol Mr. Joseph Pilates who was in his 80’s, a strong white-haired gentleman in black shorts and white Turtleneck with a pronounced German accent and his lovely, gentle, petite wife Clara, who always wore a white nurse’s uniform. I attended regularly for over a year. We worked out, observed, and assisted clients.
My apprenticeship with Carola Trier and Joseph Pilates of 520 hours each could be stretched out to fit our schedules. Kathy Grant assisted in the mornings to Mr. Pilates before she went to work at Carola’s. I apprenticed with Ms. Trier and Mr. Pilates in the afternoons since I had a baby and it was personally more convenient. We kept track of our hours on sheets of paper that were collected by New York State University I assume, they paid them, but I never inquired how much or any other details. At Ms. Trier’s and Mr. Pilates Studios I did Mat, exercised on all the apparatuses under the supervision of Carola Trier, Kathy Grant and later Clara and Joseph Pilates, Bob Seed, and Hannah Sakamirda. We learned by listening, observing, and remembering. The same way as I had learned dance and choreography all my life. I was quick at getting the box, straps, pole or whatever a client needed. I followed them “like a shadow” and was always alert and receptive, healthy and fit. I was there to learn more and was paying a person to be at home. This training has served me all my life and at 81 I have an excellent memory. I received my certification from Mr. Pilates on February 2, 1967. That same year Joseph Pilates died two months short of his 84th birthday. Kathy and I are the only two people he ever certified to teach his method. From the time I started doing Pilates I incorporated it into my ballet classes. I also taught Ballet and Pilates at the Metropolitan Opera House, Ballet Hispánico of New York, Clark Center for the Performing Arts, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and my alma mater, Performing Arts High School. I still practice Pilates daily.
I remarried and moved to Puerto Rico in 1977 where I founded Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico, the island’s finest ballet company, a school, The Conservatory of Ballet Concierto and Pilates y Más, a Pilates studio. Everyone who attended Ballet Concierto practiced Pilates as part of their training, from the 4 yr. olds starting with Creative Movement to the professional dancer. During my years in Puerto Rico, I taught over a thousand teachers, clients, chiropractors, doctors, children and dancers the Pilates Method.
After the trial in New York City that established The Pilates Method as generic, I was invited to go to Miami by Kevin Bowen and Colleen Glenn for a Pilates community gathering. There The Pilates Method Alliance was born. Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, Mary Bowen and I were named “elders.” There I met Dr. Brent Anderson, President of Polestar Pilates and invited him to come to Puerto Rico to impart his training to my teachers and myself. I have always felt that The Pilates Method has to be kept alive and growing and that sport sciences and kinesiology have made great advancements that benefit our clients. I am a firm believer in continuing education and my advice is “Never Stop Learning.”
Dr. Brent Anderson and his excellent associate Shelly Power came to Puerto Rico and personally imparted the Polestar Pilates Method, which is especially valuable for those interested in applying The Pilates Method to special conditions and rehabilitation. The Faculty and I were also certified comprehensively by Polestar Pilates Education. This was an awesome experience for me, which rekindled my love for The Pilates Method.
In 2005 I retired as Artistic Director of Ballet Concierto at age 70 and have since dedicated my time and energy to teaching The Pilates Method internationally. I also enjoy working as a presenter with Pilates on Tour, The Pilates Method Alliance and Internationally.
In 2009 I began a new phase as a teacher with the Lolita San Miguel Pilates Master Mentor Program. The two-year program for certified teachers with three years of teaching experience has brought me excellent, devoted teachers from all six continents. They bond beautifully since they are all truly passionate about The Pilates Method. They named themselves “Lolita’s Disciples™” and they will be imparting my legacy to many others through my training program. They bring me great joy!
In May 2009 I started my first Pilates Master Mentor Program group in Europe attended by teachers from Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Finland, Holland and Germany. During the course of the training we travelled to Mönchengladbach, Germany to celebrate Pilates Day at the Frederick The Great Hall with a free mat class attended by 150 persons from neighboring countries. I was shocked to learn that Joseph Pilates was not known in his hometown. The next year, I celebrated another Pilates Day Conference at the Haus Erholung venue in Mönchengladbach with another free mat class attended by 250 persons. During this time, I was working with the town officials to find a site for a statue or plaque commemorating him.
One of the most memorable moments of my life occurred on May 7, 2011 when a large group of Pilates teachers, devotees, my Disciples and I placed a plaque honoring Joseph Pilates at the site of his birth in Mönchengladbach. The unveiling of the plaque was performed by the Mayor of Mönchengladbach, the Honorable Norbert Bude and was attended by other officials as well as by Joseph Pilates’ great grandnephew Wolfgang Pilates, who still resides in the town. To my delight, now when you speak to the townspeople, they are aware of their renowned compatriot. I also organized and celebrated in May, 2012 and 2013 the International Pilates Day Conference and a memorial ceremony at the site of the plaque. Since May, 2015 Pilates Day International Heritage Congress in Mönchengladbach has become an every other year event honoring Joseph Pilates in the town of his birth.
In 2005 I moved from Puerto Rico to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida with my husband. I have a beautiful, large, and fully equipped studio within the facilities of Florida School for Dance Education at 4100 PGA Blvd. Palm Beach Gardens 33410. Here the Pilates Master Mentor Program and Lolita’s Legacy are taught by myself, Disciples and teachers trained in Lolita’s Legacy.