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@ Work: Virgin Bodies

Aug. 13, 2006 – Jessica Hendy Reiff has always wanted to sing. "I was singing from the first moment I can remember," she says, while adjusting her weight to accommodate her 10-week-old son, Beckett, who is peacefully sleeping.
She puts him in his baby-seat, and settles into a serious interview, now that we have met.
Reiff is a 35-year-old mother, an accomplished Broadway actor and singer, a health enthusiast and the owner/instructor of her Pilates studio, Virgin Bodies.
She moved here from Manhattan with her husband, Aaron, three years ago. "I am doing what I want to do," she said. "I'm a woman and I own my own business. It is challenging and rewarding, and I am helping people."
Reiff studied yoga for 10 years or so in New York, where she had moved from Ohio to pursue her acting and singing dreams.
"I wanted to learn Pilates, but I was a broke actor," she says. "So, eventually, I went to a Pilates studio and worked doing desk duties in exchange for instruction. I worked for my mat certification. This is the first step before you become certified on the apparatus."
Well, what exactly is Pilates? It's a name most have heard bandied about by now, but few people can pop up with an immediate answer.
It is, Reiff explains, a method of exercise and physical movement designed to lengthen, strengthen and balance the body, working from what she calls "the core." She places her hands on her abdomen, illustrating where the movement comes from.
Pilates is a method developed by Joseph Pilates, a frail child who was determined to become stronger.
Born in Germany in 1880, Pilates was a performer and a boxer living in England in 1914. At the outbreak of World War I, he was placed in an internment camp along with other German nationals. There he taught camp members the concepts and exercises he had developed over 20 years of self-study and apprenticeships in yoga, Zen, and ancient Greek and Roman physical regimens.
Later, at another camp, he became a nurse to internees with diseases and physical injuries. Here, he began devising equipment to rehabilitate his "patients," taking springs from the beds and rigging them to create spring resistance and "movement" for the bedridden. He brought his concepts to New York City where he opened its first Pilates Studio in 1926.
Pilates equipment today is not much different than the crude setup Pilates initially invented, Reiff says. "It's the same principle."
She says the method "balances the body through the core. You breathe and walk differently," Reiff says, "I call it getting back to where you came from, your virginal body."
Though she has just returned from a three-month sabbatical in the states where she gave birth to Beckett, Reiff is a physical testament for her discipline. She is a lithesome five foot five, with long blond hair and deep blue eyes. She stands erect, even, or especially, while balancing the baby; she glows with rosy-cheeked health.
"Pilates used to be the province of only dancers and the elite," Reiff says. "Now, it's become mainstream."
She says she hasn't done a lot of advertising for her studio, which she opened in March last year in the Mark Marin Center at Antilles School. "It's mostly grown by word of mouth," she says, "and there is the gym in the building, so that's good exposure."
A colleague from New York came down to run the studio while Reiff was in the states. "I start back Monday," she says, clearly excited.
Reiff doesn't conduct large classes. "I do one on one, hands on, or, at most, with two students. My focus is 100 percent on the client. I get to watch them change." She says, "It isn't like a course you go through. It is never-ending; there are more than 500 exercises."
Her clientele is primarily women, but she said, "I do have a handful of men. And they like it. It's completely different from weight training. I've had them say it's the most intense physical thing they've ever done. And," she says, "I've taken two women through their pregnancy, and now we're going to be working on post-partum women, such as myself," she laughs.
Though she is no longer on the Great White Way, Reiff is not totally out of show business.
"I'd love to do what I did in New York," she says. "But I came here because I wanted to explore other areas of my life. I wanted to have a family."
Reiff returned to New York for about nine months after moving here with Aaron in 2003. "I got called for a part in Aida," she says, "and I wanted to complete my Pilates apparatus training." She flashes a bemused smile at the memory.
"I needed 500 hours at the Pilates studio," she says. "I got up at 7 a.m. trained all day, and had to be at the theater at 7:30 p.m. It was good training for having a baby. I'm used to living on no sleep."
Reiff earned an advanced apparatus certification through the Power Pilates studio system, recognized as the No. 1 training facility in the world. She studied anatomy with additional focus on special needs, such as pregnancy, the elderly and spinal injuries.
Reiff's eyes light up when she recalls her stage career. "I miss it desperately," she says. "It is so much fun to be on the stage singing before thousands of people. There is nothing like it, to inhabit the character, to go on a journey you do not get to go on in your ordinary, everyday life."
Reiff has had roles in three musicals on Broadway — "Cats," "Amour" and, of course, "Aida." She performed lead roles in both "Cats" and "Aida," has toured the United States with "Cats," in which she starred as Grizabella, and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." She also had lead roles in several regional theater productions, including "Miss Saigon."
There is nothing ordinary about Reiff's current journey, however. Pilates instructor, owner of her own business, mother of a 10-week old baby, a happily married wife – and sometime entertainer.
She has performed at two of the island's premier parties, the Humane Society Doggie Ball, and as the headliner at this year's St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce Awards Gala, "A Night on Broadway."
And, there are a couple more performances in the wings. "I may be doing a cabaret for The Forum here on island," Reiff says. "I'm not certain of the date for that yet. And, next year I've been invited to do a two-hour concert in Cincinnati, where I'm from. It's a city-wide fundraiser for a Catholic school where I got my start in theater; they have a new performance space that is equal to any on Broadway."
Reiff's studio reopens Monday. It's the only fully-equipped Pilates studio in the Virgin Islands. It is open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Call 776-6769 to make an appointment.

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