Romana Kryzanowska’s favorite champagne was Veuve Clicquot.
Most people don’t know that her original tradition of serving champagne came from Drago or Dracoutine-nobody could pronounce his real name when he came to America as a soccer player. His nickname was Lazo and nobody could pronounce that either so he involuntarily became Drago, a name he hated but it stuck.
In 1949, Drago worked for Nicholas Kounovsky, who taught his gymnastiks method downstairs from Joe Pilates’ Contrology Studio. Nick would give out incentives when someone achieved something, and when you did ten classes you got a glass of champagne.
In the 1970’s Romana, after teaching Pilates, would twice a week stop in on her way out of the building and for a half an hour flip around the rings, tumbling and hanging from her knees, swinging to relax before she would go teach ballet. Thirty years later when Romana would need a place to move the last of Pilates’ inventions and clients, Drago, who had opened his own gym on the sixth floor on 57th street between sixth and seventh avenue, would put one Reformer in a room, which was too small, so he knocked down a wall and soon, they had two, three, five, then eight Reformers. They continued the champagne tradition if it was someone’s birthday, for good health, payday on Friday, any excuse.
Drago was the partner and rock in Romana’s career, taking care of the appointments with a pencil, and collecting the monies at the front desk.
Having gotten to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Friday afternoon, September 13th early enough to light a candle, I had a good seat on an end pew and every time my eyes opened, I would see familiar and somewhat familiar faces. But when a man sitting up in the front reserved rows with the family, stood up his full white hair flipped the solemnness of the occasion into equal joy to see the heart of Drago on the face of Drago, Romana’s trusted partner, friend, and confidant.
The cathedral holds over 2000 visitors and it was packed. Mejo Wiggin walked by looking energized and instantly I hopped up and we embraced. Her independent career was on fire and she had just returned from Australia.
The legendary physical therapist Fatima walked by next, and after our greeting, it was exciting to hear she is now the Pilates coach to the Olympic skating champions! The Chicago factor was further represented by the dependable, delegate, Juanita.
Between time, surgery and different hairstyles, it was hard to recognize everyone. Two ladies wore workout outfits with “Power Pilates” emblazoned on their backs. Someone in a tight white sleeveless jumpsuit strutted her stuff down the 350 foot aisle like it was a runway or she was a bride, prompting someone from behind me to exclaim, “Didn’t she get the note this isn’t about her?”
But everyone recognized the dark redheaded Edwina escorted down the aisle, by the independent Moses Urbano, now residing in Berlin, as another burst of love murmured through the crowd. Edwina was just 12 when she met Romana, five years older than her, at the Balanchine School in the early 1940’s from where Edwina, had also been sent to Joe Pilates as an injured dancer. Decades later when she closed her own ballet studio and needed a job, Romana would give one to her and Edwina would arrive at the studio at noon, always reviewing the fundamentals for old and new timers. Someone asked Edwina if she was still teaching. “Well, why wouldn’t I be?” she quipped back.
It was time for the eternal and our eyes were lifted up and our ears fully attentive to hear the golden robed priest’s welcome. You would think he knew Romana the way he captured her in the eulogy:
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
“Most mortal people don’t do that much, ” was one of his many summations after talking to the immediate family , also acknowledging the grief of her absent son Paul and his family who stayed behind in Texas.
“Romana gave people jobs, instruction, set up an industry, and was an important part of people’s lives…” he continued, talking about how Jesus served and took care of people. ” When we die, “the father said, “God will look into our hearts and see if we helped, if we shared, if we offered others a hand” He presided over a sweet Mass and communion and blessings were offered as another priest’s beautiful devotional singing filled the old gothic cathedral. It was the regal and elegant ending of a lifecycle Romana, at 90, had wished for in the same church she had taken marriage vows seventy years ago.
I could feel her smiles at the “love all around ” her passing had, at least for a few hours, united with her death. I wept, not for Romana, but for her children who lost a mother, and the grandchildren who lost their grandma. I wept because we were fools. I wept for my father who I was finally able to let go in the sacredness and safety and certainty of that ceremony, and I wept for myself, for my doubts, for my darkness, and everyone’s separation from the One Soul.
The mass was over and the dignified Anthony Rabara spoke how Romana made each person feel special and no one was beneath her. Her great-grand niece, Monica further comforted us by sharing Romana’s last peaceful hours, taking the event to the next spiritual level of grace, and the mood was then lightened by the entertaining Michael Levy, whom the priest finally stood behind and had to ask, twice, to end his long reminiscences, as another group was scheduled after us .He didn’t step down, going on to share an anecdotal reference of dancers.
The profundity returned when Anthony carefully carried a large pink urn out and it finally hit home, the end of an era.
Afterwards still basking in the benediction on the Cathedral’s front steps in the heart of the city, the effervescent women and men kept introducing or reintroducing themselves, making alliances or avoidences as they landed back into their individuallness. There were Pilates husbands, people I didn’t know, many I did, delighted conversations, and embraces: the curious Ray from Santa Fe, Kathy Grant’s protégé the graceful Blossom, the warm hugs of the Colorado sisters, the light of Dorothee, who warmed up the litigious Sean Gallagher standing alone, watching, in a white Buddhist shirt. There was the jovial Jerome, the impish Tone and Michael, the humbled Rosencrans, the under recognized Joy George, the clever David Freeman, the giggly Romanette Pam, the chatty Cary Regan, the 5’13” Brooke Siler, the fortunate Mari Winsor, the always intelligent Alycea Ungarro, the gypsy Norma Jean who finally found a permanent home at the true True Pilates, the tiny, tenacious Joan Facciobene, and Brett Howard, Jay Grimes, and Jennifer Kries whom I had just hosted at the Big Bear Romana tribute a few short weeks ago and hadn’t expected to see again so soon.
To keep glowing in the fading bliss, I steered clear from and the stiff back of Peter Fiasco who had just dumped Clare Dunphy from his self-appointed list of experts. Clare, who had driven down from Massachusetts with her enlightened surgeon spouse, was somewhat confused by the high school antics and I assured her his authority and preferential judgments had no meaning considering the merit and notoriety from creating one’s own careers and we didn’t need to belong on anyone’s approved list.
It wasn’t just old timers: the next generation of younger, innocent teachers, like the Jet-Blue engineer Regina, and the delicate, affectionate Alexandra Bohlinger who just moved to, and came from, the UK zigzagged through the crowd. Lauren from Seattle came up to me and I was also delighted to exchange sincerities and possibilities with the beautiful, black Cynthia from down under.
It was impossible for everyone to see everyone that attended, and for many it was impossible to attend. I heard the South African engineer Basil was there and I would have liked to personally thank him for helping Romana for 13 years, and for teaching me a lot about equipment, and Gail Eisen, instrumental in publishing the first book on the Pilates Mat, and who gave me an original Joe written document Romana had entrusted to her. So thank you, Gail and Basil. (I also did not see the PMA there who plan on their own tribute, which is odd since Romana wouldn’t teach for them.)
Soon the crowd was getting into cabs and starting to walk the few blocks over to the studio some still affectionately referred to as Drago’s where the reception was being held. I was escorted by the confident and whimsical Jose from the Pilates Challenge, the handsome Italian Santo, and Russell, Gratz’s sales rep, discussing handstands and repaired shoulder rests, and strap lengths.
The reception at Tom’s Pilates, was illegally packed beyond capacity with over a hundred sitting on the floor watching a slide show of family photos narrated by the granddaughter shining through her pregnancy and being the recepient of so many condolences. She had politely and publicly asked the covetous Sean Gallagher to return the archival photographs and films Romana had loaned him , but if he did they were not part of the images, which included a youthful, light haired curly Romana draped in a fur coat clutching the hand of a tiny, tiny, native child, her daughter. Another hundred people began taking photos of each other, exchanging goodness and contact info and another hundred crowded in.
There were hundreds of stories, this one is just mine.
Although the wine had long ago disappeared , people were intoxicated just being there. I propped myself up between the parallel bars, which had very cleverly been turned into a bar next to all the multi stacked Gratz reformers and Sandy Shimoda, beaming in a royal blue dress, , kindly offered me her glass of champagne.
There was a final “Nasdarovia” for Romana and the crowd, collectively starving, started to thin out. The Annointed Pilates Union(APU) was having a predictable dinner I was predictably not invited to. I was much more interested in studying the white Electric Chair built by Joe Pilates and comparing its secret to the only other one built by Joe for Bendel’s that I had acquired.
Michael Johnson, recognizable from his sensible, sensually online videos, was at the other end of the studio talking with a long haired jeweled jester and wanting to complement Michael on his teaching style, I moved over, waiting for a break to introduce myself and offer my respect. The shorter of the two guys was Steve Giordano, now residing appropriately in Woodstock. This man I had never met, this man I had only read about in the trademark lawsuit, but I had bought my first Cadillac from him 20 years ago. Before we could discuss anything, Michael, who works with the 1% of New York’s wealthiest and oldest populations, indignantly replied one of his videos had been kicked off the popular Pilatesology website by Kathy Ross-Nash’s competitive opinion that he was not classically correct, so he would be removing the remaining videos out of principle.
“Why don’t they just rename the website, ‘The Red Thread?'” I joked, telling him I also had been removed, not for my teaching, but for my observations that she is not classically correct: unable to remove your arms from Chris Robinson during a three minute introduction, saying “good girl” every exercise as if students were like the dogs she breeds, and as the alpha bitch, she must dominate every pack, and, in a Teutonic system of minimalism, bragging she owns 20 toe correctors in different colors during a 40 minute foot class. Her ultimatum: she is the profitable star, therefore, fire me.
The men just laughed and I felt comforted to have found kindred souls, reinforcing it never benefits to join any Pilates Pyramid scheme. The talent, the unknown teachers of Romana numbers into the thousands and I was motivated to write about, promote, and invite more people to present to the non-classical world.
My adrenalin finally fell and exhaustion and hunger struck me from missing my flight, two days of standing by in airports, no sleep, changing in a Dallas bathroom and almost missing the memorial.
Politics and controlling people controlling people always makes me nuts and years ago Romana had personally referred me to her very special student Moses to keep me grounded and have a one-faced, friend. He was engaged with another of her favorites, Roxanne (Rocky), pure and perfect like poetry, absorbed now in being a mother, and not obsessing with Pilates and Pilates people . A refreshing concept.
Michael Johnson and Moses Urbano
With plans to continue the grace of the night by breaking the fast with my wise friend, Anna Strasberg, I grabbed a cab to central park west. Anna always felt better knowing Romana was in the world, who, with the work of Joe Pilates, had affected the lives of hundreds, thousands, and millions of people, as had Anna’s husband, the late Lee Strasberg. We always talked about the organizations, from the egos and the drama, to the responsibility and pure delivery of the teachings.
The compassionate Anna, no stranger to truth, insincerity, lawsuits or legacies, and I caught up with events over a nice home cooked meal served in her dining room.
Having crafted my first published articles in her apartment years ago she asked when my story of Romana and Joe would be finished.
I had been stuck for an inspirational, unsarcastic ending, but, had found it today, at church.
Siri Galliano. copywrited February 22, 2013