PILATES STYLE Teli us about your childhood. JUNCHEE WON
I grew up in Seoul. South Korea. I had four older sisters and an older brother. İn Korea. the exams to get into college are very difficult. I told my mother I didn’t want to study that hard [laughs].
I had taken ballet, so I decided to majör in dance so I didn’t have to study a lot. My plan worked—I got accepted to Kyunghee University as a modern dance majör ın 1986.
PS And you were in the Opening Ceremonies at the Seoul Olympics in 1988?
JUNCHEE Yes. I was in my fourth year at university. One of my professors. who was very famous because she was the founder of modern Korean dance. was chosen to create a routine for part of the opening ceremonies. Ali of her students particıpated. We practiced every single day for a whole year. İt was a lot of work, but was very exciting-we performed in this huge stadium and the whole world was watchıng. And the government paid us. I liked it because I don’t have to study (laughsj!
PS What did you do after graduation?
JUNGHEE For about 10 months. I vvorked as a dancer at Lotte World, a huge indoor theme park in Seoul. İn one show. I was Sandy in a modified Grease show. İt was very intense-we performed three or four tımes a day.
Two of the other dancers were American. Looking at them. I decided I wanted to go to America and study dance more. İn 1993. I was accepted at New York University’s School of Educatıon to get my master’s in dance and dance education. As part of the program. we were required to take two Pilates courses. NYU’s Pilates teacher at that time was Wei-Tai Hom. The class.
hovvever, was called Dance Alignment, even though it was Pilates. Looking back, I think that was because the trademark was stili in dıspute.
PS What did you do after finishing graduate school?
JUNGHEE I went to back to Korea. but then my American boyfriend. whom I was seeing vvhile I was at NYU. came to visit…with a ring! We got married in Flint. Michigan—his hometovvn. My vvhole family came över for the vvedding.
I started vvorking in New York as a dancer. but it was very competitive. I realized I was getting too old to be a professional dancer. plus I started getting tired of it. One day, a classmate who came to see one of my performances saıd, “Wow, Junghee. you should be a Pilates teacher— I think you would be good at it.’ Around that time. Pilates was getting popular. I saıd. “Oh. I know Pilates. we did that in graduate school.” And she said. ‘No. you have to go to a real Pilates studıo.”
I checked out Sean Gallagher’s studio on Broadvvay and 74th. Sean was a physıcal therapist who vvorked with many Broadvvay performers.
He also knevv Pilates—he ovvned the Pilates trademark at that time. Bob Liekens was the supervising Pilates instructor at Sean’s studio.
So ın 1998. I started taking Pilates lessons so I could get into the certification program. (So many people were applying to become certified. you actually had to audition to get in.) I started training in 1999.
PS So you did teacher training with both Sean and Romana Kryzanovvska?
JUNGHEE Yes. Romana was the master teacher— she taught at Drago s on 57th Street. So you could do your observation hours either at Seans studio or with her. When I first heard about Romana, she sounded very scary. Then the first time I went to her studio. she came up and greeted me right away. She shovved me where to put my bag. where to change.
I liked her right away. Her daughter Sari (Mejia Santo). who was also a teacher trainer. came up to me right away, too.
Romana was usually very busy. But on that first day. she asked another student and me. I have time, do you want to take a lesson? Later, the other apprentices told me how lucky I was, that that never happened. I felt butterflies ın my stomach to take a lesson with Romana the first time I met her!
PS When did you start teaching?
JUNGHEE Once you passed the exam after finishing the first 200 hours of the 600-hour apprenticeship. you were allovved to teach. so I started vvorking at Seans studio. When I got to the 300-hour mark, one of the senior teachers asked me if I wanted to work at a prıvate gym on the Upper East Side. They paid really well. so I said yes. Meanvvhile. I was stili doing my apprenticeship at Sean s and Drago’s. and teaching clients in both places.
PS What did you do after you were certified?
JUNGHEE I decided I didn’t like the gym environment. There vvasn’t a separate studio. so we were on the gym floor. I was so shocked when I saw a teacher teach a different form of Pilates! I dıdn’t realize there were different Pilates technigues and training schools. After I completed my training, Sean hired me to work there full time.
PS Then in 2002, you went back to Korea?
JUNGHEE Yes. after 9/11.1 was really scared. My husband was a PhD candidate in Korean history at Columbıa University; he had gone to Korea to do research. Around the same time. I got a phone cali from my professor in Korea asking me if I wanted to apply to the PhD program in dance at Kyunghee University. I thought. I have nothing to lose. so I went back to Korea.
PS Could you continue to do Pilates in Korea?
JUNGHEE No one knew about Pilates in Korea. There were no studios. no classes. no teachers. Professor Sung Нее Choi invited me to do a presentation on Pilates to the Korean Society of Dance Science in 2002. One of attendees. Dr.
Kim. MD. a rehabilitation specialist. came up to me aftervvard. He was very interested in Pilates and asked me to open a studio. I was stili extremely busy with my PhD, but I did it. I told him about Pilates in the U.S.. that you had to set up a teacher-training program, because the key to grovving the business was to train more teachers.
Sean and Romana were splıtting up at that time, and things were kind of chaotic with them. so I couldn’t bring their program to Korea. Instead I reached out to Hovvard Sichel at Power Pilates. who knew about me through Bob Liekens. who was at Power Pilates by then. They asked me to recertify as a teacher trainer at Power Pilates. I wasn’t happy about it. but I did it so I could bring Pilates to Korea.