UW Retirement Association

PROFILE: “Moving” into retirement – Ray Houle



Ray Houle parlayed his love of movement and dance into several careers which intersected with the UW for about 20 years.  Now, in his “retirement,” he has returned to his first love, albeit with a twist.

Houle’s time at the university began in 1995 when he worked on a study that involved developing an exercise program for individuals with HIV. “In addition to my work as a dancer, choreographer and Pilates student/teacher, I had also been a double major in college, with one of the degrees in psychology (the other was in theater). So this study was a natural fit,” he says.

When this grant expired Houle went on to a UW study of children with asthma, where he taught low-income parents how to care for their child, including how to keep their home free of dust. It was a little far afield from his core talents, but he enjoyed it and the work was important to him.

After this he spent the next 15 years in a study of dementia in the School of Nursing, where he taught patients and their caregivers different exercise routines that showed promise in reducing some of the ravages of the disease.

“The people I worked with at the UW were terrific,” he said. “I enjoyed being around some great team players, and I learned a great deal from them.”

His final UW project was about the effects of daily workouts for Parkinson’s disease patients who were trained on an exercise bike to see if this could help restore their balance and maintain a steady hand while writing. Since the Parkinson’s study (actually two of them) were part time, Houle started teaching Pilates at the IMA. But when the Parkinson’s grants ended, Houle hit the wall as far as UW employment was concerned.

“The jobs I was sent to were all about data entry. I knew I would hate them. I was sent to a diabetes study, but the researchers decided I was overqualified. So I was laid off.”

A conversation with one of his UW Pilates students led to his exploring the option of retirement. When he found he was eligible, he managed to expedite the paperwork so as not to miss any impending deadlines. “It was scary at first,” he says, “but things have worked out well.”

He secured a position at a Pilates studio downtown, where he’s now been for three years. “It’s great work. I love what I do. I realized the thing I like best is teaching about movement and health. But I do miss being part of the UW system.”

Houle has not been standing still in his interests and his desire to continue learning. He has recently completed a two-year program to become a spiritual counselor. “It’s really about the science of the mind.” He says the Pilates classes are also an opportunity for him to advance his knowledge. “I like the one-on-one relationship with students, which is usually based on physical exercise but also sometimes must address emotional issues. My goal is to have the students walk out feeling better than they walked in, in every way.”

He also hasn’t quite shaken loose from his roots in dance performance. He will be back on stage with some of the more senior dancers at the Festival of Men in Dance, an event he ran for 16 years and which takes place in Seattle at the end of September and early October.

Whatever he does, whoever he is working with, he sees the parts of his life as opportunities to acquire new knowledge. “I’m learning all the time,” he says.