A Turning Point
THE KENNEDY SCHOOL'S Mid Career Program is known for attracting an eclectic mix of students — from politicians to filmmakers, with physicians and journalists in between. But rarely does the program attract dancers — that is, until this year when Damian Woetzel MPA 2007, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, arrived at the school. The Bulletin spoke to Woetzel (who grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and trained at the Boston Ballet) in December, just before his return to New York to dance in the company’s winter season. He will return to the Kennedy School this fall to complete his studies.
Why the Kennedy School?
I started dancing when I was four years old. I’m now 38 and looking at where I want to go when I finish dancing in a few years. This whole experience is about creating options, not
limiting them. But certainly, one reason is that an important part of cultural leadership in the United States revolves around policy, and where else better to engage in that than at the Kennedy School?
How has your experience at the school been thus far?
Being able to split the program into two years has been incredible. The only trouble is staying in shape through the fall. I’ve managed to practice four times a week. My courses
are wonderful. I’m weighting my participation in my courses to the cultural elements. For instance, I’m not analyzing FEMA; I’m analyzing the NEA. But I love my class on “The Ethics of State Craft” with Father Bryan Hehir. We’re looking at Bismarck right now. We’re analyzing what it means to be a statesman. I am so immersed in it mentally. I spend all my time thinking about it.
The United States is not known for encouraging young boys to study ballet. Was that your experience as a child, and do you think it’s changing at all?
When I began at the Boston Ballet School, I was seven years old, and there were about 10 to 12 boys in the elementary class. It was a time when, for the party scene in the Nutcracker, they still needed to get some poor, hapless girls to put hats on and pretend to be boys. There were never quite enough of us. We’re well past that now, but there’s still some general merriment about the idea of boys in ballet. It’s very hard to shake. I think it speaks to the general stigma about the arts in general.
There are some dancers who continue to dance past 40. Are you considering that?
I don’t see that for me. As you age, there’s an increasing static quality in the roles you get. That’s not what my career has been about. It’s been about moving — about wind, flying, not being stationary. Plus, there are so many other things to do. For me it’s about taking advantage of the opportunities, doing something entirely different.
Perhaps guidance for culture. Art is really a stepping-stone to economic growth. Where there’s art, there’s growth of all kinds — including economic and educational. Here’s a statistic: Children who get arts education score on average 100 points higher on their SATs. There’s no information about that, yet I’m sure parents would be interested to know it. That’s why there’s failure in policy around the arts. If people don’t know about this, they won’t push for it. President John F. Kennedy said that the purpose of art is to challenge society. It’s not just to conform. When he talked about the poet Robert Frost, he said that Frost had dark sides that made us look in the mirror. That is the role for arts. It’s not a cheerleading section. It’s a mirror for our society. We forget that. And it’s a mirror that shines on the rest of the world too. They see us through it. — SA