Rochelle Rice '83, department of Dance alum and president of In Fitness & In Health tells us about how dance led to fitness and the joys of being a speaker.
Where are you from originally? What brought you to UMass?
I grew up in Saugus, MA. My parents, Malcolm and Sandra (Hill) Rice, are both graduates of UMass and I was born in Northampton! My mother had a dance studio and since the age of 3, I danced. When it came time to attend college, I auditioned at a number of schools but fell in love with UMass and the dance department.
What did you focus on in your studies at UMass?
I was a dance major at the University under the tutelage of Marilyn Patton, Richard Jones, Andrea Watkins and Gary Schaff. The department was incredibly solid and well rounded. I also enjoyed French and took a semester abroad during my junior year to live with a French family and travel throughout Europe.
How would you describe the career path that lead to your current career as president of In Fitness & In Health?
I moved to NYC in 1985 to join my classmate Robert “Smitty” Smith. We both were fortunate to work with Jazzdance: the Danny Buraczeski Dance Company along with Phoebe Farber who was also from the UMass Dance Department. Early in 1986, I went to see our classmate, Margaret “Maggie” Albertson Prindle perform at DTW here in NYC. Her body had changed significantly since college – firm, tone, muscular. When I asked her what she had been doing, she told me she was teaching fitness. And so my journey began. I trained at the studio where Margaret was teaching, got certified as an ACE Group Fitness Instructor, and made an easy transition to fulltime fitness when Jazzdance relocated to Minneapolis. I opened my own fitness business in 1989 and never looked back.
What do you love most about writing and speaking?
I feel very lucky to have developed a career that I was surprised I loved as much as my dance. As a dancer, you realize there are many ways to deliver your material or message. Writing is one way that I find creative, but speaking is really a joy to me. I have been a member of Toastmasters since 2001. Through Toastmasters, I learned the skills of speaking to match the body gestures that came naturally as a dancer. As a professional speaker, I enjoy the opportunity to blend my speaking and dance to deliver my message of movement. In August, 2010, I became one of only 60 Accredited Speakers in the world through Toastmasters International. I felt like my dancer training skills kicked into high gear to help me achieve this goal. I was in great physical shape, took my vitamins, stayed disciplined like a dancer in my preparation and delivery. Today I am the President of the New York City Chapter of the National Speakers Association so speaking is a very exciting career path for me!
What inspired you to devise the Plus-Size Exercise Technique?
In researching fitness programs for women of size, it became evident that there was a lack of program design and availability of certified trainers specializing in larger women. With my history of bulimia, my interest in Plus-Size Exercise came through my concerns about the inordinate stress put on thinness in our society, rather than fitness. Providing a safe environment where women could exercise physically while feeling secure emotionally, became my passion. Designing a fitness technique where women of size could achieve a level fitness was the base of my graduate work at New York University.
You’re very involved with UMass as an alum – can you tell us more about your work with the NYPOP Program?
The NYPOP program is truly a dream come true for me! I work closely with Paul Dennis, who is on the faculty of the dance department. The students attend the NYPOP class one time per week during the fall semester and then travel to NYC for two weekends. While the students are here in New York, they take dance classes, attend open rehearsals and performances, have workshops at the Field, Career Transitions for Dancers and other organizations that assist dancers and choreographers in pursuit of their career. Paul and I firmly believe in the program and its importance in guiding the dancer in the direction that is best suited for him or her. When the students graduate, they have already had a hands on learning experience of what life as a dancer in NYC would look like as well as ideas for other dance career possibilities.
Do you have any particularly fond or funny memories from your time at UMass?
I lived in Coolidge on the 11th floor – co-ed at the time. I loved the people on the floor as well as my RA, Chris Hodgkins. I moved into the Alpha Chi sorority house for the next 3 years and loved it! 50 of us living together! They were amazing women! And lastly, the dance department. I spent many hours in the Totman Building with my dance friends, Bonnie, Margaret, and Smitty to name a few. I miss the days of touring with the University Dancers as well as dancing at the Pub!
What advice would you give to recent or soon-to-be graduates of UMass?
Money! Learn how to manage your personal finances, even if you have school loans or don’t have a lot of money. I see many dancers still today stepping into the world today with very little knowledge of how to manage their finances. Fortunately, I was never a ‘starving artist’ in NYC but I wish I had known better back then how to manage the cash I was making and make wiser financial decisions for long term wealth. I am now committed to helping any dancer or young person structure their basics of personal finances.