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Elegance: From Vienna to Ann Arbor

Sunday, September 1, 2013

On a lovely late August morning, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kiki Markovits, an author, wife, Ismakogie instructor, and creator of Nimble.  She hails from the country of Austria; growing up there during the 50s and 60s meant that Kiki could witness the reconstruction of Vienna following World War II, as it was a time of happiness brought about by a new era.  Kiki grew up with her mother, as her father died when she was five years old.  Kiki's mother was from Budapest, Hungary, a woman who cared very much about style and appearance.  Being elegant was very important to her-not only for her own regard, but also in other people’s eyes.  Dressing up to go places was a standard as it was a way to have self-respect and to show that one respected everyone else by putting in the effort to look nice.  "This old time glamour where people had good posture, held their heads up, and had an elegant composure is something which has greatly diminished over the last several decades", Kiki says.  

Kiki's mother wasn't wealthy, but she showed that one doesn't need to spend lots of money on fancy clothes to look elegant or to make good impressions; "the key is the way in which you wear the things you have", said Kiki.  Nowadays, people seem to dismiss these things as being unimportant and it certainly shows--how many people do you see daily, who are hunched over their cell phones or laptops?  This lack of consciousness about posture and healthy body movements makes people feel lousy and weak inside instead of strong and confident.  These poor habits also bring about arthritis and all sorts of joint, muscle, and bone damage.

Kiki's mother loved dance and movements associated with the fine and performing arts.  She grew up around the time of World War I, thus there were naturally things that she wasn't able to do; she lived her wishes and dreams that were put on hold through her daughter, Kiki.  Kiki danced ballet and played piano while growing up; she was enrolled at the Lycee Francais, a private school.  At the age of fifteen, Kiki was asked to join the Vienna Opera Ballet as she was a talented dancer, however, Kiki's mother didn't want her to follow the entertainment path as it is short-lived with no longevity.  Ballet wasn't intellectual in her mother's eyes; it was a good hobby but a bad career.  Kiki went on to university which led her to pursue a career working at the largest bank in Vienna.  At the bank, she was involved in a women’s group which focused on acquiring the same rights for women and men in management position and compensation.  During this time, the very first women’s spa in Austria opened up and it offered relaxation, yoga, and Ismakogie.  Kiki started attending the spa twice a day and absolutely loved it.  Her instructor-a woman in her 60s-taught the class with incredible vibrance, elegance, and energy.  Participating women even did things like walking with candles on their heads in order to improve balance.  

Quite a few years later, Kiki married her current husband, Andrei Markovits.  The marriage brought her to the U.S. in 1997, and the couple lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as Andy was teaching at Harvard University.  A couple years later, they moved to Ann Arbor due to Andy's teaching position as a political science professor at the University of Michigan.  

Once she came to America, Kiki realized that Ismakogie did not exist in this part of the world, thus she wanted to spread her knowledge and show people how wonderful, simple, and practical it is.  Ismakogie is a well-being method that was developed by Anne Seidel in 1950.  It places an emphasis on repeating small exercises until the effects of them are felt on the whole body. 

All these years, Kiki had kept her apartment in Vienna and so she decided to go back to her hometown to become certified in Ismakogie. She took intense medical seminars in anatomy and did research on the practice, which is prevalent in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Italy.  She came up with her own, comprehensive version of Ismakogie-Nimble: Numerous Ideal Movements for the Body for Lifelong Elegance, Enhancement, Enrichment, and Enjoyment.  Her method is built on the premise that everything is connected; every limb in our body is connected to other parts and thus if we start fixing one part there will be a chain reaction-the other parts of the body will improve as well do to the effort put into just one area.  The method helps one focus on elegance, and integrate the path to lightness and agility in daily life-it's not just another workout, but a lifestyle. 

Kiki sat down and started writing her book in 2012, and she filmed a short video to accompany it.  The two were published at the end of 2012.  They were introduced to the public with an event at Ayla, a stylish boutique in downtown Ann Arbor.  Continuing the dispersion of her knowledge and teaching, Kiki published a second book in 2013, entitled Nimble: A Guide for Brides which continues the Nimble theme with techniques especially designed to help brides present themselves elegantly in their wedding ceremony. 

Nimble is for anyone who wishes to improve herself/himself physically and mentally.  Older people tend to appreciate Nimble more than the young as they can feel the effects of aging on their bodies and how Nimble teaching can address infirmity and significantly improve their body movement.  The young, however, can find the method beneficial.  It helps them establish proper posture and movement, avoid bad habits and integrate Nimble early on. 

Men are usually much less interested in appearance compared to women, however, most people don't want to lose the abilities that their bodies had at a young age, thus their motivation is health which, in turn, effects outward appearance.  

One of the primary steps to self-improvement is for people to have constant support in their feet in order to support other joints and muscles.  Kiki emphasizes the importance of starting with the feet, the base which holds up all of your body weight, and then working your way up the body.  When her book came out, people were very interested, but quite a few were also hesitant because Nimble seems so simple. 

Kiki has incorporated digital techniques to market her works such as having her website, putting up content on Youtube, and her Facebook.  Every month she sends out a newsletter, that anyone can sign up for on her website. The newsletter not only reviews exercises in the book, but also reveals new ones that are not in the book.  In the future, she will create a blog in order to reach out to her followers and connect even more with those interested in Nimble.    

Kiki also offers private lessons.  Sometimes whole groups of people have a lesson on how to sit and walk properly.  Group lessons make the educational experience fun.  Mothers and daughters have tea sessions together while taking lessons.  The practice facilitates bonding and investing in health simultaneously. 

Nimble sessions focus on the way you move, as it is your identity.  If you watch someone walking from afar, you can tell a lot about the person from the way he/she moves.  During the sessions, Kiki primarily focuses on balance, picking up the feet instead of shuffling, and having good posture with a straight back and shoulders down.  She watches her clients walk and then critiques and targets their specific goals.  For senior people, the goal is to help them walk in a refreshingly steady way, so that their movement does not reveal their age.  The lessons last about two hours and they are typically every six weeks.  Kiki doesn't want people to rely on her by having lessons every week.  She gives her clients time to practice the skills they learn. 

Kiki also conducts sessions in Detroit to young women from poor backgrounds to help them with their self-esteem.  She says, "it is important how you feel and how you carry yourself, not the amount of money you have".  

People wonder how long it usually takes to go from thinking about things like posture and body movements to being able to subconsciously move in the correct manner.  Kiki says that certain things are quick, such as sitting the correct way by sitting on the edge of a chair, on the sit bones.  It is almost always difficult for people to correct a hunched head, neck, and spine.  One of the main misconceptions Kiki clarifies for her clients is that relaxation doesn't have a positive connotation and that stress or tension doesn't have a negative connotation.  We are never completely relaxed.  Even while we sleep, breathing requires energy and muscle tension.  We are always flexing or stretching and so being relaxed is not a goal for the body.  Being completely relaxed with no tension is basically “being dead” so the goal is to be grounded-to be in the middle of “self” and find balance.  We need to gain back the natural resonance and balance of the body.  For example, we usually forget about the hands and if you think about it, we are always gripping or grabbing things but we never truly stretch our hands.  An analogy is the breaststroke.  You crutch the body together as the hands brush the chest and then you stretch and elongate the body.  The duality of life is a constant theme that holds true for the body.  One must balance out one extreme with the other.  Kiki says, "Outside posture reflects a lot of your inner life".  Our exteriors are a reflection of our interiors and vice versa, they are interdependent on each other.  Changing your outside appearance and feeling can change your inner self, and this is the epitome of Nimble.

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