Pilates Style: Where did you grow up? Dawn-Marie Ickes: I grew up in Glendale, CA, just outside Burbank, where Warner Brothers’ and NBC’s studios are. I loved to ride horses, and back then, you could ride through the back lots. I was also into ice skating and dancing.
I had one professional dance job, working at Disneyland during my first year of college at Loyola Marymount. I was 18 and dancing in the Christmas parade in a Jungle Book monkey costume when I got clipped by a float and ruptured all the ligaments in my ankle.
PS: What was your recovery like? Dawn-Marie: I was in a boot and on crutches for three months. When they took me out of the boot, they said, “You’re good to go,” but my ankle didn’t feel right. So I went into the Loyola Marymount athletic-training room and asked the trainer if he could help me with rehab. He said, “Sure, and by the way, do you want a job? We can train you while you’re doing your rehab.”
PS: Is that what inspired you to become a physical therapist?
Dawn-Marie: In part, yes. At the time the Lakers used to practice at our gym. Their therapists and trainers would be in the training room with me and I was able to observe and learn from them. At the end of my freshman year, I was offered a job as an aide with Kerlan- Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, a group of world- famous sports medicine orthopedic surgeons; they worked with a lot of pro athletes, including members of the Lakers, the Kings and the Dodgers.
That job was a huge turning point for me. Especially influential was Annette Dugan, a therapist I worked closely with; she taught me to look at the whole person. I realized that therapists get to be an integral part of someone’s recovery and can help them move better, so I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
PS: After college, you got your master’s in physical therapy?
Dawn-Marie: Yes, from Mount Saint Mary’s College (now University) in Los Angeles in 1996.
Favorite apparatus: I do offloaded suspension Pilates on the Allegro 2 Reformer with an extension unit over it, which can make moves 25 to 30 percent easier or more difficult, depending on the setup.
The hardest move for me to master: Going from the Cat Walkover to an inversion on the Trap Table. You start by hanging in a curled-up ball position and then you pull into an inversion. It’s really hard!
Favorite mat move: Boomerang. I like it because it is the one mat exercise that is the culmination of the mastery of other mat exercises: Spine Stretch Forward, Rollover and Teaser.
Favorite brand of clothing for Pilates: Lululemon tops and Prana bottoms.
Most satisfying moment as a Pilates teacher: I was working with an older woman who had osteoporosis that affected her breathing so much she had to use a walker. The fourth week I was working with her, after doing some breath work on the Trap Table, she said, “I’d like to try to walk without my walker.” And she did! She said, “I can actually feel the muscles in my belly helping support me.” I started to cry, I was so happy!
PS: When did you first discover Pilates? Dawn-Marie: I was 13. I had a bad back injury from an ice-skating fall. My surgeon recommended that I try Pilates. It was awful. I was a freshly minted teenager and the teacher was constantly telling me I was doing everything wrong. It did help my back, but after six months, I stopped going. I’m sure I had a very good teacher, but I just wasn’t connecting with what she was trying to teach me. I realize now how much different it is teaching children than adults.
Years later, in 1998, I injured my shoulder in a car accident. The therapist put me on this machine and as soon as I started doing the Footwork, I realized, “I’ve done this before … when I was 13!” I continued taking Pilates at a studio near my house. The studio owner knew I was a physical therapist, and in exchange for private lessons, she asked me if I would screen some of the studio’s injured clients to help the Pilates teachers figure out how to work safely with them. I fell in love with Pilates and decided to get certified through Maria Leone at Bodyline Fitness in 1999.
PS: Were you working as a physical therapist at the same time?
Dawn-Marie: Yes. I had an internship at Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles when I was in grad school. One of the pediatricians, Yoshio Setoguchi, MD, who was in charge of the Child Amputee Prosthetics Project, took me under his wing. When I finished my internship, he offered me a job. It was a good position—I got to do research, watch surgeries and work with doctors who loved to teach and empower people. It was very inspiring being there. We worked with kids who otherwise would not get help—their families didn’t have insurance or access to health care, some were from other countries.
Once I had my first daughter, in 1998, it was hard to come home after doing an evaluation of a child who’d had a traumatic accident and not think, “Oh, my gosh, my daughter shouldn’t be near the stairs!” It became very emotionally draining.
Around the same time, I’d been moonlighting for a therapist, working at a Pilates studio in Burbank for several hours a Jay Grlmes, who taught me that moving and thinking went hand in hand but that too much of either killed the work; ron FleTcher, who emphasized not calling Pilates instructors “trainers.” He said, “Trainers are people who work with dogs and our clients are not dogs. We’re not training them to do tricks, we’re teaching them about their bodies.”
MIchele lArsson, both as a teacher and a wealth of wisdom; Amy AlPers, who taught me to fearlessly speak my truth, in teaching and life; Wendy leBlAnc- ArBuckle, my soul sister. From the first time I worked with the PMA, she’s been a grounding force of wisdom.
And kelly kAne , a woman who can humbly share her extreme wisdom while maintaining the human that she is outside of our industry at all times. It also helped to know I wasn’t the only one having a bonus baby when my firstborn was practically an adult! week. I really enjoyed it and the owners kept saying, “If you want to work here, we could fill your schedule. A lot of people would like to take a Pilates session from a physical therapist.”
PS: What did you end up doing?
Dawn-Marie: I wanted to work part-time so I could spend more time with my daughter. I talked to my husband about it and he said, “What do you enjoy doing more?” I decided I really loved the movement training. So I quit my job at Shriners and started working at the Pilates studio. I was booked 25 hours a week within a matter of days.
After about a year, the owners were becoming disenchanted with operating a studio. The other therapist and I, along with one of our contractors, decided to open our own studio, Core Conditioning, in Studio City, in 2003. We had three locations at one point. I left the practice four years ago, but the Studio City studio still exists.
PS: how did you get involved with the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA)? Dawn-Marie: I received a press release in the mail after the trademark ruling was overturned.
One of the initiatives at that first PMA meeting was to create guidelines for a Pilates for children program. I came up with a pilot, which I launched in 2004 at my daughter’s school. The student response was heartwarming and inspiring.
At that first meeting, I met Colleen Glenn and Kevin Bowen, who had co-founded the PMA, and Nora St. John, who developed Balanced Body University. We broke into groups to see what skill sets people had and how we could work together to create a professional organization with standards of practice; I was in a group with Rael Isacowitz, Michele Larsson, Deborah Lessen—all these rock stars of the Pilates world. Meanwhile, I’d been a teacher for only a couple of years. I said to them, “I hope that I can bring something to the table, because clearly my Pilates background is not why I’m here!”
I worked on the exam¬writing committee and was in charge of the initiation of Pilates Day. I ended up being on the board for seven and a half years.
PS: Was that also how you got involved with Pilates for children? Dawn-Marie: Yes. One of the initiatives at that first PMA meeting was to create
guidelines for a Pilates for children program. I came up with a pilot, which I launched in 2004 at my daughter’s school. The student response was heartwarming and inspiring:
A film crew came to capture our work for an initiative we hoped to get rolling in Washington, D.C. The lead camera operator, the producer and I were all in tears as we watched the children talk about what Pilates meant to them—how they could concentrate better, relax more and feel less stress. It was so raw and organic; we had honestly expected to hear about their sore torsos and improved flexibility.
I continued teaching in the schools in my area, worked with any teacher who wanted to teach kids and started presenting a Pilates for Children workshop. In 2014, Pilates for Children and Adolescents: Manual of Guidelines and Curriculum, a book I coauthored, with much support from the PMA, was published by Handspring Publishing.
PS: how did you get involved with Balanced Body?
Dawn-Marie: I had met Nora St. John at the first PMA meeting in 2000, and we really hit it off. I also knew Ken [Endelman, Balanced Body’s founder and CEO] from buying equipment from him.
Nora is a wonderful communicator and teacher and she had a vision for education and Pilates that resonated with me. She approached me about being part of the Balanced Body faculty training program. We had our own program at my studio, but it was very appealing to us to work with Nora and be able to focus on what we did best: teaching. We were part of the first group of Balanced Body faculty training programs that launched in 2007.
PS: do you put your own personal touch on your program?
Dawn-Marie: Balanced Body has been very supportive of my applications of the program. I have also developed quite a bit of education designed to guide teachers in utilizing specific screening tools, corrective exercise applications and protocols when working with special populations. They learn how to use functional-movement screening assessments based on Pilates exercises and how to use the information these assessments give them.
PS: you also teach in various university settings?
Dawn-Marie: Yes, I’m so proud of that! With the support of Balanced Body, third- year students in California State University Northridge’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program are able to earn a comprehensive Pilates certification. The students love it! For one reason, they earn $3 to $5 more an hour than those without a Pilates certification.
I also teach a comprehensive certification program at Fullerton College. Many of the students are fresh out of high school and are just taking Pilates to fill a PE requirement. It isn’t until they get about halfway through the first semester of the two-year program that they recognize the great deal they’re getting for $60 a unit versus what it would cost to get certified elsewhere.
It’s such an important program. Most junior college students have to work, but now, instead of making minimum wage, they can earn $25 to $30 an hour teaching Pilates while they put themselves through school. Sometimes I feel like I need to let something go, but I just can’t let go of the junior college program; I want young people to have work opportunities that allow them to develop their communication, organizational and life skills— and not have to take out huge student loans.
PS: Tell us about your new position at ella health.
Dawn-Marie: I’m the national director of physical therapy and integrative wellness for Ella Health, a national health and wellness company. We offer women’s health programs and services, including 3-D mammography, integrative wellness programs, physical therapy, Pilates, Redcord and yoga. By the end of this year, we will have five physical therapy and Pilates centers around the country. Pilates instructors are an integral part of our wellness model, so I am thrilled to be working with Ella to create many new jobs in our industry, one studio at a time.
I continue to own Evolve Integrative Wellness in Orange County, where we have an amazing team of therapists and instructors. I see clients there one to two days a week.
PS: Tell us about your family life. Dawn-Marie: I’ve been married to my husband, Rob, for 19 years. We have a 16-year- old, Ryan-Marie; a 13-year-old, Remy; and then, four years ago, when we thought we were in the home stretch—Remy was nine— we had our “bonus baby,” Gracyn. She’s been a total blessing and changed our lives in ways we couldn’t have fathomed.
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