In 1988 I was at a major crossroads in my life. Up to that time, I had spent most of my life as a dancer. Starting as a young girl in a small town in Northern California, I trained extensively at the local dance school. As a teenager, I traveled an hour each way to Sacramento seven days a week to work with an extremely well respected ballet teacher. Every year, I spent my entire summer in New York so that I could train on full scholarship at the major New York dance schools.
At 18 I moved to New York full time to become a professional dancer with American Ballet Theatre and felt that I had achieved my dream—dancing for one of the greatest ballet companies in the world and working with extraordinary artists of all types.
Then, at the age of 24 I seriously injured my foot. I had to give up everything I knew, my salary, and my identity, and start from scratch.
I had foot surgery and spent three months in a cast studying for my college exams, which I took in an auditorium full of applicants 8-10 years younger than me. At that time colleges were not welcoming “non-traditional students,” but I figured I would give it my best shot. When it became clear that I would not be able to continue my dance career, I sent off my college applications, not knowing what my chances were or if it was even a good idea!
I had always seen myself as a dancer—was I a “nothing” now? All my friends from high school were in graduate school or starting “real careers.” I wondered if my years as a dancer had handicapped me from success in the “real” world.
A few weeks before my final performance with American Ballet Theatre I received an acceptance letter to Brown University. I was thrilled but absolutely terrified. I didn’t know how to use a computer or type, and I hadn’t written a paper in a decade. I walked onto the Brown campus quite sure that the admissions office had made a mistake.
I had worked, paid taxes and managed my professional life, but was totally intimidated by the university setting. Luckily, Brown had a small group of older students with whom I bonded (one of whom I eventually married!) and I worked my way through four years of school.
I graduated from Brown with honors and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and decided that I wanted to give back to the arts and give future artists the same opportunities I had. I received my Master's degree in arts management from Columbia University and spent 10 years in Washington, DC, and Boston, working as an arts manager.
In 2004, I returned to American Ballet Theatre as its Executive Director and am now its CEO—the first former professional dancer and the first ED to last nearly 10 years in the role. My time as a dancer and my journey since then informs my work every day. While my journey was non-traditional, I would not trade it for any other. I believe the passion and commitment I felt as a dancer has carried me through many challenges in my life and frequently suggest to those who ask: Find your passion and all else will follow.