Gratz had an opportunity to learn more about the “Influencers” and high profile teachers in the Pilates community to share their experiences in 2020-21. We interviewed Sonje Mayo to tell her history, present situations and hopes for the future.
I managed to see Joe 2-3 times a month. Sometimes a little more, but I don't think in all of our 24 lessons together there had been a day where we did not have long, magnificent sessions. Once he got involved, he would not give up until he was happy with the progress. In 1967, when I was on tour with the dance company in Europe, I heard he passed away. I was heartbroken.
My greatest regret to this day is that I did not get to thank Joe enough for what he had given me. Pilates changed my life as a professional dancer. My day in the dance company started with the Pilates Mat and then I would do the ballet class. It kept me centered, focused, and motivated to improve constantly. Without it, I would not have made it. Joe knew I was grateful for his gift but I wish I could have just had a little more time with him. I danced professionally for many years after. When I returned to South Africa in 1971, I started the first ever multi-racial modern dance company called Jazzart. That sounds so politically incorrect, but you have to remember this was during the Apartheid era and I took a huge risk opening it. I was playing with fire and we had a few police raids during rehearsals and I even spent a night in jail. However, I persevered and the company is still flourishing today. South Africa had a wealth of talented, untrained, black natural dancers. I needed to get them strong technically as quickly as possible. Martha Graham's technique was too difficult to start out with, so I taught them the Pilates Mat. I wish Joe could have witnessed that.
I never thought about teaching Pilates as a career, but it seemed that I was destined to do so. In 1995, we moved to Nashville, TN. My husband got a position at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and I started teaching the modern dance company. I was still dancing and performing but then I experienced a huge setback. I got a herniated disc in my thoracic spine, partly due to my scoliosis and I knew that my dancing days were finally over. For me, this was the end of my life. In desperation I called a fellow PT in London and asked for her advice. She said, "For heaven’s sake, go find a Pilates teacher!' I wonder why I did not think of that sooner myself! After some unsuccessful attempts to find a good Pilates teacher in Nashville, where Pilates was hardly known at that time, I called Drago’s in NYC and tried to get a lesson with Romana. I had met Romana briefly at Joe’s studio one evening. She was teaching for Carola Trier and was not with Joe anymore. It was difficult reaching out to Romana because she was always so busy. So I went directly to NYC instead and saw her teaching. I waited for her to finish and walked up to her. "I don't think you remember me but I met you in Joe’s studio." She looked at me and then said: “you were the dancer who spoke German to Joe.” I managed to have two lessons with Romana that week and two with a wonderful teacher named Cynthia Shipley. I was sold on becoming a Pilates teacher!
I did not realize there were many formal Pilates training certifications available. As much as I wanted to do Classical Pilates with Romana, I could not leave my family for 18 months to train in NYC. I was advised to go to Power or Peak Pilates, which I did. It all came back to me very quickly, but I realized that although the modular form was convenient for someone with a family, it was just a foundation. The real work was still ahead. I went back to Romana for fine tuning. By then she was already in Dallas and her Alzheimer's were starting to set in. She could not remember your name, but she still had the best eye for correction like no other. Fortunately I found a teacher who was Romana trained named Alicia Godlieb in Nashville. She was a dancer and a superb teacher. I have to thank Alicia for taking me to a new level. Since then, I have not looked back.
"I love teaching Pilates because if one teaches it correctly and adheres to the principles of the method, every client gets results. I see people change in front of me. I see it work with consistent practice."
Virtual Pilates teaching has made an invaluable contribution to keep people motivated, Newer teachers have been given the most ideal opportunity to learn from the best on Zoom. This would not have been possible without having to travel in the past. Virtual teaching allows us to spread the work. Students and teachers on Zoom are networking and making new contacts. I also have had the time and opportunity to see other teachers at work and I appreciate their different approaches and cues
Adjusting to opening up studios again will be a gradual process. Like me, a lot of teachers have been teaching privates at their studio. However, virtual teaching has kept the method alive and much more awareness and communication has been created.
My favorite would have to be the Wunda chair. I LOVE the chair because it is literally great for everything and the most encompassing piece of apparatus there is. It is even difficult to sit upright. Did you know that it was the first apparatus that Joe patented? I also particularly like the Baby Chair. I remember when I was on it for the first time with Joe, I thought I was going to pass out with effort. I had those flaring ribs and the Arm Chair is the best remedy for that. Basically, every apparatus has its own speciality for every kind of body. However, the Mat is still king….. That is the best workout you can do.