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A Complementary Couple

As originally published in Pilates Style | July 2013

As Merrithew™ celebrates the 25th anniversary of its STOTT PILATES® brand, its founders, husband-and-wife team Moira and Lindsay Merrithew, recount how they went from a Reformer in their studio apartment to an international fitness company.

Pilates Style: Tell us about your childhood.

Moira Merrithew: I was born in England but my parents moved to Bermuda when I was very young, so I spent my childhood there. Bermuda was a great place to grow up! I got into ballet when I was five, which was the thing they did with little girls back then. When I was 15, I was accepted into the Rambert School of Ballet in London, but would go back to Bermuda in the summer. The Bermuda Civic Ballet would bring in professional choreographers to do amateur productions in the summer. That's how I met Marijan Bayer, who owned the City Ballet of Toronto. I finished school, and then moved to Toronto to join his company. I danced professionally for almost eight years, eventually working my way up to principal dancer.

Lindsay Merrithew: I grew up primarily on the east coast of Canada. My father was in the construction business and we moved around a lot, so I ended up going to boarding school when I was 16. I then attended Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, where I studied commerce. My last year there, I got involved with a summer stock production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and fell in love with the theatre. I was encouraged to audition for drama schools and got accepted at The Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, which was a very rewarding and enriching experience.

PS: How did you two meet?

Moira: I was teaching at a ballet summer school in Halifax, and Lindsay was on summer vacation from Juilliard.

PS: How did you discover Pilates?

Lindsay: I first heard about it through a teacher of mine at Juilliard. Little did I know back then it would become such a meaningful part of my life.

Moira: I had broken my foot as a teenager and throughout my dance career, I had struggled with chronic foot injuries. I was forced to stop dancing when I was around 24 and so I was looking for another career. At that time, the Dancer Transition Resource Centre had just opened in Toronto. Its founder, Joysanne Sidimus, advised me to go to New York and explore Pilates. This was a very attractive idea as I had just met Lindsay and he was living there. I studied with Romana Kryzanowska at her studio on West 56th Street. Romana was quite a lady—full of charisma! I was given some assistance from the Dancer Transition Resource Centre on the condition that once I trained, I'd return to Canada to teach and share what I'd learned.

PS: Lindsay, what did you do after Juilliard?

Lindsay: I spent a couple of seasons in New York,auditioning and working in TV. I then spent a couple of seasons at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a well-known theatre festival in Ontario. After that, I did the gypsy thing, moving back and forth from New York, Los Angeles and Toronto,working mostly in film and television.

PS: At some point you moved back to Toronto?

Moira: Yes, in 1987,Lindsay and I moved back to Toronto. We wanted to open a studio,but we didn't have access to any equipment, and back then equipment was really hard to find.

Lindsay: At this point,I was still acting, but as an actor, you're never really quite as busy as you would like, so the idea of embarking on an entrepreneurial endeavour had great appeal. Getting access to Pilates equipment was difficult, so we decided to make our own. After many long hours and numerous prototypes, we came up with a Reformer that had adjust ability so that whether you were 5'4" like Moira or 6'2" like me, you could comfortably perform the entire repertoire of exercises. Equally important was that the equipment was both ergonomically and aesthetically appealing.

PS: So when did the business really start to take off ?

Moira: We received a big boost when Karen Kain, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, started to take classes at our humble studio apartment. We saw this as an opportunity to build interest in Pilates and our studio, and Karen graciously offered to help. Lindsay called all these papers and magazines to get them to write something on Karen Kain and Pilates;he convinced a local publication, Toronto Life Fashion, and Canada's national paper, The Globe and Mail, to photograph her doing Pilates in our apartment.

Lindsay: At that time, Pilates was relatively new and the fact that a Canadian national icon was practicing it made it a very attractive story. It seemed like overnight, our business quadrupled.

Read the rest on pilatesstyle.com