Apr
08

Turning Dance Steps into Business

Are you looking for a way to transform your art form into a business? The artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company not only successfully built a business using hers, but also transformed the employees of one particular business, a restaurant, by doing so.

This article appeared in The New York Observer and was written by Bryan Miller.
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“As you walk around the room, I want you to have the feeling that you are connecting the earth with the heavens,” exhorted Catherine Turocy, a dance instructor and choreographer who specializes in 18th-century minuets.

Two dozen students, equally men and women, most in their late 20’s, formed a single-file line and strode around a large conference room-chins up, arms loose at their sides, and giggling sporadically as they marched out of step like a slipshod army platoon.

“A low face conveys a sense of loss!” Ms Turocy continued. “If you walk around with a low face, that shows everyone that you are submitting to a greater power.”

The group was summoned to a halt and separated into two long rows, square-dance style, as the teacher picked up a batch of long red feathers and passed them out to the line on her left.

“In a classic minuet,” explained Ms. Turocy, a small, spiritual woman with tied-back chestnut hair, wearing a long blouse and loose black pants, “the gentleman offers the feather to the lady, the lady accepts with a forward bow, and the dance begins. I want you to feel your head floating on top of your spine.” She clicked on a small boombox that played Handel’s Water Music . The pas de deux began.

This was not a night class at the Y for ex-collegiate hoofers, nor an East Side theater club’s musical rendition of Barry Lyndon. Flitting around this room were an assortment of busboys and “runners,” the latter a term referring to restaurant employees who shuttle food back and forth from kitchen to table.

But not just any kitchen. This is Per Se, the extravagant sibling of the much much-revered French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley, which is slated to open Feb. 16 in the new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.

Chef/owner Thomas Keller, 45, has temporarily shuttered his rustic original establishment and drafted some of his key lieutenants in the hopes of transplanting a bit of fuzzy wine-country hospitality to the glass-wrapped, echoey shopping center, which includes a four-story galleria of retail shops, restaurants and bars.

Per Se, which was designed by globe-trotting Adam Tihany-as, it seems, is every third new restaurant in the city-is said to have cost more than $12 million, which certainly merits a line or two in the Guinness Book of Gustatory Records. Prix-fixe dinners will go for $125, $135 and $150.

The French Laundry is renowned as much for its food as its assiduous service, which is widely hailed as the best in the country. I was a beneficiary of it three times over the years: precise not fussy, smart not smarmy, and everywhere and nowhere according to your needs. And they didn’t know how to minuet.

Service at the New York venture, presumably, will be up to the same standard, and I was curious to learn how they do it.

I asked the folks at Per Se if I could be a fly on the wall for a week to see how they train the staff. They foolishly agreed.

“I think the dance is very good for them; they need to know how to move with grace,” observed Laura Cunningham, the general manager of the French Laundry, who is serving here as a consultant to Per Se, as she peeked in on the hour-long session.

Ms. Turocy, who is the artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company, has held these movement workshops for musicians and dancers over the years; this is her first restaurant gig.

As silly as this bowing and scraping appeared at first, the half-dozen or so students I spoke with afterward said they got a kick out of it and maybe learned something about movement as well.

“I liked it,” Rudy Mikula, a bartender, told me. “But as far as I’m concerned, it was as much about bonding among the staff as it was the movement thing.”

Higher-ups in the dining room-managers, captains and waiters-would flap their feathers later that morning.

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