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A Short History of GYROTONIC® Working with a Master: Juliu Horvath By Kathy Van Patten

A Short History of GYROTONIC® Working with a Master: Juliu Horvath By Kathy Van Patten

I remember when I told my husband I wanted to get certified in GYROTONIC®. It was 1995 and I’d spent five years away from home attending Pilates certification programs and workshops. I’d purchased approximately $30,000 worth of reformers, barrels and Cadillacs for my studio. My husband, a business consultant, was interested in seeing when all of these investments would pay off. My two children were interested in knowing when Mom would be back at home.

I’d taken more than a few GYROTONIC® private lessons in Los Angeles and New York and knew it was different from Pilates, different enough that I needed to know a lot more about it. I had two children in school, a brand new Pilates studio in Boston with a brand new line of credit and a grumpy husband. But I decided to leave my family and my business to make the trip to Bad Krozigen, Germany, to study with the GYROTONIC master, Juliu Horvath. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

A Short History of GYROTONIC® Juliu Horvath is the creator and founder of the Gyrotonic Expansion System®. He was born and raised in Romania but is of Hungarian ancestry. As a child he was physically gifted, studying gymnastics, swimming and ballet. After dancing principal roles with the Romanian State Opera Ballet, Juliu defected in 1970 while on tour in Italy, where he spent six months in a refugee camp. He was then granted political asylum by the United States. He moved to New York City, was hired by the New York City Opera, Radio City Music Hall and toured with ballet icons Margot Fonteyn and Jacques d’Amboise. He joined the Houston Ballet as a principle dancer, but during his first year, his dance career ended when he ruptured his Achilles tendon and damaged several disks in his back.

Following these career-ending injuries, Juliu moved to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to heal, and to contemplate his future. It was there he began an extensive four year contemplation of his health that included yoga, meditation and dance, creating his own choreography and teaching ballet. While in the Virgin Islands, Juliu also developed his own acupuncture system. It was out of these experiences that he completely healed his Achilles tendon and back injuries and developed an exercise system that was the beginning of GYROKINESIS®.

Juliu returned to NYC and began teaching ‘Yoga for Dancers’ to a small group of dedicated followers. As a result of his early teaching in New York, he realized that very few students had the self-understanding and technique to execute the exercises successfully. They needed more support and guidance. So Juliu began developing equipment that would give the body traction, support and resistance in order to be able to perform the exercises correctly. He called the equipment, and exercises using the equipment, the Gyrotonic Expansion System, GYROTONIC® for short. He renamed ‘Yoga for Dancers’, GYROKINESIS®.

A New Exercise System is Born GYROTONIC® exercises are different. They are not about reps or feeling the burn. Although the exercises stretch, strengthen and improve balance, coordination and flexibility, that’s not the goal. GYROTONIC® exercises aren’t about getting buff; they teach you how to move the way your body was meant to move. Juliu told me that exercise should be creative and playful. In his words, “I want music and poetry in my body, I want to be skillful without struggle.”

The movement system Juliu created took a lot of time and effort to develop. It’s based on Juliu’s observations of the organic and internal natural human patterns of the human body. GYROTONIC® exercises combine our daily reaching, bending and twisting movements with healthy breathing and posture. As a result, we learn to move in a healthy and effective way, whether you’re a child, business person, weekend warrior or professional athlete or dancer.

What is Juliu Like to Work With? Juliu is inspiring, creative, whimsical and demanding, like a great ballet master. His classes are extremely musical and rhythmic. He looks at the bodies in front of him each day and is inspired to change, adapt and evolve his work. He does not teach from a book. He went on a long physical, emotional and spiritual journey to heal himself from lower back and Achilles injuries. He encourages us to do the same. Juliu sees movement as fluid, continuous and harmonious. “It goes out, and then it comes back. It is like dropping a pebble in the middle of a pond; the wave starts spreading and then comes back.”

Juliu is at his creative peak and it’s truly an exciting time to be working with him.

GYROTONIC® and Children Juliu is dedicated to bringing GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® to children. “The future is in the children; our future is always in who is growing up, and I feel that this work is going to enhance a part of their life.” I am working with Juliu on a GYROTONIC® program for children.

Juliu describes his work as a living and evolving system. He believes that “you cannot always do the same thing exactly the same way.” With this approach in mind, he is looking to the future, which he passionately believes is to bring children into his GYROTONIC® world. “All children do is play with computers and sit all day long; there is not enough physical activity, and it is not the right physical activity.” To address this issue, which he considers of paramount importance, he has designed and personally built a child’s version of the pulley tower in the shape of a playful dragon with functional but whimsical moving parts.

GYROTONIC® and Pilates: The Gyrotonic Expansion System® has been compared and contrasted to Pilates, a whole-body integrative exercise approach that emphasizes core stability, correct body alignment and balance. Juliu is reluctant to make a comparison, and he believes that Pilates and the GYROTONIC® system offer different paths of discovery. It’s best not to ‘cherry-pick’ Pilates and GYROTONIC® exercises and combine them into a single workout. It’s worse to try to integrate one with the other, because then you’ll be misrepresenting both. They should be taught separately. There is no such thing as ‘Gyrolates’.

Like Pilates work, GYROTONIC® is in large measure a machine-based system with exercises on different machines that are designed to build core strength, along with muscular flexibility, joint suppleness and whole-body fitness. Juliu believes that “Pilates never used breath” nor “had circularity of movement,” and he was determined that GYROTONIC® combine both.

GYROTONIC® movements initiate from the energy body, not the muscular body. Pilates comes from a more muscular and linear approach, the GYROTONIC® system from a more energetic and circular/spherical approach. Juliu has trademarked his work in almost every country in the world. Although he revises and extends his work, the practice of GYROTONIC® is very consistent all over the world.

Juliu has said that “The octopus, the monkey and the cat are my basic models because they can move in any direction and at any given time with strength and control as they have no restrictions. The human body has restrictions, but I can model the body – within the framework of its restrictions – to move in a similar way, to be free”.

Kathy Van Patten is the owner and founder of the award-winning Movement Center of Boston and Gyrotonic® Boston as well as a Power Pilates Affiliate Training Center in Boston. Her client-focused approach has earned praise from clients and peers, who voted her ‘Best Pilates Studio’ and ‘Best Pilates Instructor’ in Boston Magazine. Kathy’s approach to Pilates is based on her studies of the best current practice of Pilates, where she is certified through five different programs: The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning (Romana Kryzanowska), Power Pilates®, Stott Pilates®, Polestar®, and The Method-Pilates®. Kathy is a Master Trainer in GYROTONIC®, GYROKINESIS® and all the Specialized Equipment.