Today we continue our “How Did You Get Here” series with Carolyn Ghezzi. Carolyn got her start at North Carolina’s School of the Arts and is a performing arts legacy unto herself. She is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, but has worked all over the world. She has shared the spotlight with some of the dance world’s biggest icons and performed her original songs in front of thousands at global events. Her career encompasses performing dance and music in addition to coaching, teaching, and producing young artists. She is one of the most interesting women I have had the pleasure of knowing, and she just so happens to be one of my favorite ballet teachers at the North Carolina Dance Institute.
I am so excited to present The 91 Rewind’s first performing artist profile in our How Did You Get Here series.
How did you get started in music and dance? You mentioned coming from a musical family, how did that shape your love for music?
From as far back as I can remember I’ve been writing songs and singing. That came first and is part of my family legacy. My father was a well-known guitarist who played with the big bands, and also accompanied Judy Garland when she toured the East Coast. My mother was a jazz and opera singer, and her mother was a renowned opera singer in Wales. Music was all around me all the time. My mom has told me that I was writing entire Broadway shows when I was 5 years old. She created a space for me in the basement and I wrote out all the characters and parts and made up all the songs. Then, when I was finished, I would come upstairs, stand on the coffee table, and perform the show for the family. It makes me laugh even now.
Dance came a bit later when no one in my family could keep up with me. I was a bundle of energy, constantly moving, and my parents were exhausted. I was always running, jumping, dancing, moving, I never stopped. Sometimes doing cartwheels around the house for long periods of time. When I was 8 years old, they enrolled me at the Academy of Dance Arts in Winston-Salem. That was the start of my dance career. By the age of 9 my mother said I looked her in the eye and declared that I was going to be a professional dancer.
I’m very stubborn and I’ve always known how to channel that into helping push myself forward. I was taken into the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA) when I was 11 years old by Robert Lindgren, who at the time, was the Dean of the dance program at NCSA. At 15 years old, while I was still in school at the North Carolina School of the Arts, I was already dancing professionally as an apprentice with the North Carolina Dance Theatre.
When did you realize you wanted to be a professional artist? Was it a specific moment or a calling from within?
I think that just happened organically. With dance, you just do the work. You audition and either it happens or it doesn’t. With music, I just kept pushing forward; recording and performing, and it all just came together. I think I’ve always been an artist. It’s never been a choice for me. A few times I tried to do a regular job and ignore the artist in me, and that was a disaster. I’m miserable without my art. Being an artist is not an easy road and is not for everyone. But I feel that IT chose ME and not the other way around
Professional careers in the performing arts are hard to come by. How did this become a reality for you?
I really feel the reason that I’ve been successful in both music and dance is that I always knew instinctively when to rebel and when to be submissive. In the dance world, it’s all about discipline. Doing what you’re told, but making your way to the front of the class and demanding attention. Your style and your movement have to be undeniable. There is so much competition, but you can only really compete with yourself to be successful. As far as my dancing, I was driven every day to push myself harder and harder. I did have a private coach and amazing mentor, Nolan Dingman, from the New York City Ballet. I followed him around the country for several years as he helped me get to a professional level.
In the music world, I think my naivete was actually a good thing. Because I came from a musical family I thought everyone sat around and sang and played instruments all the time. That just seems like the everyday normal stuff to me. When I started recording and performing, I really didn’t stress or think much about it at all because it was just a part of me. Performing was something I’d always done as far back as I can remember.
I got involved with the AIDS Alliance to help raise money and I ended up working with them for 7 years on the World AIDS Day concert. That helped push my band into the national spotlight. I would be commissioned to write the theme song every year, and we would perform in front of as many as 15,000 people. During those years I got a lot of publicity a lot of opportunities and I even had a song that made it up the Billboard charts.
I think you just keep your head down, do the work, and be open to collaborating with other artists; which I always have been. Then, the opportunities present themselves and you just have to know when to grab them.
Sometimes the struggle gets real. Tell us about a time when you weren’t sure if you were going to be successful? What did you do?
I had to laugh out loud about that one. Have I ever thought I wouldn’t be successful? How about every minute of every day? Haha. I’m a perfectionist and that’s something I struggle with daily.
For me, success is getting up every day doing what I love, having wonderful family friends, and being passionate about what I do and making a living doing it. I’m doing that very successfully now, and I found a good balance in my life as well. I enjoy everything that I do whether it’s reading biographies, watching documentaries and concerts, checking out new films by directors that I love, or just enjoying being at home and being grateful. I have some very lovely friends, and I enjoy spending time with them when the mood hits me. I’ve always been a loner and I protect and value my alone time.
Walk us through a typical work week? Is there even such a thing? Are you working on different projects simultaneously or do you compartmentalize?
I really don’t have a typical work week but I’m very disciplined and organized with my schedule. On Fridays, I start to look at the following week and see how many private dance classes I can fit in, what research and work I can do for my musicians, how I can balance my own time for my art, and still have time to relax. With the exception of my set classes at NCDI, everything else is constantly changing. I try to get up about the same time each day and make sure that I get some cross training in; whether it’s stretching, weights, biking, walking or giving myself a ballet class. I have my coffee and reading time in the morning, checking email and preparing for my day. I’m much more careful in the last few years about getting enough rest and making sure that I can balance both music and dance without compromising either.
It seems like you manage many different parts of being an artist…How do you stay grounded amidst the chaos?
Staying grounded is actually easy for me. The world can be a harsh place and I don’t really love reality. No artist tolerates reality. The hard part for me is finding my escapes. The amount of exercise I get keeps me grounded along with my family. I know what’s important in life, and I never stop being grateful. I’m of the mindset that you can live your life one of two ways. You can either feel entitled or grateful. I choose to feel grateful. That helps to keep me level and definitely keeps me happy.
I’ve always juggled music and dance…they do go together, of course. Sometimes I spend more energy on dance, sometimes music. In the last five years, however, I’ve split my time pretty evenly. I’ve written dozens of songs, recorded extensively, and performed everywhere from small coffee shops to big venues in front of 15,000 people. I’m totally comfortable in the performer role even though I’m basically an introvert. I’ve been making my living as an artist the majority of my life with some side jobs thrown in. I love being an instructor at the North Carolina Dance Institute, which I consider my home. I do private coaching which I’ve done since I was 17 years old while coming up through the ranks as a professional ballerina and also teach full classes. I run a music promotion company called CJG Innovative where I help independent artists reach their music goals. I’m still very active, writing and recording myself, with five new songs in the last year.
You mentioned loving to collaborate with others. Can you tell us about a really memorable project you worked on?
There are so many amazing projects that I’ve worked on it’s hard to choose one. Some of my most memorable times have been in the recording studio working with recording engineer and producer Jason Richmond. Jason is a young amazing talent who works out of Fidelitorium Studios (among others). I love going into the studio with different musicians, but having Jason produce the tracks. I believe Jason and I make a great team, and the music that’s come out of my projects with him has been some of the best that I’ve done. I no longer second-guess myself anymore when I write songs, and that’s very freeing. Plus, Jason is a genius in the studio and he knows how to capture the moment perfectly.
What advice would you give someone like myself who is looking to convert creative and lucrative hobbies to a full-time gig?
I think if you want to turn something that you love into something that you do for a living, you have to just keep working at it every day. Have your vision in mind and keep networking till you find the place where you belong. It can get very demoralizing and difficult at times, but you can’t give up. Music and dance are two of the hardest careers in the world. They can beat you down if you let them. It takes an incredible amount of inner strength, discipline, and passion to keep moving forward. You have to decide that you’re going to get there one way or another. I’ve done that my whole life, and I won’t kid you it hasn’t always been easy.
I’ve also had many years that were very difficult not just personally, and professionally, but physically and emotionally. But I think underneath it all, I’m an eternal optimist and believe that good things are waiting on the other side of all those difficulties. Anyone can give up, but that’s just too easy. I believe in going to the solution. In the last 10 years of my life, I’ve become very solution-oriented. I always tell my dancers, don’t waste your time and your energy on frustration, find the solution. What your mind believes is what you will accomplish. I believe I can accomplish anything I want if I work like crazy. Don’t give up.
The bottom line is, just keep going.
Thank you Carolyn!!!
We are so glad to share about the fabulous Ms. Carolyn Ghezzi, Raleigh’s performing arts hidden gem. If you’re interested in taking classes with Carolyn, check her out at http://www.ncdanceinstitute.com/index.htm! Come dance with us 🙂
In love and light,