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A Ballerina Stays on Her Toes, Balancing Two Jobs & Infant Twins

A Ballerina Stays on Her Toes, Balancing Two Jobs & Infant Twins

For Erin Fogarty, the juggle is real. On top of her day job as director of programming for the Manhattan Youth Ballet, she’s a driving force behind Dance Against Cancer – a fundraiser that she and her co-founder Daniel Ulbricht grew from a “potluck” to an official American Cancer Society event, with more than $1.1 million dollars raised. Plus, she’s the newly minted mom of itching-to-walk-toddler twins.

“It’s double trouble most of the time,” she says with a laugh. Erin’s Google calendar (a postnatal nod to organization) would intimidate most people, but this former ballerina knows a thing or two about balancing acts.

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After dancing professionally with the Carolina Ballet and Ballet NY, she became faculty at the New York State Summer School of the Arts, and worked with Damian Woetzel -- the incoming Juilliard President -- at the Vail International Dance Festival. Since 2009, she’s been a graceful, involved presence at the Manhattan Youth Ballet, where she runs programming, assists with repertoire planning and teaches classes.

Her passion project – Dance Against Cancer – co-launched in 2010 with longtime friend Daniel Ulbricht, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, unites the dance community around the fight against cancer. Erin and Dan both lost parents to the disease – Erin’s father died in 2011 after a 7-year battle with colon cancer; Dan’s mother lost her battle to uterine cancer in 2015.

In a city brimming with gala events for worthy causes and hot cultural happenings, Dance Against Cancer offers attendees something singular – the chance to see a Who's Who from the world’s leading dance companies, together on one stage, for one-night only. And this year -- the stage is a wow. For the first time, Dance Against Cancer will be performed at the storied Lincoln Center, in Alice Tully Hall, on May 7th.

In this #WatchHerWork profile, Erin shares a behind the scenes look at how the hottest ticket in the dance world came to life, how the American Cancer Society is fighting cancer with creativity and kindness, and why caring coworkers are the key to work happiness:

Dance Against Cancer is having an incredible year. You just rang the NASDAQ Bell. You’re adding to the $1.1 million dollars you’ve already raised for the American Cancer Society. And now, you’ll be taking the stage at Lincoln Center. How does this feel?

Erin Fogarty-Bittner and her Dance Against Cancer Co-Founder  ring the NASDAQ Closing Bell on March 22, 2018

Erin Fogarty-Bittner and her Dance Against Cancer Co-Founder ring the NASDAQ Closing Bell on March 22, 2018

“Lincoln Center is the dream for any dancer.  That's where you're going to see the two best companies in the country, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater, they both have a home there.

I started going to see ballets there when I was seven, when I first started getting involved in ballet. For me, so to be able to put something that we worked on over years, and actually have our names on something that we're producing there…There's no way to describe what that feels like.”

 How did Dance Against Cancer get off the ground?

When I moved back [from North Carolina], I started working for Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, part-time while I was still freelance dancing. And when I was there, and realizing my father's situation, and knowing that my own sister had raised money for the American Cancer Society by running marathons, I went, well, marathons aren't necessarily for me. I applaud those who do them, but I didn't see it in my future.

Erin with Dance Against Cancer co-founder Daniel Ulbricht.

Erin with Dance Against Cancer co-founder Daniel Ulbricht.

I thought, what can I do, with who I know, and what I've learned? And I reached out to Daniel, who is one of my best friends in the world, knowing he was going through a similar situation, and I said, ‘What can we do? Could we do something? Could we put together a small evening and raise money for it?’

And I went to my boss, and one of my mentors, Rose Caiola, who owns the center and is executive director of the school, and I asked, ‘Would you give us the theater for the night? Would you donate it to this cause?’ And she didn't even bat an eye, so that first year we held it and we didn't have to pay anything, and we called all of our friends and said, ‘Who's available and who wants to do this? Who wants to work for free on their one day off, on a Monday?’”

And so many amazing people said, "Me, me, I want to work for free." It's fantastic.

“They did. And we were so grateful. In a world that often seems like it's driven by ego, there are many, many, generous, generous, passionate souls. So, we were happy, overwhelmed, and also just knew these people were good humans, and so they just said yes. And the first year, we raised, $28,000. And last year, just in the one evening, we raised just over $300,000.

 Literally, the first year, it was like a potluck. A friend of mine works for a food company, and he got some stuff donated. People were bringing things that they had made. We were bartending ourselves, pouring wine for people. And it's grown now, we’re working with the American Cancer Society…And this year's our biggest jump and leap of faith, and terrifying moment, in that we're moving to Lincoln Center, which comes with a Lincoln Center price tag in terms of producing the event. However, it gives us the opportunity for growth and bringing more people into the audience and inviting in more sponsors.”

You’ve raised $1.1 million to date, and that’s before you add in this year. What does it mean to see those dollar figures?

“Obviously, we want to raise a lot of money because the money does help. But we also want to make sure people know that we're just not trying to throw money at a problem. Not only does the funds raised do amazing things, but a lot of people don't know the far reaches of what the American Cancer Society does.

We've been able to listen to researchers who've been given grants that were partly funded by money we raised. We've been to the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge and toured it and do events there. Hope Lodge houses people in New York City for free while undergoing treatment. They take care of everything. They have incredible services, yoga instructors, a meditation room, and they'll have events and dinners and it's just a really cool place.

We're actually having one of our committee members start a dance therapy program at Hope Lodge.”

You’ve had some of the biggest names in dance – Misty Copeland, Robert Fairchild – really too many to name here participate. What makes them say yes?

“I think for all the dancers involved, who don’t hesitate at all when we ask them, everyone really wants to be able to do something. Because you do, you feel helpless. We want to be able to feel like we're helping in some way. We're having a cathartic experience.

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It's an evening where dancers, and sometimes musicians as well, come together to perform, to tell their story, who they're dancing in memory of, in honor of, and all of the proceeds go to the American Cancer Society.

And for the first time ever, this year, we're going to have an emcee. Nev Schulman, he and his brother made a movie Catfish, and then MTV optioned them to make a TV show. Catfish the show, is very popular, and Nev has become a social media icon, but he actually loves dance. He's always been a supporter, as has his whole family.”

So that’s how Dance Against Cancer got started. But how did you get started in dance?

 “I started as a young girl, thinking, oh, I want to dance. But I started a little later. I didn't do the three-year-old classes, but at around seven-years-old, I told my parents I wanted to take ballet. They signed me up, and I started, and I loved it.

When I was getting close to the end of my high school years, I thought, okay, well, what do I want to do with this? Because I do love it, and I've put a lot of time and effort. And I thought, do I want to try to start auditioning for professional companies now? Do I want to go to college and not focus on that? Keep it as just an extracurricular, fun thing? Or do I want to go to college for dance to bridge the gap? And so that's what I did.

And when I was about to graduate, I hit audition season. And as any young dancer will tell you, it's ... for lack of a better word, it's a crap shoot, where you may end up. But I wound up very lucky and I got a job at Carolina Ballet, dancing in North Carolina for some years. And then I started to realize I had this passion.”

Tell me about your work at Manhattan Youth Ballet.

“Our school just keeps growing. We had the biggest turnout ever for our summer auditions. We all work so hard to get ahead in any professional career, but in ballet, you really have the blood, the sweat, the tears, that go into creating an artist. We are a pre-professional school and we place our graduates into some of the world’s leading dance companies.

I see all of these young artists, and they're constantly on social media and on YouTube, and they're watching these artists, and they just want to get close to them. But I want to share with them is, above and beyond their incredible technical abilities, these people are good human beings and they're giving back.”

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You have a lot on your plate. How do you manage young twins, your day job, Dance Against Cancer?

“As a mother, when you're first home with them, you're so in it. You're so entrenched for the first couple months, that you don't even see anything. You don't know what time it is, you don't know what day it is. And then the seas start to part, you start to see the light, sleeping happens a little more consistently, and you start to see a little bit of yourself coming back.

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My boss is a very generous and kind woman, and is a mother herself, and so has allowed me to ease my way back to a more full-time schedule…. Once they're asleep, I can get a little more done on my computer and can eat and relax.

I also have a great team of people that I work with that are keeping me in check at all times. If I've gone to work out, on my way from daycare drop-off, I get into the office…luckily, I work in an arts center and there's shower, and I’ll say, ‘I'll be right back, I'm just going to take a quick shower.’

And one of my coworkers is like, ‘Did you forget your pants?’ Because that's happened to me before. I will go down into the locker room and have to send a message and say, ‘Hey, can you grab my pants from my desk because I can't come back upstairs without pants.’

That's so funny!

 I have people that see the horizon for me and go, "Hey, hey, you forgot these" or "Remember, we were going to do this?" So, I have a Google calendar, but I rely on humans.

Thank you, Erin, for sharing a look at your work and your impact on the dance world!

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