What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a type of conditioning exercise that targets your entire body. It involves strengthening and toning the muscles, with an emphasis on the core. For example, popular socialite Lori Harvey credits the practice for her toned abs. In a viral TikTok video, she says, “I started doing [it] consistently for a year, I’d done it for a few years, but I’ve been more consistent in the last year.”

Health Benefits Of Pilates

Exercise offers a number of health benefits, some of which include:

Strengthens the core
Improves posture
Decreases menstrual cramping
Boosts immunity
Promotes better balance
Increases bone and muscle strength

Because Pilates promotes concentration and body awareness, it also provides ample mental health benefits. Pilates can reduce stress and tension in the body by practicing breathing techniques. It may also improve cognitive function and your overall mood.


Pilates is a popular form of exercise among celebrities, especially white women. Kate Hudson started doing it at 19 years old! And Chelsea Handler says that it changed her life since she discovered it. But even though their stories should be a testament to the working power of the practice, many people are hesitant to try it out.

As a result of these women sharing their positive experiences, there’s a common misconception that the practice is ONLY for rich white women. But this is simply not true.

In fact, Pilates has an interesting Black history that many people don’t know about. Here are five facts about the shocking Black history of Pilates:

A Black Woman Popularized Pilates

Joseph Pilates is a German man with many titles under his belt, including gymnast, bodybuilder, professional boxer, circus performer and self-defense trainer. But what he is most recognized for is being the inventor of Pilates.

He taught Pilates to many people, one of which was Kathleen Stanford Grant, a famed chorus girl and dance captain at the time. When she hurt herself during a performance, she recruited help from Pilates to rehabilitate her injury.

She loved the exercise so much that she began studying under Pilates, who taught her the ins and outs of the practice. After completing more than 2,200 hours of training, she earned official certification.

She introduced Pilates at Henri Bendel in New York City where she taught classes. Her classes became so popular that she expanded to teach Pilates at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Kathy Grant Inspired A Generation

After learning about Pilates, Grant worked tirelessly to master it. Eventually, she became a renowned Pilates instructor who would go on to inspire a generation.

She was instrumental in launching the careers of many Pilates instructors, acting as a source of support and encouragement to them. She also helped dancers perfect their craft by teaching them valuable Pilates techniques that would help propel their careers.

One of her students, Halle Clarke, NCPT, remembers Grant fondly. Now an instructor and teacher trainer, Clarke credits much of her success to Grant as her former mentor. She expresses her gratitude for her teachings, saying, “Thank you for teaching me how to dig deep — really deep, to stretch my imagination and for inspiring my lifelong career.”

Kathy Grant Dedicated Her Life To Her Craft

As a famed dancer and choreographer, Grant loved the arts. Her niece recalls the time she visited their family home on Christmas Eve. When Grant announced she was getting ready to leave, she begged her to stay longer. But her dedication to her craft was palpable. She says that her aunt refused, calling her work her “life.”

Her niece paraphrases what she said to her, “Girl, I have a rehearsal in NYC and have to get on that train. This work is also like a factory job: I have to show up and work hard no matter how I feel or what’s happening. This is my life — and I cannot opt out as wonderful as it is to be with you all.”

Grant Was Tough But Fair

Kathleen Grant was known for her expertise in teaching as much as her personality. The funloving spitfire was a tough instructor who wanted to see her students succeed.

One of her students, Halle Clark NCPT, recalls her teaching style as challenging but transformative. She says, “Kathy insisted that we embody the movement from inside, become baby birds or a weathervane, or a wave of water or a key in a lock. She was relentless in saying ‘No, that’s not right.’ as many times as she needed to until we either burst into tears or became the “baby bird.”

But her methods proved successful as many of her students went on to become Pilates instructors and trainers themselves.

Grant Had A Desire To Heal

Many of Grant’s students recall how much she cared about them. She wasn’t simply interested in their Pilates progress but their overall health and wellbeing.

Part of the reason Joseph Pilates started the practice was to help those who needed physical therapy. Grant took on that vision by teaching techniques that help prevent and combat injuries.

She was known to tailor certain Pilates exercises to suit some of her students’ physical needs. Her former student, Diana Simkin, remembers how Grant developed a routine that would help with her pelvic alignment issues. She says, “[Kathy] taught me that my bow legs caused my pelvis to be out of alignment… She created an exercise for me, having me lie prone on the long box on the reformer with different-sized balls between my ankles, calves, and thighs, and I would simply bend and straighten my knees, trying to keep those balls in place. It may sound simple, but it was anything but.”

Many remember Grant for her instruction AND her caring attitude towards them. Her legacy is that of a woman who loved her students just as much as she loved her craft.