Friday, August 10, 2012

Mom in the Spotlight: Pilates Instructor, Jennifer Damsky

Jennifer Damsky began her ballet training at the age of 8 at the School of American Ballet.  After her family moved out of NYC she continued her training with her mother, Melissa Hayden, and then at the North Carolina School of the Arts.  Jennifer danced professionally with the Ballet Internacional de Caracas and the Los Angels Ballet until the age of 20.  Although dance was certainly in her genes, Jennifer knew that it was not her passion.  She stopped dancing, returned to school and then embarked on a whirlwind career in fashion, married and had two girls.  Although Jennifer loved her career, she realized that she wanted to have more control over the time she spent working and with her children.  Fortunately, throughout her dance career, fashion career and both pregnancies, Jennifer practiced Pilates.  Her love for Pilates lead her to become certified Pilates instructor through Power Pilates in NYC.  She now manages her own schedule and teaches close to 30 clients. She has also launched a website showcasing instructional and easy-to-follow Pilates DVDs.

How old are your children?  Boys? Girls?
I have two wonderful girls, ages 12 and 16.

Where were you in your career when your girls were born?
I was in a slightly different stage in my career when each girl was born, but with each experience I had to prove that I could handle a career and a baby.  

With my oldest, I was hired by a manufacturer as a midlevel sales person at five months pregnant.  Everyone thought my boss was crazy for hiring me.  He believed in me, and I wanted the job desperately, so I promised to stay with the company for a few years and take a less than traditional maternity leave.  I agreed to return to work for one week of meetings after 3 weeks at home.

Then, after the week of meetings I would go back on maternity but work from home a bit.  Despite a C-section and feeling sad to leave my baby, I kept my end of the deal.  The company did too.  They provided a wonderful environment where many of the sales and management staff were also working moms striving to balance work and career.  

I did, however, leave that company for another that offered a higher level job running a start up division of a larger company.  That's where I was with my second pregnancy.  Here, too, I had to break up my maternity leave, but this time when I came back after 10 days my counterpart did not understand why in the world I would want to go back on maternity leave.  

Needless to say, that was my last job in the fashion industry.

It seems that whether a woman is a stay-at-home mom, or a work-for-pay mom, she is likely feel some combination of guilt, longing for the road not taken, a lack of fulfillment, or regret. What has your experience been with this statement?
That is such a true statement!  Although when I was working for someone I tried (and almost succeeded) to never miss a school play, a school holiday party, swim meet, ballet performance or major event, I always had to run right after to go back to work.  I am not sure if my older daughter really minded but my heart would sink seeing other children go on a playdate or to lunch with their moms.  

I would often cry on the way to the subway thinking about what I was missing. Then on the flip side, there were many times at work that I so desperately wanted to run a larger division or go to China with my designer.  I know that was impossible given the way that I wanted to parent my girls.

Conventional thought says a woman serves her children best by staying at home.  Do you think your children benefited from seeing you work?
I really do think that my girls have benefited from seeing me work.  In the fashion industry they saw me navigate through some very difficult situations.  

With my Pilates practice they are very respectful of the times that I am teaching and with a client.  Now that I have launched my website they often ask “aren’t you proud of yourself mom?”  It is a great feeling.  I feel that I serve as a role model, for the better much of the time and sometimes, for the worse.  Either way, they realize that life is full of choices and hard work.

Like you, many people have come to Pilates from dance.  Why do you think this is?
I think that it is difficult for dancers to stop using their bodies even if they’ve chosen to stop dancing.  Most dancers have experienced Pilates at some point in their careers or training as pro-active conditioning or as rehabilitation after an injury. Many fall in love with Pilates because they see and feel the benefits of the exercises through their understanding of how the body moves.  

It seems that teaching is a natural progression, we are giving while still performing a little bit.

Pilates is all about alignment. What are some basic and accessible postural suggestions you would give to the dancer struggling with her side view in the mirror, as well as to the mom depressed about her pooch?
For both, I would start by saying we do not have to strive for perfection.  We should work towards being healthy and making our individual body the best it can be.  

From a technical standpoint, I would suggest to the dancer not to tuck her tail bone under and push her hips forward to give her legs turnout. We have four curves in our spine.  We need to honor them and not force a change, but maintain strength by keeping the abdominals engaged and pulled in and up.  Turnout should come from the top and back of the thigh.  

As for the mom, I would suggest the same about her abdominal muscles, which of course is very difficult to do after having a baby.
However, doing a few Pilates mat exercises for 5-10 minutes three times a week will help make that easily attainable.  

It is also very important for moms to think about shoulder placement and upper back strength. We all need to feel our shoulders down the back and upper back lifted. Too often we carry far too much or sit at the computer for way too long.  

It seems that people either love or hate Pilates – an exercise form that is often misunderstood.  What do you want folks to know about Pilates?  What is your mission in the fitness community? 
I think people are often scared of Pilates.  So often I hear, “oh, I can’t do that -- I am not flexible or I have no core strength.”  You can do it. I have a 31 year old 6’1’’ male client who came to me at the suggestion of his wife.  He was convinced he would hate it.  He now comes to me every week at 6:00am and boasts to his office how terrific he feels on his Pilates days.  

Pilates does work the core (which includes not only the abdominals but the shoulders, upper back down to the hips) and it does make one more flexible.  It also increases the circulation, helps with balance (which we really need when we get older), improves posture and helps reduce stress while boosting energy.  Pilates can be a wonderful addition to a workout program and compliment to other forms of exercise.  I love to run.  I love the high I get when I run and I love that I can let my mind wander.  Pilates compliments my running, it strengthens me so that I run faster, it lengthens my muscles  and it forces me to think about how and why my body is working.

I feel passionate about Pilates and I want to expose many to the benefits of Pilates. I have clients that range from athletic teens to people in their 90’s.  Hoping to make Pilates affordable to all, I launched a website of instructional and easy-to –follow videos. Featured are two very detailed mat classes taught by myself and In September the site will showcase two prenatal workouts taught by friend and expert teacher Carrie Campbell.

What advice would you, a seasoned mother of two, give to a mom like me, the mother of two little ones?
It may sound trite, but very simply, enjoy every moment.  It goes by much too quickly.

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