Because this site focuses on news, the businesses that have been around awhile—and that make this neighborhood special—don’t get the coverage they should. The photographs for the “Spotlight” series are by Claudine Williams, who specializes in business, personal branding, and glamour portraits. She also dabbles in street photography for fun. Originally from Philadelphia, she has made NYC her home for the past seven years with her husband and son.
“I hate big-box fitness! I don’t want to be bike number 60!” says Alycea Ungaro of Real Pilates, on Duane Street for 18 years (and in Tribeca longer than that). “We’re one-on-one, and everything is customized.” The name Real Pilates means just that: a dedication to the method as developed by Joseph Pilates rather than a dilution or adaption. “Pilates is mentioned as part of everyone’s fitness routine these days, but this is what we do, it’s our foundation. It’s timeless—nothing needs to be changed. I feel honored to keep it intact and make it grow.”
How did you get started in this business?
I started doing Pilates when I was 14 years old, studying ballet at the School of American Ballet. After I developed a recurring foot injury, they sent me to Pilates. I remained a student of Pilates until I retired from ballet around 1994. I learned to teach Pilates as a way to fund college—and because I loved it! I did two years of prerequisites while teaching here on Greenwich—my studio was in our apartment—and in 1996 I was accepted into NYU’s physical therapy program. My client base had grown enough that I decided to try renting a commercial space, hiring people, and giving it a try. We were at 310 1/2 Greenwich—that little space between the supermarket and Washington Market Park—from 1996 to 1998. It was only 850 square feet—and only $1,000 per month! By the time I graduated in ’98, we couldn’t fit there anymore. We had gone from 40 clients to 250. In ’98, we moved to Duane Street, and we’ve been here ever since.
What is Real Pilates known for?
Lineage is a thing in Pilates, just like in yoga. Joseph Pilates only trained five or six people, and I trained under an actual protégé of his, Romana Kryzanowska. Now there are so many bastardizations and variations out there, but we’re an actual Pilates studio, and that’s important to me. Pilates is a practice. You learn it; you own it. It’s a way of thinking and you walk out the door with it.
What’s the most satisfying part of what you do?
That “aha!” moment when a client transitions from being unable to do something to being capable of it. Something as simple as touching your toes can be life-changing. Hearing someone tell us they finally went back to dance class or rock climbing, or they were even simply able to run around the park with their kids, is pretty rewarding.
Even in the new Soho studio?
The Soho studio was built primarily as a teacher-training facility. But it’s the same model as here: I believe this is the best way.
We have 12 different pieces of equipment, all made to Mr. Pilates’s specification. We use the original equipment because it’s harder. And the Reformer isn’t the main one, either—they’re all equally important. Right now, my favorite is the Wunda Chair.
I used it once in California. Total torture device.
We have four. They’re very compact and extremely versatile—there are 100 exercises you can do on it.
Tribeca has obviously changed a lot. Any changes that have surprised you?
We moved here in ’94. There were no streetlights on Greenwich! Since then, things have happened that were surprising and welcome and surprising and unwelcome…. In ’94, Tribeca still felt pretty small-town, as far as New York City is concerned. My kids went to Washington Market School, which has expanded three times—and now Tribeca has 15 preschools. When I opened, there was no fitness here beyond New York Sports Club. I taught there for five years. Now there are so many options! I never expected that.
How has your business changed?
It has grown steadily since year one. I noticed a shift after 9/11: Before that, we had a lot of workers coming in after their workday ended. Now, our clientele is more residential, and they come in during the day. Part of that is probably the different way people work these days—not so much at 9-to-5 jobs.
And we’re training the next generation of Pilates instructors. We’ve become a destination spot for the industry. People come from all over the world, or we go to studios in Dallas, LA, Berlin, wherever, and train their teachers. There was a moment where we were almost alone in the field, but now there’s a trend back toward the original Pilates. I love watching them embrace the original method and how rigorous it is. They’ve come from a different place, experienced other brands, and this suddenly makes Pilates make sense for them.
Tell me a crazy customer story.
You’d be surprised how often clients come in wearing inappropriate attire. They don’t understand (or maybe they do!) what Pilates entails. We try to tell new clients to choose apparel that won’t reveal too much when you’re working one-on-one with an instructor and you’re on your back with your legs apart and overhead.
Where do you eat/drink/shop around here?
My family goes to Takahachi once a week. We love Leo’s place, Petrarca. And we’re Giorgione addicts. The veal chop is insane. For grab-and-go, I really like Gotan. I like everything about it. And my kids are still partial to Zucker’s. For shopping, Valley—they’re lovely. And my daughter is a fan of La Garçonne.
What does the future hold for Real Pilates?
We’re expanding our reach globally and mission to preserve original method and educate consumers about this incredible technique. I use Ashtanga yoga as a parallel: You use it, get better at it, and you keep using it. It’s not this ADD experience, entertaining vs. training. It’s for everyday performance. I’m not going to start going on my rant….
You have no idea! That was nothing!
What didn’t I ask?
My husband, Robert Ungaro, has been so supportive since the beginning, when he tolerated all that equipment in his living room. He’s now a lawyer in private practice—his office is on Broadway—but we moved down here when he was investigating police corruption. My mother-in-law, Sue Mingus, was married to Charles Mingus. So when we’re not in Tribeca we’re up at the Jazz Standard listening to the Mingus Big Band play on Monday nights.
Previously in this series:
••• Church Street School for Music and Art
••• Kings Pharmacy
••• Church Street Surplus
••• New York Nautical
••• Lance Lappin Salon
••• Joseph Carini Carpets
••• A Uno
••• Balloon Saloon
••• Fountain Pen Hospital
••• Chambers Pottery
••• Square Diner
••• Langdon Florist
••• Tribeca Upholstery & Draperies
••• Double Knot
••• Philip Williams Posters