If you want to start a trend that goes from obscure to ubiquitous seemingly overnight, open it up wide. Case in point: Pilates.
I started doing Pilates this year, so I’m what you’d call an ‘early majority adopter.’ While not quite mainstream, Pilates has become a huge fitness trend with millions of participants, seemingly out of nowhere, in a short time. I’d heard of it in the 1990’s… my sister was doing it as part of a rehab program. But I had no idea that a small group of people, mostly elite dancers, had been doing it since the ’60s and 70s.
Pilates percolated for a few decades, and then went viral around 2000-2005. Why? Because it essentially became open source on October 20, 2000.
A little history: it turns out that there was a guy named Joe (Joseph) Pilates. His father was a gymnast, his mother was a naturopath, and he was bullied as a kid so set out to get strong and stay strong.
Pilates was German, and ended up a prisoner in England during World War One, with no access to workout equipment. So he devised his own gear using springs from prison mattresses, and an integrated method of exercise using floor mats and crude devices, that he taught to the other prisoners. He called it ‘Contrology.’
After the war, Pilates came to New York, where he and his wife Clara opened a Contrology studio where they taught through the 1960s. Well known dancers like George Balanchine and Martha Graham became devotees. Only thing was, nobody seemed to want to call it Contrology. Instead, it became known as ‘Pilates.’
When Joseph Pilates died in 1967, his wife and a small group of disciples kept the studio going and opened a handful of other studios around the country.
But Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and the rest of Hollywood would not start doing Pilates until 35 years later, when “The Pilates Method” went open source.
On October 20th, 2000, Manhattan’s federal district court ruled that “Pilates” is a generic term, and that neither Pilates equipment nor exercise services could be trademarked. The case was Pilates Inc. vs Current Concepts, Inc., pitting the then-current owner of Pilates’ original NYC studio against the largest maker of Pilates equipment, in California.
From that day on, Pilates was wide open – no one player could monopolize the market or limit growth via licensing fees or restrictions. The world could now take full advantage of what Joe Pilates had developed: a clear, effective methodology, plus some innovative technology to put it into practice (i.e. the machines now known as ‘reformers’ and ‘cadillacs’).
Thus a thousand Pilates studios bloomed, and I now have a core. Thanks to Joe, his wife Clara and the Manhattan Federal District Court. Not to mention the two excellent teachers who’ve helped me discover Pilates: Nora and Caitlin. They’re both awesome, in case you’re looking for a great teacher/studio in the East Bay or San Francisco respectively.