I’ve been making a big deal about Bob Dylan’s birthday, but it’s also the birthday of my fabulous friend and Pilates guru Martine Curtis. She turned 59 today — and yes that is her in the photograph (on a recent visit to San Francisco). I know, she looks amazing. And she *is* amazing and I’m really excited to feature her on Stylenik.
Here are the basics of her story: Martine grew up Mormon in California, went to college in Utah, and married a guy of the same religion when she was 21. Over the next four years, she had three children. In 1978 when the youngest was 5 months old, she had had it with the Mormon lifestyle and left, three children in tow.
She moved back to California, raised the three kids on her own, became a master Pilates instructor, book author and award-winning journalist. Ten years ago, she opened the second Pilates studio in all of Paris, and now runs the most renowned center and teacher training school in the city (I was lucky enough to do my teacher training there!).
Martine now has nine grandchildren. After ending a 17-year relationship three (ish) years ago, she recently became engaged to a Tunisian twenty-something (he might be 30, but his birth certificate was destroyed in the revolution so they’re not sure). We do know that he’s a handsome and strapping young man (I’ve seen pictures!). Oh, and three years ago, she started playing the cello.
Stylenik: What are the top three challenges you’ve faced in your life, and how did you get through them?
Martine Curtis: My toughest challenge is succeeding in business in France. As anyone who’s ever opened a business in France can tell you, if you can succeed in France, you can succeed anywhere! Success is an ongoing process and you have to enjoy the small victories when the French state allows you to have one. You just feel like you’re succeeding and the government levies another tax or puts up some kind of lame ass bureaucratic roadblock. So, I guess I haven’t gotten though this one yet.
Raising three kids on my own was particularly tough, but it’s tougher in retrospect I think. When I was in the thick of it, I was too busy to worry about how hard it was. I got through it because there was just no choice — and, because my kids grew up.
I can’t actually talk about the very biggest challenge in my life (it’s too personal), so I’ll stick to the vague and frivolous, but still a huge challenge: finding time for all of the things that I want to do. I think I’m ambitious in a laid back kind of way and I have a lot of interests and love getting involved in new and exciting things. There are periods when I’m very productive and feel really accomplished, and then there are just the opposite when I run around in circles. I’m a big fan of “Getting Things Done” and Merlin Mann, and whenever I commit myself to sticking with the program, I have a sense of control over my life and find I get much more accomplished.
Sn: What are the top three happiest moments in your life so far?
MC: I should say that the birth of at least one of my children is in the top three, but that would be a lie. However, seeing one of my grandchildren born (my one grandson) was a truly emotional high point. I ended up writing about the experience as an introduction to an article and I’m sure that’s why the piece won a Peninsula Press Award.
There are actually so many of them that I can’t choose. What I can say is that they are all moments when I was totally involved, not self-conscious, and not worrying about the future. There’s a lot of talk about “being present,” but I think it’s true, and all of my happiest moments, no matter how trivial or important, have been when I’ve been “right there.” When I’ve pulled my cello bow across a string and really felt the vibration of the sound, when I’ve been walking down Rue des Archives and just feeling the pleasure of moving, or when I’m eating a blueberry (my favorite fruit) and not thinking about popping the next one in my mouth. Silly, but true.
Sn: Who are the people in your life who most inspire you?
MC: I would have to put my three kids at the top of that list. I look at them and think, “where the hell did you come from and how are you so “together?” I was a single mother, and was always so busy working to support them that I felt like I neglected them in a lot of other areas. Somehow, they turned out great in spite of me. My daughters actually seem more like my mothers sometimes — much more common sense than I ever intend to have, and all three are people I would definitely want to know even if I hadn’t spawned them.
Also my friend Lynsey Peisinger, a dancer, totally brilliant, totally neurotic, and probably the funniest person I’ve ever known. We can laugh for hours — especially in the face of our own personal disasters and screw-ups (which we both seem to greet with open arms).
Other than that, anyone who can speak more than three languages fluently!
Sn: When did you get involved with dance? Same for writing and Pilates?
MC: Like most girls, I got started ballet lessons when I was young because it was what you did. I had the body and the ability to go a lot further with it, but I was way too lazy, and don’t like pain all that much. At one point, I realized that I just liked music, and moving to music more than I liked cramming my feet in toe shoes and suffering, so I quit pursuing it, but did kept teaching some children’s classes.
With Pilates, someone gave me a Pilates book in the ’70s and I started doing some of the mat exercises, but I didn’t get into it in a big way until I had a dance injury and, like a lot of dancers, started doing rehabilitation with Pilates in San Francisco at the St. Francis hospital. It was one of those things that wasn’t in my three-job, three-kid budget, so I decided to train to teach it.
I majored in English in college, but writing is something I’ve done from an early age, and it’s one of those things that gives me the most satisfaction for several reasons. My real goal in life is to be a full time student, and I found that researching articles was a way to study and get paid for it — although not much, but it was educational. I also write just for the catharsis of it. If I’m having a crisis, writing about it helps put it in perspective. I tend to be much funnier on paper than in real life, so it can really improve my outlook if I’m just the commentator pointing out the ridiculous in the situation. I know this is vain, but I love pulling out an old article after several years, rereading it, and thinking, “this is damned good.” Of course, that’s not always the case, but it’s exciting when it is.
Sn: How did you become a glamorous Pilates instructor in Paris? Tell us about some of your most notable clients (if you’re free to share!)
MC: Hmmm, “glamorous?” Maybe “best known” would be more appropriate, and that came about because I was one of the very first teachers in France and I happened to write the first Pilates book (Perfect Pilates) for the French market. I also ended up getting a lot of press early on and that, of course, builds your reputation/mystique.
I’ll only name the ones that I’ve been really impressed with and really like personally. The others will just go unnamed — although they would probably be more fun to write about.
Vanessa Bruno would probably be tops on my list. She might not be a household name because she’s a designer and not a film personality, but I assume your readers know who she is. She’s just a lot of fun and very genuine and will listen to my whining.
Dita Von Teese would be way up there too. Very funny, down-to-earth, and somebody you can talk to about anything.
Sofia Coppola, although I only taught her when she was in Paris filming Marie Antoinette, and she probably wouldn’t remember me, I was really impressed by her intelligence (although she didn’t take my advice when doing the casting for the Axel Ferson character) and easy nature.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, again, very intelligent and classy, and…
Catherine Deneuve, whose comportment and kindness always impressed me. Incredibly down-to-earth. So down-to-earth in fact that when she forgot her workout pants she borrowed mine — even after I warned her that they hadn’t been washed in weeks (more likely, months).
And, my dear friends, pianists Marielle and Katia Labeque, sisters who are so different, but both incredibly talented, caring and two of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.
Sn: You are hands down the most gorgeous, hippest, and youthful grandmother I’ve ever encountered. Please tell us your secret(s) to looking so amazing and keeping such a young outlook on life!
MC: Wow, that’s kind, and if it’s anywhere close to true, I guess it’s because I just don’t think about my age. I’m the “adult” in the family who can roll around with the kids on the floor — it’s pretty much what I do at work anyway. I think I take care of myself pretty well. I walk everywhere and workout a few times a week. I guess I’m always shocked when someone says, “oh, I’m too old to start doing ______ (fill in the blank). I’ve never thought of myself as being too old to do ANYTHING or take up something new. I started cello lessons three years ago, and am starting to learn arabic.
I think having grandchildren makes some people feel old, but it makes me feel younger for some reason. I wish I could spend more time with them and am happy now that several of them are old enough to spend extended time with me in Paris.
Sn: What are your thoughts on plastic surgery, and how have they changed over the years?
MC: Well, when you’re 20 it’s easy to say it’s ridiculous. I’d never say that now. When I see women in their 20s getting Brazilian butt lifts, I think WTF, why are they doing that, and isn’t that’s kind of “cheating.” My next thought is, WTF, why am I NOT doing that.
I’ll admit that when I look in the mirror now, I put my index fingers at my temples and my thumbs on my jawline under my ears and pull up and back, and I think, “just a tiny lift, yeah, that’s all I want, just a little.” And, I then turn to get as much of a profile as I can and I see that the small wattle that I’ve developed in the past three years has disappeared. So, I guess if I had the time, the money, and the guts to do it, I might, but I guess I’m just chicken and keep hoping for a non-surgical miracle to come popping up in a random Internet search.
Sn: I know you don’t buy a lot of clothes, but I also know you appreciate well made pieces. What does it take for you to break out your credit card? And how would you describe your style?
MC: I read an article years ago about a couple who had a punishment system that involved the guilty partner (guilty of what offense, I don’t remember) being forced to wear the same clothes the next day. I remember thinking, “that’s like a reward system!” I hate to admit it, but I’m really comfortable just throwing on the same jeans and shirt that I wore the day before and the day before, and possibly even the day before until family or friends make a comment about a particular item of clothing getting a “really long run.”
That I don’t buy a lot of clothes is an understatement. And, you’re right, I hate crappy stuff, but am also not willing to spend money on the really well made stuff. Fortunately, I teach designers, so I sometimes get things for free or really cheap. And, I’ve always felt like the clothes were secondary to what’s underneath them — your body. So, if you keep in shape and feel good about yourself, I feel like what you cover yourself with isn’t as important. Wow, can I take all the fun out of life!
I guess I’m not very good for capitalism, but, that said, I will spring for a nice pair of boots. I always wait until the big Paris half price sales and then I might even buy two pairs. And I never get rid of them. I’ve got one pair that I’ve had resoled four times. I’ve worn holes in the uppers now, but fortunately, the “street urchin” look comes around often enough so that they never sit idle for long.
Sn: What’s next for you? Big plans for the future?
MC: I’m looking to start a business in Tunisia because I think the future is NOT in the U.S., not in France or Europe, but in countries like Tunisia where possibilities are wide open. Of course, one of the reasons that I’m interested in Tunisia specifically is that my fiancé is Tunisian. We’re both in the health and fitness industry and we’re talking to people now about opening not a Pilates center like I have in Paris (although we may start with that), but something much more expansive incorporating more aspects of fitness and anti-aging. Pilates will be a part of it, but also exercise modalities that increase HGH levels, improve balance and flexibility. Of course, in order to be complete, nutrition needs to be part of the program, as well as stress reduction, and anti-aging therapies. It would be a much more inclusive project than I’ve ever tackled, but that’s the ultimate goal.
Concurrent plans are to finish the books I’m working on: a new Pilates book and, “Edgar Ate my Panties,” a book about petsitting in Paris that I’ve been working on forever.
Happy Birthday Martine!