2-23: "The Dancer" - Julie Kent

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"The Dancer"

Julie Kent has not always been Julie Kent. The Kent name was suggested to her by Mikail Baryshnikov when he asked her to co-star in his film The Dancers just after he had watched her audition for the American Ballet Theatre in New York. 

Julie went on to become the longest-serving ballerina in American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history, and performed as a principal dancer for 23 years. 

She has danced in well over 100 ballets, been named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”, and in 2016, she became the Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet.  She is a world-renowned star by any definition.

And, this episode is called, “The Dancer”.


Three Takeaways

  • Define success for yourself.

  • Establish a strong set of values.

  • Build collaboration and trust.


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-23: "The Dancer" - Julie Kent

I’m Charles Day. And this is ‘Fearless’.

Today’s episode is an anniversary - it’s the two year anniversary of this podcast. 

I want to thank all of you for listening, and for your feedback and your continuing support. It’s unbelievably rewarding to get the emails and the messages from so many of you and to hear that the podcast is helping you to unlock your potential as leaders, and encouraging you to think about the kind of leader you want to be. That’s why I started this podcast and it’s why I’m excited to continue. 

I have two asks on this anniversary. First, that you let me know what you like and what you’d like more of. Are there specific guests you’d like to hear from, other areas you’d like me to cover?

Second, I’d like to ask that you leave a rating on iTunes. I know every podcast asks this, and the reason they do is because they carry enormous weight with potential guests and with helping other people to find the podcast. Don’t worry about leaving a review. But clicking the rating stars is a big deal.  My goal is to get to 200 ratings by the end of the week. Once I do, I promise you I’ll never mention it again. So take a moment, those of you that are listening on iTunes, scroll down the app, and click away. And again, thank you for the support.  

The last update is that I’m going to put together a ‘Story So Far’ episode to commemorate two years. We’ll run that in one of the next two weeks, so keep an eye open for it.

And with all of that, here is this week’s episode. 

Julie Kent has not always been Julie Kent. The Kent name was suggested to her by Mikail Baryshnikov when he asked her to co-star in his film The Dancers just after he had watched her audition for the American Ballet Theatre in New York. 

Julie went on to become the longest-serving ballerina in American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history, and performed as a principal dancer for 23 years. 

She has danced in well over 100 ballets, been named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”, and in 2016, she became the Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet.  She is a world-renowned star by any definition.

And, this episode is called, “The Dancer”.

“…dancers have a contract with the pursuit for improvement. People think it's a pursuit for perfection and it's not, it's a pursuit to build on what you accomplish the day before and take it to the next level.”

I find that people who have earned fame over long periods of time have two things in common. Highly focused talent and a fierce commitment to improvement.

Great leaders share those traits. They know the areas in which they excel. And they are driven to improve every day.

Great businesses and great leaders leverage the principle of incremental marginal gains - Sir Dave Brailsford’s recognition that a 1% improvement every day creates a 100 percent improvement in ninety days. 

These leaders aren’t dependent on coming up with the game-changing ideas all the time. They’re focused on making consistent progress and improving conditions in which creative thinking can thrive.

The world’s most innovative and agile businesses unlock creativity from every corner of their organization. They do that by design and with intention, and they do it every day. 

Build that kind of capability into your company, be that kind of leader, and you’ll find that pretty soon you’re sitting in the middle of a creative centrifuge that produces a constant flow of truly game-changing ideas.

Which of course creates an entirely new problem. How to make them all happen. We’ll save that for another episode.

Here’s Julie Kent.

Charles:

Julie, welcome to Fearless. Thank you so much for joining me.

Julie Kent:

Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

Charles:

What's your first memory of something being creative in your life? When did creativity first show up for you?

Julie Kent:

Probably sometime in elementary school and I felt like I failed. Yeah. But I think it was something that developed as technique developed. I mean, I think that as my aptitude as a dancer, as my skills as a dancer grew, then I learned how to be more creative with them. But for me it was definitely a process of learning first and then applying your own point of view on what you had learned.

Charles:

So, realizing that you can actually experiment and interpret yourself?

Julie Kent:

Yeah. Yeah.

Charles:

How early did you start dancing?

Julie Kent:

I started my formal training when I was eight years old. I had studied a year in an elementary school cafeteria under the tutelage of a wonderful teacher Mrs. Fonsaca and then she went on to be the founder of the Maryland Youth Ballet and then I went on to formal training at The Bar at age eight and so on.

Charles:

When did you first dance? Did you just dance yourself? Was dance in your family?

Julie Kent:

In my family. It was a family activity. So, my mother was a dancer in New Zealand. She studied ballet there. She married my father who was a nuclear physicist. He was a radiation safety officer and he was stationed in the Antarctic. And so, he met her. She had gone to Australia to further her career but abandoned the ballet studio for the beaches of Bondi and then became an airline hostess. And so, that's how she met my father. They came to the United States and then I'm the youngest of their three children and ballet. So, my mother was in ballet class, adult classes, my sister, and then I started. So, it was just a family thing.

Charles:

So, it was always there?

Julie Kent:

Yeah. I don't have any memories in life before dance. It was always something that I was just waiting until I was old enough to learn, and typical admiring your older sister and your mom and how she looked. And I would go watch my mom in ballet class several days a week when I was a small toddler. So, yeah.

Charles:

Did you always want to dance professionally?

Julie Kent:

The real understanding which I think is probably one of the challenges of navigating the study of ballet, is that I always understood from the very beginning that it wasn't really something that I could decide, "I'm going to grow up and be a professional ballet dancer." Like a professional athlete, you actually have to get selected. You have to be good enough to get a position somewhere. And so, I never had any false ideas about, just because I like ballet that that would be something that I could do for the rest of my life.

It's a very, very, very difficult field. It's highly competitive and there's just very limited opportunity and now there's more talent than ever and very limited opportunity. So, not unlike a boy playing baseball, I didn't assume that I'd be on first string Yankees team. And it was just a process. So, I was a very good student and I always loved ballet but I worked very hard as was expected of me in all of the aspects of my life and it wasn't until I started winning scholarships, and stipends, and international ballet competitions, and things. And then, I auditioned for Baryshnikov at age 16 and received a contract. So, but not unlike a college application, your first job, it wasn't until you actually got the contract in your hand that you realized, oh, this was going to be my life. So, yeah I think ... I just whether it was my family upbringing or just awareness, I just always knew that there was a reality that I had to come to terms with if my talent and desire ... I couldn't just wish myself a career. I actually had to earn it.

Charles:

What was that moment like when you auditioned for him and they said, "Yeah"?

Julie Kent:

It was very, very exciting, yes. It was very, very exciting. So, I'll never forget it. It was ... I'll never forget the conversation. I'll never forget anything about it. And that was the beginning, you know.

Charles:

And did you know at that moment that was the beginning?

Julie Kent:

Oh yeah.

Charles:

Everything had shifted in that moment?

Julie Kent:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so yes, and the principal of my high school knew and supported me 100% and my family did ... and yeah. So, that was a major … I mean that is just a huge opportunity which is why I feel now in my role as a director, just how important it is. I understand the role that I play in the lives of so many aspiring dancers, and it's a very difficult place to be in to have that responsibility but I really try to guide them with honesty, and that's the highest form of respect is just painting the picture exactly how it is and not what you think they want to hear or what would be easier for you to say. So, it's challenging but it is a very, very ... it is an exciting moment when the door opens.

Charles:

Do your expectations of yourself change in that moment?

Julie Kent:

I don't know. I was 16 years old. I think when you're that young everything is about ... you're looking out. There's very little self reflection happening. You're just taking it all in and trying to learn as fast as you can and by osmosis and just in every way possible. I mean everybody has a different skill set going into it, different advantages, different ... It's not just about having talent as a dancer. You see lots of people with talent as a dancer. It's how you develop the potential into talent. A lot of dancers have potential at a young age. It's how you turn the potential into talent, and how you navigate the complexities of a professional career at a young age with so much uncertainty.

So, I was just very thankful and blessed to have a lot of people to guide me very well, a lot of people that taught me a lot of things, and that believed in me, and just helped me figure it out. And in my role in that, I inspired them to want to do so. That's the role that my husband always reminds me to give myself credit for is, yes, I had a lot of people helping me, but I also inspired in them the desire to want to help me. And that, again in my role now, you see how important that exchange is, how you receive the guidance, how you receive the criticism or the input. If you are defensive, or insecure, or don't want to hear it, people just move on. They don't have time. There's other people that are maybe less gifted, but more hungry, and more willing to interpret what you're saying and turn it into something. And then that is so inspiring to the person that's giving the feedback. They say, "Look, I gave them that, look what they did." And then, that is how … and I think that's probably where my creativity began is really the how I interpreted the feedback that was given to me and turned it into something that was then inspiring to them to want to give me more.

But it wasn't necessarily an intentional desire to be creative, it was more of an instinctive understanding of dance as ... it's a unique art form no matter who's doing it. So, what you ... To your best advantage is to show what's unique about you. And so, I had a certain willingness to put myself out there in a way that maybe other dancers weren't comfortable with. Maybe they might have had other things that were stronger in their technique than I did, but I had this sort of willingness and trust with the people that were giving me the feedback to do what they asked of me and so.

Charles:

Where did that willingness come from, do you think? What gave you the confidence to take? I mean there's a risk involved with that in how you're expressing yourself.

Julie Kent:

Trust, I think. And trust is the answer and that's what I realize, again sort of reflecting my own experience into my world now, is establishing trust with anyone in your organization is critical to the success. Trusting that they will receive the feedback and use it in a constructive way is really the only way that you move forward, the only way that everybody is able to achieve their shared aspirations. And so, I just really trusted everyone that was in front of me, and then it just it grew from there over a lifetime. 30 years in the same organization is a long, long time to build a very, very solid loving trust.

Charles:

Did you ever find that trust was betrayed or let down? Did you ever find a situation in which you thought, "I’m not doing that again,"?

Julie Kent:

I think, of course there are disappointments, and frustrations, and times where you weren't always on the same page with your coach, or your boss, or your … but that's par for the course. It's how you move forward from that. To think that you would go through any profession without having conflict is fantasy, so it's how you deal with the conflict and how, again, it all goes back to how the trust, respect, and appreciation, and fairness that should be a part of any core values of any organization. And as long as those pillars are still intact, you should be able to pretty much weather any storm. Now, and … so I don't think any of those ... I never lost respect, appreciation, a sense of fairness or trust with anyone in the organization but that doesn't mean that I didn't have moments of all kinds of ... It's dramatic. Anything anyone cares anything about, especially if you're dealing with artists, young artists, sensitive artists … people ... It's a combination of artists and Olympic athletes.

We've been working our whole lives for the one show when the curtain comes up, and when that curtain comes back down, there's a lot there that everybody's been working for for months. And so, it's a lot. You have to appreciate that it's a very complex emotionally-charged environment that is also very routine because so much of our training is: get up, do the same thing everyday, at the end of the day: rest, get up the next morning, and try to do better. The whole ... dancers have a contract with the pursuit for improvement. People think it's a pursuit for perfection and it's not, it's a pursuit to build on what you accomplish the day before and take it to the next level. And then, as you escalate you just keep raising the bar. And so, that's the mindset that you have to embrace and you have to encourage, otherwise it can be very frustrating. And so, while there is no such thing as perfection, and I don't think ... I think dancers get somewhat of a bad rep for the idea that we're pursuing that. It's just wanting to be better than you were that day. The next show to be the better show. And that's part of our gift to humanity, is showing what we are capable of as artists, that we're willing to keep that devotion to the pursuit, so, yeah.

Charles:

You are as accomplished and as recognized in your chosen field as anybody could be in their chosen field. I mean, you reached the height of heights, and did it over a long period of time, sustained that success. How were you able to hold onto that value set that you described, when you are living in such rarefied air, when people are coming to you, and you are the focal point of so much effort and so much hope and so much intention and ambition. How do you hold onto your values in all of that, celebrity, for want of a better description?

Julie Kent:

My husband, my family, my children. I mean, it is, there is a lot of, I think … as my husband has identified, anybody that's in a position where they're accustomed to getting either everything they're wanting or they're in a position of celebrity, they lose a reality-check. I really just think it's a reflection of the people that I have been around, and the people that I choose to spend my time with, and my children. I think those kind of core values are somewhat who you are, so, I don't know.

Charles:

As you've made the transition, I read somewhere something that you were talking about, the transition between being the artist, being the dancer, being the talent, and now being the leader of The Washington Ballet. What's that transition been like for you? What are the challenges that have emerged for you that … what's happened that you weren't expecting?

Julie Kent:

Having been at ABT for so long, I did really transition into the role of a mentor. When the majority of the company's 20 years younger than you, you really do adopt a role as a mentor because you've been there and in all of the circumstances that they find themselves now, you've been through it. You survived it, and so that part was a natural transition.

I also spent a year with ABT as the artistic director of their summer program - huge program, 1,500 students across five campuses in the United States. A lot of teaching, guiding young people. So I had some experience with that. I really … when it became clear that I was going to give my farewell performance and leave my career in dance as a performer, I made a list of post-performing career goals. People just advised me, write down whatever you're thinking. Write it down. Okay, I'll write it down, and I did. See, trust, action. At the top of the list was, I wanted to share my voice as an American woman, an artist, a ballerina, a mother. I wanted to advocate for arts education, and I wanted to help develop the next generation of dancers. I had some more specific subsets and variety of things, but those were the basics, so I was already trying to find that voice, how I could represent my art form, myself as a woman artist, myself as a ballerina, as a mother - all the things that are so stereotyped in this world, and unfairly so, and also advocate and steward and protect the art form that I love so much into the 21st century.

It needs guidance. It needs people that care about it and love it in order to make sure that it's relevant and thriving and reflective of this world - not of a world of the 19th century, or the 20th century, but of this world. And, of course, paying respect to that, and learning from it, but not just defining itself by works of 200 years ago, but defining itself by works of 200 years ago, 100 years ago, and now. The full spectrum.

I think, as far as those elements of the transition, I was pretty well-prepared for what I wanted to accomplish, and what I felt was important, and already having so many years of experience of collaborating with dancers and inspiring them, whether it was through my performance or through my friendship and my encouragement.

I think the greatest challenge is just navigating the survival of an art organization in the United States and, more specifically, trying to take the ballet company of our nation's capital to a level of recognition and respect and consideration that it deserves. In Washington, D.C. our goal, our aspiration, is to present this art form at the highest level in one of the most important cities in the world.

There has been a long history of just inviting touring groups to come and bring what they consider art at that level through the Kennedy Center as a tour, as opposed to supporting within the artistic cultural landscape of that city, a ballet company at a certain stature. That's a huge undertaking, and that has been, by far, the biggest challenge and it's a work in progress.

Somebody's got to do the work and so I signed up to do it, and it's part of my service to my art. I mean, that's really how I would describe this transition is, I am now in service to the art form that gave me this extraordinary career, and as a repayment of the debt of gratitude to everyone that taught me my art, everyone that I danced with, and all the performances and teachers and the art form itself. It's a huge debt to repay, and so now it's my role to serve the art and try to represent it at that level in this important city.

Charles:

Does your methodology, strategy, I'm not sure, approach, that you described as a dancer and saying, “Today I'm going to try to be a bit better than I was yesterday.” Do you bring that to leadership, especially, or have you found another approach by which to judge whether you are making progress or not?

Julie Kent:

What I try to do … my approach right now is, again, it's very similar as I was as a dancer. At the end of the day, the work should speak for itself, so it's all about the work itself. It's about the art.

It's about the product, and ensuring that if your platform is that you want to present your art at the highest level, you better make sure the art is at the highest level, and how you get it there is in working with the dancers and positioning them for success, giving them repertoire that will teach them, help them get to that next level, prepare them for whatever is next in their evolution and development as an artistic entity. All of that involves, yes, that mindset of improvement.

As an organization, as an administration, it's a different kind of work. I've spent my whole life seeing massive improvement on a daily basis, and recognizing it in others. Finding that rapid growth and improvement and presentation of an organization, as an institution, is much slower. It's much harder. But, even so, we've had incredible progress in three years, but it's a process.

I guess patience is really key, but I think the balance of patience and insistence or hunger, drive, desire, whatever the more active verb is, is key, and then balancing it with that perspective. Another element that Victor always stressed to me in our work is having that flexible lens of looking at whatever you're working on. You have to have the ability to look at all of the details with such infinite care because we all know that the difference between good and great in anything is in the details, but you can't live in the details. It's suffocating and debilitating.

You have to be able to expand your vision and look at the big picture. Look at what you're actually achieving. Look at the whole landscape. Having this flexible lens is really, really important. The other day at a dinner, I described our circumstance. We all collectively, our board of directors, our team, everyone, I described it as we're climbing this mountain and just looking up all the time. It just looks like it's getting higher and icier and just, you know, you don't even know where to get your next hand hold, and then you stop and you look down, and you say, "Oh, look how high we've climbed already."

So you can't just keep your eyes looking up at where you want to be. You also have to look down and say, "Wow, we've climbed really far and we're doing really well." It's that understanding both where you want to be, where you are, how you're going to get from here to there, and be methodical, be inspired, and be patient, be hungry, all of those things.

Charles:

I'm imagining that, in this role, obviously, as you talked about, your focus is on pulling different people together, setting a vision. I mean, it's very classic high-level organizational development work. You're setting a goal, you're setting a strategy, you've got very clear values. I mean, all that's very clear, and then getting people to join you on that journey.

Was dancing, I'm not quite sure how to ask this, was dancing an individual process for you? When you were dancing, was that about you? Were you engaged? Were there other people involved in that in that moment?

Julie Kent:

No, totally a collaboration.

Charles:

Oh, really?

Julie Kent:

Yeah. Yes. I mean you do have, as a dancer, solo moments, but it's always a small part of a whole, so everything is about how you are telling the story, whether it's a narrative or non-narrative, or what, and what role you play in telling that story. But everybody plays a role and part of your job, especially when you're the leader, you have to inspire everyone else on that stage to tell their part of the story with as much passion and authenticity and interest and life as possible. It's part of your job. It's unspoken, but it is. That's your role, to help them. Everybody's story has value and collectively, that's when the greatest impact is made.

Charles:

So your job is to help them deliver the best performance they possibly can.

Julie Kent:

You inspire them by doing your job really well, so you're not--

Charles:

So you're raising the standard.

Julie Kent:

Exactly. You're not doing your performance for them or necessarily specifically directing them, but you doing your work with everything that you've got, sets the standard, and sort of allows for the dancers that are part of the collaboration to want to meet you there.

Charles:

Are you also at dancing at certain moments? If somebody's not quite with you in a specific moment, are you having to adapt to help them get to the right position? I mean, is there part of that?

Julie Kent:

Well, that's more when you're doing pas de deux work, and that's why you have great partnerships and you have these great … I mean, I've just had a remarkable career where I danced with all the greatest male dancers of the last 40 years. They were all incredible partners,

All of them, and so that was, yeah, very much they ... Honestly, they were much more adapting to me than me to them, because that's their ... I mean, they're lifting you and holding you up, and so you can, when it doesn't work is if the woman's trying to fix things, the man's trying to fix things, and then every, … somebody has to, somebody's sort of driving the car. You don't, two people don't sit in the front seat, and one does the pedals and one does the steering wheel. Someone's driving. Somebody's also participating, but it can't be … so that's when, again, I think where our conversation started, that trust is really, it's most visual in that partnership in dance.

Charles:

How quickly do you establish trust with a new partner in that situation? I mean, does their reputation give you trust that they are going to be great, or do you have to work it out for yourself in that moment?

Julie Kent:

Not even, so few exceptions ... anybody that got to that level at ABT was an extraordinary partner and was just a gift to dance with, but then where it really gets to the next level is, yeah, it's the love, the trust, the friendship, the partnership, the belief in each other, the joy that you bring each other because you enjoy working together so much.

That is what then fuels the relationship to get to the next, so it's not just, "I would do this same performance with anybody." It's the performance that you do with that person, and then when you have a different partner, it's a different performance, because you're dancing with that person. It's a response. It's a living, breathing, live performance that is based on reaction. I mean, all the great acting, say, it's just reacting. Acting is reacting, is responding. It's not just ... It's how you take what ... it's how you receive what you're given and give back. That's very much a part of a dance partnership, because you have to be so in tune to how the other person is reacting.

Charles:

Coming back to your experience at The Washington Ballet now. Clearly, you have to attract people who have a certain level of talent. Right?

Julie Kent:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles:

I mean, that's a given. Are you looking for certain kinds of personalities as well?

Julie Kent:

I think the requirement is that they have that mentality that they want to achieve, that they want to pursue this goal that we all share and that they're invested in the process. That's what most dancers want. They worked all these years to have a great career and to work for and with somebody, with a team of people that are doing their best in order to provide that career, extraordinary career, with a varied repertoire and exciting venues and tours and all of the things that you hope to achieve as a dancer when you're working with and for people that are trying to achieve that. There's a lot of motivation. That's the number one criteria is just the mindset.

Charles:

Were you nervous making this change?

Julie Kent:

Yes. It was totally outside my comfort zone, and one that took months, and months, and months, and months, and months to finally say, "Yes." I think--

Charles:

What was your hesitation?

Julie Kent:

Well, I didn't need a job. My husband had worked at ABT for 42 years, and I was happily employed going on 30. I was 30 years at ABT, my husband 42, and there was no real reason for us to leave. I think the ... It came down to one personal sort of set of reasons and professional and personal was, I really wanted to be the person that accepted the challenge because I wanted to show that to my children, and I wanted to go outside my comfort zone because I felt like it wasn't a good example for me to show that you should stay somewhere just because you're safe, or you're comfortable, or you know what it is. So going outside my family, my ABT family, was the most unexpected thing that I could do. I knew that in time, my children will come to me and say, "I've got this great opportunity, but I'm really happy, comfortable where I am. What do you think I should do?"

I'd say, "You should go for it," but I thought, "How can you really give that kind of major advice without having the courage to take it yourself?" I don't want to be a hypocrite. So I decided, yeah, my husband was very, very supportive of this and basically said, "Julie, this is the normal next step for you, whether it's now or another time. This is what's ahead for you.” So he was willing to support me, and he serves the role that he served for so long at ABT as Associate Artistic Director.

Then professionally, I just, again, I wanted to contribute to the artistic and cultural landscape of our nation's capital, and I think that's a profound and important role that I take very seriously, and that's the biggest challenge is making that impact and finding that consideration for this art form. Washington is a very different place than New York City, and in some ways wonderful and in some ways more challenging. Yeah, but again, I can only hope that my life until this point has taught me that hard work, authenticity, and making sure the work speaks for itself is at a high level will prevail. I mean, that's all I really know, so that's what I can bring, and I'm just hoping that there is an excitement and enthusiasm about that, whether it's within the city or for people or from people around the country that want to see that in our capital city. I mean, that's our city. It's not just the city of people that live there. It's everyone's city, and so I think that that's part of why it's so important to me and to dancers all over this country that it happens, so ...

Charles:

I meant to ask you this earlier, but I would really like to know the answer. Were you ever afraid when you danced?

Julie Kent:

I think I was afraid one time, and it was bad. It was a bad performance. I mean, we were always very ... You're nervous. Your excitement. Everything that you've been working for is happening right at that moment. There's adrenaline. There's excitement. There's nerves. It's when that nerves turns to fear or this sort of self-doubt that it's not going to end well, so it happened a couple of times, and it's an active discipline process. You can't allow ... I mean, everything that makes an artist sensitive and vulnerable and willing to express the full spectrum of emotion, is also what makes it really hard to control your nerves or your imagination, so you really … it's an active discipline process where you have to cut through and sort of focus on what it is you're trying to accomplish and, again, go back to the trust, you trust yourself, you've been working on this for months, and you know what you're doing, just go do it. But it's a process, and-

Charles:

That's the story you tell yourself, it's an active process of saying, "Get to this place."

Julie Kent:

Yeah. You don't ...

Charles:

"Go and live over here."

Julie Kent:

That's right, like, "It's happening. Take a peppermint for your nausea and get your pointe shoes on and get on the stage." You can't … you have to be disciplined about it. Then, the reward, the excitement after the performance is, you forget about the nerve stuff, and then it starts over again with the next show.

Charles:

It was so great. It was so easy. It was so fantastic.

Julie Kent:

It was just, “Yay!”

Charles:

It's always going to be that great. I think that's right.

Julie Kent:

But yeah, I think it's, again, just the discipline, the discipline of the training, the discipline of the mindset is really what you rely on at that moment, so you have to just cut through to it.

Charles:

Two last questions for you. How do you lead?

Julie Kent:

My first thought was, you lead by example. I think I just try to lead with honesty, and integrity, and commitment, and get up every day and try to do the best I can and do the same thing the next day, and a lot of love, a lot of concern, a lot of consideration, and a lot of reality. I think … Victor's often said that there's two kinds of artistic directors. One's a nurturer, and one's a dictator. Clearly, I'm a nurturer, but I'm not a wish-granter, and I'm not a fairy godmother. I am somebody who has learned how you get from being a 16-year-old high school student to becoming the longest-serving ballerina in ABT's history. I learned how to do that. I just didn't show up doing that, and so getting from here to there and all the steps in between, I learned that from a lot of different people and from things I taught myself and just things I put together, and from all the remarkable people that were in my sphere of influence. That's how I lead.

Charles:

What are you afraid of?

Julie Kent:

I'm really ... I mean, my fear would be that that desire to have the art form represented at that level is not one that enough people share, and that just would be so … such a debilitating blow to me, because it's such a remarkable art form that has played such a huge role in the development of this country and it really deserves to stand up next to opera, and classical music, and any other kind of visual art, etc. I think that's the … as far as professionally speaking, yeah, that would be the fear, but onward.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three themes that I've heard that I think contribute to your success from a leadership standpoint, and I think these cover both parts of your career, if we can binarily split it in two. First is, you have very clear definitions of success. You seem very clear about what success looks like and what matters to you, and you're focused on achieving that. Second is, you have very, very strong and clearly defined values which have stood you in good stead and for a long time, and have withstood a lot of temptation and external forces that I think, other people, they would have succumbed to. Third, it strikes me that you are almost instinctively collaborative. It would have been easy, I think, again, for somebody who's achieved what you've achieved to kind of pull yourself away from people. It feels like, based on what you've talked about, that you've actually leaned in to people and have surrounded yourself by people and trusted them as they are trying to help you. How do those resonate?

Julie Kent:

I think that's a pretty accurate assessment.

Charles:

Julie, thanks so much for joining me today. This has been fantastic.

Julie Kent:

Thank you. I really appreciate having the opportunity to share.