Melissa Ricci moved from the world of professional dance into Fitness in 1995 becoming the certified personal trainer. She began sharing her passion for dance and fitness with the diverse clientele at some of New York City’s leading health clubs. She then attended the prestigious Kane School of core integration, which is known for its intensive Pilates curriculum and concentration and core muscle anatomy. With her extensive training, she started face fitness with her husband in 2002 to better address individual’s muscular imbalances and physical limitations that often hindered their sports performance and activities of daily living. She teaches Pilates on the pier for New York parks and recreation where I first found her classes. She joins us today to talk about her wide-ranging career.

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Alice:  Melissa Ricci moved from the world of professional dance into Fitness in 1995 becoming the certified personal trainer. She began sharing her passion for dance and fitness with the diverse clientele at some of New York City’s leading health clubs. She then attended the prestigious Kane School of core integration, which is known for its intensive Pilates curriculum and concentration and core muscle anatomy. With her extensive training, she started face fitness with her husband in 2002 to better address individual’s muscular imbalances and physical limitations that often hindered their sports performance and activities of daily living. She teaches Pilates on the pier for New York parks and recreation where I first found her classes. She joins us today to talk about her wide-ranging career. So thank you for being online.

Melissa: Thank you for having me.

Alice: So tell me first. What is your favorite outdoor activity?

Melissa: It is walking but it is so boring,I know. But walking, walking, walking and because I live in New York City. I do not need a car and I can walk, walk, walk, and I am a people watcher so it kind of is great. I can walk anywhere. And especially right now because I really do not want to get on the subway.

Alice: Yes.

Melissa: I have been walking everywhere and just exploring the city and all shapes and forms and definitely interesting people are out.

Alice: What is the craziest thing that you have seen either like on your walks now or like just in life in general in New York?

Melissa: Just contingency of homeless people. But one in particular, this gentleman and he moves around the Upper West Side a great deal. And he always has a chair and I just do not understand where he has gotten this chair from. And they are different chairs though. Sometimes since like of straight-back chair, sometimes the chair on wheels and he really goes all over with his chair and his belongings. He has got like a headband. He looks like a throwback from the sixties. And he is with different clusters of people. And so I guess that on one hand, I am always so sad when I see all the homeless people because I think there is a reason they are homeless. Like how did they get there? What is their story? You know often mental illness is a part of that but I am thinking this man must have been such an interesting human being. Like who was he and how is it that he has the wear with all to have a chair at all times. And then he sits in it and then he gets up and he moves it around and also he is near Trader’s Joe a lot of times and so you see him out there.

I do not know and so that is part of like the whole people idea and like who are these people and my heart is often like, “How did they get there?” “How did they get there?” and “How would i help them?” I don’t know how I can help them. So I think that is the most interesting thing.

Alice: What is your favorite Pilates pose?

Melissa: Oh hands down teaser. So that is where we roll up and we come up to a balance. There are many variations to it. And it is one of the harder ones. That is why it is called “teaserising”. But anybody can do it in different forms. And depending on the day you are having, it sort of puts all the work together. Because it just requires flexion extension. I do not know but it just feels good.

Alice: That is great. What is your favorite type of Pilates class that you teach?

Melissa: I would say flow. I like to move. I really like to move and then you know, if we meet obstacles along the way that we can kind of like work through that. You can always backtrack from it, but I think that comes from my dance background that I just like to move. I really like to just move.

Alice: Can you talk a little bit about your dance background? So you started off and dance.

Melissa: I did. I started off as what I like to call like a dolly dinkle dance studio like my local studio. My mom was like, “You need to do something”. I was like four and she said, “To the local dance studio”. It was like Linda’s dance studio. And so I started doing that. That is where I met my best friend actually, but I’m still friends with to this day. Yes, we have gone through many stages of life together. And as I started to get a little bit older, I really loved ballet. But they did not have a strong ballet program and I grew up in New Haven and so the Connecticut ballet was there.

So I auditioned for their school, which I guess it would be like what a pre-professional program is today, but they didn’t really call as that. And then as I studied more intensively. I was invited to be in their junior company. And so I was able to dance with the Schubert New Haven which is actually is before it was renovated. So it was kind of like, “Is this stage going to hold?” The ceilings look a little I do not know. But it has such a history. For years, so many shows have their start there before they came to Broadway. That is where they would do their trials. So on and then I moved to New York City. I attended NYU. I did not major in dance. My mother was insistent that I knew how to dance. She was not paying for a degree in dance. So I picked English literature. Which I love to read and write so that worked out really well. And then I just enjoyed my summers of school like the Summer Stock and regional theater and Off-Broadway and all that kind of good stuff for many years.

I did have a major injury. I dislocated my knee while I was on tour. So that was not so great. And then I ended up subsequently having two knee surgeries which sort of started to shorten my dance career a little bit because it was very painful. And I also been in a car accident.

Alice: Oh my gosh.

Melissa: So that sort of all coupled together like a perfect storm. But I always say there is like a positive side to everything. Because all the physical therapy I did kind of really led me to personal training and what I do now. So I sort of took a lot of that with me to what I do today. And I have a lot of special population people. People with MS and Parkinson’s and I run a cancer exercise group through the why called Livestrong. So I have a sense of having injured myself and also through dance. That is what you do. You can not beat your body up. So I just know when someone is in pain, I understand that. And the frustration of trying to get somebody out of skiing.

And and my husband, I mean that is kind of tie it together a little bit how we started these Fitness. He was a personal trainer and I actually met him at a gym.  It is like a classic start. But I dated somebody else for a little while and I was still performing at that point. And then he and I just started talking like we were very good friends. Then we ended up dating. It was like our second date. It was like, this is the man I am spending my life with. He felt the same way which is good because we made each other laugh immediately, which was a good thing. You have to laugh twenty seven years later. We are still laughing.

But he said, “Why do not you consider personal training?” Because he would talk to me about his clients and they would say, “Well have you tried this?” “Have you tried that?” Mainly because of all the PT that I had done. So he really kind of pushed me and he said, “You can still perform and do this and then if you decide you do not want to perform there is something else then”.

When you are a dancer and that is all you do, when you stop dancing it feels like it is almost like you have left something behind. But I realized I did not. I brought it with me.

Alice: Oh, that is great.

Melissa: It just took on a new form. There is like a little period of time where you are like, “Oh, God”. Because theater becomes for lack of a better description like your church. It is just sort of you are saying, it is your ritual and all the different people that you need. But I realized it did not have to stay there. It did come with me in so many ways. So that is how we started this fitness. We just felt like we needed to serve the needs of our clients a little bit better. We have become like the intermediary between if they have physical therapy and how health insurance works. You get like five visits and you are healed but not really. We kind of step in at that point and it is like really [inaudible] surgery. I do not understand. We have been able to forge a lot of relationships with PTs and with Orthopedic actually. So that we are the go-between to help them kind of function in life.

Alice: Wow.

Melissa:  And if clients do have issues, we see them more frequently than a doctor or PT would. So we are like something is not right. Like I may not know what it is, but we can like report that back to the doctor so that they have a better quality of life. I have to say I like our clients. Some of the clients we have had I think they have known my husband longer than me. So, in fact, all of them are like at our wedding. They are like family to us now. We have been very fortunate, very lucky and then we branched out. I started teaching more and the wellness program actually Pilates on the pier. Again Six Degrees of Separation. My husband’s best friend that he grew up with. His mom was the real advocate for the community. She always was. So anytime I took that class I think of her as she passed away about three years ago. She was insistent that there needs to be a health and wellness program for the community. And her son worked for the parks and rec department. And she was like, “You need to find a way to provide some programming and I know Melissa can do this”. And I really credit it to her that this is the 19th year I think that I have been doing that program.

Alice: Wow.

Melissa: Yeah. Which is I am like, “Oh God, am I really that much older?”

Alice: No. That is amazing. I love that programming. They have all the like [inaudible]. But then they also have those wonderful exercise classes. Now virtually, more people can participate as well.

Melissa: We always had to cancel if it was raining or there was a thunderstorm or whatever. But now I said, “This is amazing that we have this option because next year we can be outside”. But if it is like a hundred degrees out, “Hey guys we are going to take it inside where it is safer and we still can have class”. I have seen the same people for nineteen years, which is also crazy. Like in the neighborhood I am like, “Hey, how was your fall and your winter and your spring and even the summer?” Some of them have joined the Y which has been great. Because then I do get to see them in the off-season which is really cool.

Alice:  Where is Base Fitness located? Where do you guys practice?

Melissa: So we practice really all over the place. It is in our home now. So we really basically go into people’s homes or a lot of gyms in their buildings now, so we will go into those buildings. There are some facilities that allow just trainers and clients to come in. I am also very fortunate again, I love the Y because it is so community-oriented but they allow outside people to come in and work there in the Pilates studio. So I can bring outside clients in. I mean it is a little bit three to Y but it is just access to the studio, which is fantastic. So we are kind of all over the place and now we are virtual with many of our clients. And I have to say I am so impressed by my eighty something-year-old clients who are like, “Send me the zoom link. Okay. I am ready”. They are like, “Can you see me because I can not see my head so you probably can not see it”. And they are adjusting the angles and then moving it down to the floor. It has been awesome. I mean I miss hugging them. But we stay connected with so many people which has been great. And a few more like, “Oh, did you repaint the walls? I like that color. Take a tour, oh look these are the shelves that Matt’s building”.

Alice: Amazing. What have you guys been up to in quarantine? You were talking a little bit before we like started.

Melissa: We have been moving our furniture around. That is really what we have been doing back and forth. And I do say sliders are invaluable underneath your furniture. It just moves so much better. In two seconds flat we can we can move the living room around. But I would say I am a big organizer. In fact, my family makes fun of me because I burn out my label maker and they are like, “You would label us if you could”. And everything is labeled, but then they are like, “Where is the toothpaste?” I am like, “In the basket that says toothpaste”. But they do not read anything. Nobody reads anything. They still ask me where everything is. I am a big reader. So I have just been reading a lot a lot of trashy stuff.

Alice: What should we be reading? What are your recommendations?

Melissa: Well this is not classy, it is Jennifer Weiner. I love her books and she just came out with a new book. I wrote it down because I have to remember because I read it. It is Big Summer. It was great. It was so good. And then Kristen Hannah. I love her books that she is just an amazing storyteller. And what was the other? Oh, Emma Straub, All Adults Here Popular. I am kind of doing like some intense stuff with Underground Railroad, which I am doing little bits at a time. And then I love Doris Kearns Goodwin because she does a lot of historical stuff. And interestingly enough this one book I am reading is about presidents in turbulent times.

Alice: Wow, how timing.

Melissa: I was looking for inspiration and that is all that I am going to say. But yes, I definitely do read a great deal. We have been doing that and cleaning and organizing and like I said just vacuuming. I have cats. I vacuum a lot.

Alice: What kind of cats do you have?

Melissa: We adopted them. They are brothers. One of them is part Maine coon. So they are both huge. They are like sixteen pounds. They are not fat. They are fluff. We like do a check on them to make sure they are fit too. They are like little sausages in quarantine. I do not know but they are fluffy and big. They are really good, but they misbehave tremendously when I teach. They sleep for like twenty hours a day. But the one hour that I teach they are like, “Oh, what can we do?”

Alice: Yes i always see them walking around in the background, which is very fun.

Melissa: Yes. Or one of them Diesel especially likes to put his head right into the camera. I always get comments like in the chat. Then I am like, “Guys, are you actually doing class or you are just watching my cats? What are you doing? I am working really hard here. I can not see anybody. I am sweating. Are you joining me? Come on”.

Alice: Can you talk about how you got into Pilates? What led you to?

Melissa: I had a friend, a fellow dancer. This was early on when I was dancing that they really did not really send dancers to physical therapy, like initially. They were like, “Oh, go to Pilates because they really did not consider dancers as athletes. Which is odd, very odd. I had sprained an ankle very badly and my friend said, “You should really try Pilates because it is non-weight-bearing. And you will be able to realign things and rehab the injury”. So I did it for a little while and at the time Pilates is very expensive especially for a starving student and performer. Seems like, “Okay, I will take what I know”. I did have some ballet teachers that incorporated Pilates in the beginning of classes. But i would think my injuries led me to the teacher training that I started to do.

And then I was fortunate because the gyms I was at offer different Pilates programs. And so I started to get a taste of it from a teacher perspective. And then I found the Kane school and I have to take Kelly Kane to this day is like a mentor to me. She is amazing. She is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met. So humble and down to earth and incredible. She is like a role model. She is like a woman. Like a real woman. And so through the continuing education that the school offers also, I just constantly being exposed to different ways of thinking about things and trying to help people. And it is cool. It is like very collaborative.

Even as a graduate, people kind of come together. They have a program called Sammy. That is held at Mount Sinai School of Medicine that is cadaver dissection. So it is awesome. It is like five days of intensive Anatomy with the Professors from Mount Sinai. So we get lectured to on different parts and each day you deal with a different part of the body and it is really amazing. It was the most amazing experience have had to do. Look at stuff in books and you look at people but to actually see how everything connect.

Because I just feel very strongly and Kelly had always enforced this to us that you need to know the body. Need to know the muscles because that is your road map. You know when you look at somebody in front of you, why are they rotated? Why are they this way? Why are there that way and at the end of the day we are just trying to improve people’s quality of life. Whether they are grandmothers, whether they are going to go on a big hike, whether they are going to Vacation. We have to prepare them for life. Get them ready for life. It is always best weekend.

Alice: I was reading a little bit about Pilates. Joseph Pilates started it and it was like to help soldiers initially from World War One?

Melissa: Yes. He figured out a way and his equipment basically simulates. He realized like some of the folders had no legs, so they could not sit up. So he created like this pulley system to help them get up to strengthen their core. So that their ab muscles were stronger. And it was really by chance when he came to the United States that his studio was in with a boxing ring studio. It was on 8th Avenue actually in the fantasies. I have a client who I think it was his uncle or maybe his grandfather did box in the studio. So he was like weird victories end. I was either a floor below or above. I could be historically a little wrong on that. It was a dance company and so they started to reach out to him to help the dancers.

That is how he became synonymous with dance a little bit. But he really did start out from a therapeutic recovery perspective. And then it branched out and I always love when my male clients like, “Oh, Pilates. You know that is redemption”. I am like, “Joseph Pilates was a man.”

Alice: It started with the army.

Melissa: Exactly! To get more muscular than them. I am like, “Come on. What is wrong with you? Athletes used to do this”. It is a different approach when you work with men versus women. In terms of the flow of a class. And their appeal to athleticism and wanting to really kind of move. They like to move a little bit more. And then you can kind of backtrack later to fill in the pieces. So it is interesting. Yeah, when I work with my female clients, they are a little more methodical and a little more like, “Wait, how do I put that together?” And they will spend time working on little things. Whereas men will kind of go through it and that is a general statement. I do have male clients that are like, “I do not understand how this work. Can you go through this one piece with me?” And everyone is a little different. Some people learn quicker. They learn slower. They do not want to deal with details. So you kind of go in the back door.

Alice: That is really interesting. If someone wanted to get started on Pilates, what should they be doing?

Melissa: I think finding a basic class. That is what I always say, “Go to basics”. And understanding the vocabulary because it is its own vocabulary. And knowing what does neutral spine means for you because it is different for everybody. Making sure you are not in pain ever in your back or your neck. Because that is the biggest thing. A lot of times people get in to postures and poses and they are like, “This really hurt like strains”. It does not feel good. I encourage a lot of people that I work with when I teach group classes. They will come to me and say, “I have all these questions”. And they work with me maybe once one-on-one. And I said, “That helps me because then when I look at you in class, I have a better sense of what it is you need to kind of work on”. And I say, “Ask questions”. Even if somebody can not do that 101. It is not feasible for them.

I always say, “Ask your instructor questions. And if the instructor does not answer questions then find a different instructor”. Because it is important to really understand what it is about. And making sure you put the pieces together. It is like a big onion. That is how I think of Pilates. You can peel the layers. And sometimes it is a little smelly, might make you want to cry. And then other times it is super yummy depending on how you have cooked it. So you just have to be patient. I have been cooking a lot also during quarantine.

Alice: Great!

Melissa: And I am not a cook necessarily. I will tell you that.

Alice: Yeah, I am too now. As of now.

Melissa: Right exactly. My mother is thrilled. My mother is like, “Finally”. I tried for all those years, but you did not listen. I am like, “I am okay. I am a little better now”.

Alice: That is great. And do you think Pilates is good for this time? Like the stress of everything? anxiety? What would you say to that?

Melissa: Oh, completely. Yes because the breathing that is involved. The movement that is involved. I tend to like Pilates because it does move. And so for me, it is like a moving meditation. And I can kind of get out of my head a little bit as I am going through the class. I do often throw elements of yoga into my Pilates here and there because I think they do mesh well together. Some things are inherently a little different than others. But some people do not like the stillness of yoga. So Pilates appeals a little bit better. But I would say, “You can find the stillness within Pilates and then maybe go to the yoga”. But I think the breathing is essential. And we have to move because we are stuck at home. We can run a little more now. But that stay at home was a little intense.

You know I am so proud of New York in general. Like we did it. We stayed in our apartment. We were so good. We were good. We like respect it. At least I felt in the building that I am in everybody respected each other. People were so good. They were so good. And cheering for the healthcare workers because we happen to have a terrace, we are very lucky. We saw all these terraces and all these people and I was like, “Oh, oh, oh, that is who lives there. Those are my neighbors. Oh, hi”. And so we would say hi to everybody at night. And so now it is really kind of cool. Like if you see them on the street, you are like, “Hey, yeah! You live across the street. How you doing? Okay”. And we walk on. So community came together. Let us hope we can hold it together through the fall and the winter.

Alice: Yeah, I hope so. New York strong like [inaudible]. Yes.

Melissa: I pray and I just want other states to listen to that. I am like guys together we have to do this together. It is not like individuals. Like together-together.

Alice: I think Taylor is doing so well too. Because like everyone knows someone who was affected and so it is like amazing to see everyone on the street wearing a mask and like we are very respectful.

Melissa: Yes. You give me heart. It is like I am proud.

Alice: I am from New York. We did it. Like we worked hard.

Melissa: I know. I was laughing at one point when we saw my brother-in-law and actually my husband brought three of his brothers. He has four brothers. Three of them in Baltimore and a couple of them were like, “Yeah, you know wearing this mask”. And we are like, “You have a backyard”.

Alice: You can do it.

Melissa: “And you have a car. You can get your car and drive”.

Alice: What a life.

Melissa: But again, it is like relative. And it is walking in someone else’s shoes for just a minute and kind of going,”Well, yeah that affects their lifestyle”. Like they do not really understand us being in our apartment. And we are like, “Yeah, we are going to wait in line for two hours to go grocery shopping, but we are going to be okay with that. We are okay. Dixie you go down. Go ahead. You get the cauliflower. I will let you go. I will wait your diamond then I will dip in there”. So I think it is relative and I think because we do all this together. We do have a sense of we really do have to work together and we are better for it. I do not know. I just think we are better for it.

Alice: I think so. Yes. And something we always ask on this podcast is if you had any piece of advice to give any woman like right now, what would you say?

Melissa: My initial instinct is to say, “Listen to your instincts, like listen to your gut”. I think that, that is a really big thing. And it is something that on many levels I laugh as I say this has driven my husband crazy for years. Because I always say, “No, that does not feel right”. He is like, “What does that mean?” We would shop for a couch and I am like, “No, it does not really feel right”. “Do you like the depth of it? Do not like the curve of the arm?” I am like, “I do not know but it just does not feel right”. And then I eventually arrived that why it does not feel right. But I have always followed that in terms of work, in terms of you know people I have worked with and the times when I have not followed it. I have regretted that I have not followed it.

And I also think if something scares you? You might need to go towards what scares you. And I do not mean like a threatening scare more like, “Oh, I do not know. I do not know about that. I do not know if I can do that”. But maybe that is a hurdle that you have to go over. And there is something good waiting on the other side of it. I try to tell my daughter that anyway. I do not know we try. I would not know for quite some time as any of that since then.

Alice: I think that is a great piece of advice or those two things. Like go towards what scares you and just really follow your instincts. I think that is really right.

Melissa: I am hoping.

Alice: Melissa, is there anything else you would like to add to our listeners today?

Melissa: No, I just think stay strong. Right now that is really what we need to do. And I think self care is important to me. Obviously, I am in Wellness. But I think during this time, there is so much going on. So many social issues that have really like risen up. We have the Covid. Everything has been revealed.

And so I think for me seeking to help others but I know that if I do not take care of myself, I am not going to be able to take care of others. And that in turn once we do that we can come together. So I think it is okay to say, “I have to take a moment and take a step back and take a breath”. And then go ahead and take a step forward. And having a family. I have always said to my husband, “I have to be with myself before I can be with you”. Because I just think we need to be grounded in ourselves and then we will be able to go forth and do other things.

Self-care is big. Does not mean being selfish. It just means self care. So I think that is the biggest thing. I do not know if that is remotely helpful or I doubt it is very profound, but that is what I found.

Alice: I think it is so helpful. It is great. We all have to practice self-care. I think that is right. And how can people find out about your classes? How can they take your Pilates classes?

Melissa: So the best thing to do is to go to because my schedule is on there. As I had mentioned, I am also through the West Side Y, the Y to be YMCA of Greater New York. Through Facebook live. They have been doing a lot of classes. But they will move to a virtual programming come fall as well. So you can find all that on the Y website, summer on the Hudson the parks and rec. But all of that is compiled together on our website or I am on Facebook or Instagram. All those lovely social media platforms, which I have had to learn to navigate and humbly ask my fifteen-year-old to help me with. And then how did you do that? How did you, I do not understand. How to do post that? “Mom, I showed you. Do we have to show you again?”. Like I do not get how you edited that photo so quickly. But she does help me so it is a good thing.

Yeah, Base fitness. That is the best way to find any information. And I am big like I said, I love questions. So people can always email me and if I have an answer I will give it. If I do not, I will try to find it. But yes, I just kind of like especially in this virtual time. I like to hear from people because I just like to know if there is anything I can kind of help with.

Alice: Great. Thank you so much for being on Melissa.

Melissa: Oh, you are welcome. Thank you for having me. This is terrific and hopefully I will see you in class and I will look for your tiny name box.

Alice: Do not mention my name. But you probably would not see me with all the sweat. Or just dirty house.

Melissa: It is hysterical because people email me before they took a lot of my classes and said, “Do i turn my camera on?” I said, “No, you do not. As long as I see your name and I know you are there, it is all good. Okay?”

Alice: Perfect. Yes. Thank you so much Melissa.

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