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Bess Whitesel Chatham Alumna Class of 94


Moving to Heal

From professional dancer to Pilates extraordinaire, Bess believes in the power of movement to heal, both herself and others.



As a professional dancer and certified Pilates and GYROTONIC instructor, movement is pretty much Bess Whitesel’s life’s work: “Movement heals, just keep moving,” she encourages. Bess certainly has, building an impressive and diverse career that ranges from internationally touring with a professional dance company to co-owning a Pilates studio.

After growing up a ballet dancer in Annapolis, Maryland, Bess was unsure of what post-high school route was best. Chatham made it so she didn’t have to neglect any of her passions:

“I chose Chatham because I could join the professional track at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School for college credit. I wanted to have it all, to go to college and to continue to pursue a professional dance track.”

At Chatham, Bess didn’t make any compromises— while majoring in Philosophy and French, she continued to pursue dance. She spent one January interim (a predecessor to what recent alumni may know as Maymester) in France and then returned for an entire semester in Angers, France. “I gained some much-needed confidence and life experience while getting a liberal arts education,” says Bess.

After college, Bess trained with the School of American Ballet, Joffrey Ballet School, Parsons Dance Company, and performed with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, before becoming a member of Boston’s Snappy Dance Theater from 2000 to 2007. At Snappy, Bess picked up Pilates, a system of controlled movements meant to strengthen and stabilize the core. Pilates helped Bess do her job, which often required her to lift men, but it also strengthened her mentally.

In 2003, Bess took her Pilates practice a step further, becoming certified with master trainers in New York City. Four years later, she became certified as an instructor of GYROTONIC exercise, which has improved her bodily awareness and ability to move with both strength and ease.

Bess co-owns Upward Spiral Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts with two other women. At her studio, Bess teaches both Pilates and GYROTONIC exercise. And though she considers her work healing

“I wanted a career with movement, both my own and others. I knew I couldn’t sit at a desk all day. I wanted the resources for my own wellness and was very excited to realize a career as a Pilates instructor was realistic.”

Nowadays, Bess co-owns Upward Spiral Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts with two other women. At her studio, Bess teaches both Pilates and GYROTONIC exercise. And though she considers her work healing, she doesn’t accept full credit: “I see my work as leading to healing, with my clients being a big part of the equation, their attitude, their dedication.”

Bess believes in exercise as a healing modality because of how it has helped in her own life. In addition to her dance and exercise instruction, she moves at every opportunity: biking to work, practicing yoga, and swimming. Her personal philosophy is that if you give to your body, it will give back.

“We have one body during our lifetime, for 90+ years. We want to prevent hurting ourselve; strength and mobility will do that. We want to be able to lift our suitcases in and out of the overhead compartment, lift and play with our kids, twist our spine to turn head and shoulders in order to back the car out of the driveway, swim in the waves on summer vacation, ski during the winter, and potentially much more. We want our bodies to be supple yet able. Strength and mobility will help achieve all of those things, and more,” says Bess.

She credits her dedication to health and fitness to the people she surrounds herself with, her clients and her business partners. “I have two business partners, both amazing, smart, hard-working women. We all feel blessed to have each other to share the load of running a business, and to inspire, learn from, and keep each other motivated and disciplined,” says Bess. She also knows that her clients count on her and, that in order to be her best for them, she needs to be the best for herself. Plus, she has been an athlete so long that she can’t imagine her life without it: “Fitness and movement can start to feel like a need or sorts, an addiction in the best possible sense.”

Her advice for college students (or really anyone) looking to improve their self-care?

“Stay as regular as possible with sleep, eating, and some form of movement that you enjoy. Solitary exercise can feel meditative; group exercise can create community and friendships; team sports can help build confidence and feelings of purpose. Sleep is so important for both mental and physical health as well as regular, healthy eating habits. ‘Fuel your brain and your muscles,’ I say to my own children. And give yourself a break when you need it. Also, treats! Rewards are important along the way of constantly pushing oneself to go further and further.”