How One Vision Changed My Vision

My parents did not want me to be an actor.

They did, however, pay for my heftily priced drama degree from NYU and come to a performance of nearly every production in my career (which sometimes meant driving for hours or flying cross country). In one legendary revival of Pippin, I had the infamous role of the girl dancer in the couple that represents Catherine and Pippin’s experience when they first share a bed together. Who was there at that shining moment, trying to take pictures? Yep. My extremely modest and straight-laced dad.

My mom, despite her proclamations of having no sewing skills, spent the better part of the late 70’s spangling more than her share of leotards and makeshift skirts. She surprised even herself.

Blog Post pic - LeadershipTheir support anchored me. Still I’ll admit, as I became closer to going professional, it was hard knowing that deep down, they would be relieved if I left show business. As an insecure budding artist, I don’t know how far I would have gone without another very important leader in my life.

My dance teacher from the time I was 10 ½, George Warren, was an unassuming man who commuted from NYC to teach dance in the wilds of suburban NJ. I don’t think George started his career as a performer (a part of his career which he did for many years) with the aspiration of teaching thousands of people dance (and moreover to love dance), but he has done just that. I watched him grow from being the hired jazz and tap teacher in a ballet studio to owning and running his own studio in multiple locations. Many of us alumni have danced professionally and many more have a relationship with dance that outlives the career of any dancer.

When I had my spinal surgery at almost 16 years of age, George was as scared as I (maybe more) that I would not be able to continue to dance. He was afraid it would ruin my career before I had even admitted to myself that I wanted one or believed that I could pursue performing professionally. And next to me, I think he was the most excited to see that I did make my way back from the operating table to the stage.

When I was getting ready to graduate from NYU, George made me an offer: come and teach at his studios (he had five by this point) two days a week. He would hire me an assistant so that if I got stuck at an audition, she could lead the class until I got there.

Who hires an assistant for a 22 year old so she can miss work? A leader who believed in me and wanted me to succeed.

George saw in me what I wasn’t sure I saw in myself: someone who could get work as an actor and dancer. He wanted to make sure I had every opportunity to succeed in my chosen career. He knew I could teach (I had assisted and led classes over the years). He knew I would be loyal and give him my best. I did not want to let him down. I am eternally grateful for what he saw in me and what he chose to do about it. That one act changed the course of my life and my vision of myself.

As a leader running a successful and rather complex business, George could have chosen to hire someone simpler. He could have looked for someone who wanted to teach dance in NJ for years and years. Instead, he chose me. He knew he would have more complications and unpredictability with me on the faculty. He knew someday soon, if things worked out for me professionally, I would leave the studio.

George showed me how leadership is about the people you lead and what everyone creates together for the good of the business. He showed me that generosity is strength. He taught me you can invest in others with no expectation of them staying past the point of what benefits them and to do so is a risk that only very courageous and people-savvy leaders take. His actions made it clear that in the right circumstances, the best interest of the business and the people involved can align and mutually benefit.

When I think of examples of great leadership, there are many, but what George did for me will always stand out as one of the most profound.

Does George know all that he has done for me? Does he know how he demonstrated the power of thinking bigger than any one person or one thing? I don’t have that answer.

The many thank you’s can’t capture all that his leadership has given me and how much I admire him and his partner Steve, who continue to live this ethic everyday in their studios. Their commitment has created a devotion among students, teachers and parents alike.

 

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