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Ballet to Business School: The road less travelled

By Divyanka Pillai '14  |  january, 2013, Issue 1

You come to Chicago Booth for its academic rigor and you get exactly that and more. Booth has made good on all it promised us. The diversity of backgrounds that Booth students hail from is immense and a testament to that is Elizabeth (Betsy) England, '13. Apart from being a lead facilitator, an awesome cook and a wonderful mentor, Betsy is a prolific dancer. In this interview she recounts her experience with ballet and what propelled her to jump ships from dance to business school.

ChiBus: What brought you to ballet? How long have you been practicing it?

Elizabeth England: My mom took me to my first ballet class when I was three-years-old for two reasons. The first was that I was horribly pigeon-toed, and the second was that all I wanted to watch on television was ballet and opera. She figured she'd kill two birds with one stone! I danced from when I was three to when I was 16, and then I started back again when I went to college.

CB: Ballet to business school – what is the connection? We haven't heard of many dancers going the corporate way!

EE: A choreographer I know recently posted this on Facebook:

"Dance is great; however I should have gone to college for...






That's all I have been up to."

Dance is incredibly entrepreneurial -- choreographers start companies, and just like entrepreneurs, they need to be savvy business people to get their brilliant ideas out in front of people. In my career before business school, I was on the business side of dance, and I came to business school hoping that I could get the expertise in marketing, communications, management, accounting, and yes, even a little bit of law. I wanted to bring that expertise to the dance community and ease the pressure on choreographers and dancers to do it all by themselves – while also dancing and creating work.

CB: Can you talk a little bit about University Ballet and your upcoming performance?

EE: University Ballet (UBallet) is an organization on campus that provides free ballet classes and performance opportunities to people in the University of Chicago and wider Chicago communities. It produces two performances a year, and on Feb. 2 and 3, we are performing Spartacus.

I think UBallet is an impressive organization in that it is run by an executive committee of students and is comprised of passionate amateurs who lead busy lives, whether it is as undergraduates, PhD candidates, medical school students, business school students or University of Chicago staff. Despite the challenges of organizing people for whom ballet is not their first priority, UBallet produces high-level performances with casts of over 50 people, and I am always so impressed with the dedication of the people involved, the leadership of the executive committee, and the professionalism of the performances.

CB: How and when can students get tickets to the show?

EE: Please come to the show! If you would like a ticket, contact me at and I can sell you one.

CB: What are some of the lessons that ballet taught you that helped you through the crazy times at Business school?

EE: There are a few obvious ones – discipline, poise – and while these have been helpful in b-school, two others have really stood out. One is teamwork. When you are in a performance, you have to do absolutely everything you can to make it successful. There is no time to point fingers if something goes wrong, and it is a cardinal sin to do anything that reveals to the audience that something is wrong. Ballet really taught me how to be flexible and to put everything I have into executing in a team situation, all while wearing a smile.

Strangely enough, the second thing that ballet has really helped me with in b-school is accounting. In dance, much has been written about the impossibility of recording the live event. How can you capture everything about a performance, every single movement a dancer makes? Everything the audience saw, felt, smelt, sensed from all of their individual perspectives? It's impossible, and a couple dance notation systems have been created that (unsuccessfully) try to address that challenge. Accounting is the same thing but with the performance of a company rather than a dancer. My experience in ballet has given me a greater appreciation for the challenges of representing the performance of a company, and I think accounting is fascinating for the way it addresses those challenges.

CB: How late is too late to start ballet? Do I stand a chance?

EE: It's never too late. One of the great things about living in a city like Chicago is that there are adult ballet classes for people at all levels. My favorite place to dance is the Lou Conte Dance Studio (the home of the Hubbard Street Dance Company), and they offer adult classes in ballet as well as in hip hop, modern, jazz, zumba, pilates, tap, etc. If anyone would like a buddy, let me know! I love to take class.

Last Updated 1/16/13
Last Updated 1/16/13