I Owe Dale Busch a Thank You

May 5, 2010

Wendy Liscow, Program Officer

Garden State Ballet 3

Garden State Ballet 4

I owe Dale Busch a long-deserved thank you; it’s a thank you 30 years in the making. Aside from my parents, I would have to say that Dale Busch, and her husband Ted, are responsible for shaping who I am today, my career path and my work ethic. I wrote about my experience with these mentors who first introduced me to the theatre in my previous blog about leadership. Fortunately, thanks to Facebook, last night I was able to reconnect with these two teachers/artists and finally thank them for transforming my life.

The real inspiration for this sudden need for closure with my treasured, though unrecognized mentors came from my recent visits with grantees who have shared inspiring stories about how their education, environmental and artistic programs are impacting lives. I realized that for every story of a kid’s transformation that an artist or teacher can tell, there are hundreds more that they will never know about.

Think about it: if you are an artist, you rarely know how your art impacts others. Sure, you hear the applause, get letters and other positive feedback, present to sold-out crowds, get great reviews, and even make it to the “big time” (whatever that means for the artist’s particular discipline). But you rarely find out the full extent to which you impacted someone’s life or changed the way they view or live in the world. How do you measure the true impact?

If you are an educator, either in a traditional classroom or as part of a nonprofit endeavor, you hopefully get sufficient indicators to keep you motivated and passionate about your work. You see a kid turn around their grades or discover their talents. You witness the blossoming of a student who hasn’t said a word in class suddenly reading a poem out loud in front of the class. You watch a kid decide to make different choices that lead to a totally new future to them. But again, for every story you know about, there are thousands you don’t hear. How can you know when the kids don’t yet know?

Garden State Ballet 1

Garden State Ballet 2

At a recent site visit to see a dance class for the youth company of the School of the Garden State Ballet at Symphony Hall in Newark, I witnessed Jody Jaron, the school’s astounding teacher and executive director, in action. She had a group of 30+ kids, ages 7 to 19, primarily from Newark and the surrounding area, laboring in their toe shoes to execute demanding warm-up and dance routines. Jody alternately bellowed compliments and corrections, the girls immediately made subtle adjustments, and indeed there was improvement.

I asked a young woman who had been watching the class with me how she felt about the intensity of the teaching. Turns out she had grown up in Newark, trained under Jody for many years and adored and respected her so much that she came back from college in Virginia whenever she could to help teach classes. While she hadn’t chosen dance as her career, the classes she took at the School of the Garden State Ballet taught her discipline, endurance, the value of working hard for something you are passionate about, and how important it is to give back to your community. This young woman was a metric of Jody’s success and impact.

Although Jody doesn’t always get to see the grown-up end results, she gets to see students accepted into great schools and highly respected companies like Alvin Ailey. Recently a past student wrote Jody on Facebook to tell her that her successful business in cruise lines entertainment planning began when Jody asked her to be in charge of a small section of the Nutcracker. Jody is willing to work 80 hours per week because one student who happens to be in the DYFS system nonchalantly told her that “when she is unhappy, she just thinks about her ballet walks.” These are everyday miracles that often go unnoticed and don’t get measured by quantitative yardsticks.

Sometimes you just have to be comfortable with qualitative measurements.

I am thinking that today would be a good day to celebrate an artist, teacher and/or mentor who impacted your life. Help reveal some of the untold stories. Tell us about your mentors, or if you are lucky enough to know how your work influenced another, share that story too. We would like to know. And don’t just tell us, tell your long lost teacher.

Photos courtesy School of the Garden State Ballet