Lane Harwell: a Man Who Understands the Power of Timing

By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES November/ December 2010

Lane Harwell Mid-Season Symposium Feb 2010Lane Harwell (R) at the
Mid-Season Symposium Feb 2010

When Dance/NYC announced a new director, I was eager to interview the young man. Our preliminary interview did not go so well. F. Lane Harwell, aware his job consisted of promoting, marketing and getting funding for Dance/NYC, gave me a series of promotional sound bites, but avoided anything personal.

Comments such as “The difficult economic climate naturally turns public attention to service organizations such as Dance/NYC whose programs — advocacy, audience engagement and professional development — are more important than ever. The opportunity for Dance/NYC is to identify and voice the needs and opportunities of the dance community and to lead.” And “Dance/NYC is the only organization that speaks on behalf of the City’s entire dance community — its artists, managers and audience members —the largest local dance community in the country. It also has the unique capacity to participate in the national conversation about dance,” clarified Dance/NYC for anyone unaware of it, but left Lane an enigma.

Happily, our main interview resulted in a wonderful view of this workaholic young man.

The offer from Dance/NYC came at the start of summer 2010, while Lane was still an MBA student at Columbia Business School. Recalling, he laughingly remarked, “just another case of bad timing in my life.”

We know he took the job — but did he leave the MBA program? No, he arranged with Columbia for a special accommodation. As he explains, there was a precedent for this. Recently Jordan Roth, a Columbia Business School MBA candidate when he became president of Jujamcyn Theaters while still a student and things were worked out so he could do both, which is exactly what is happening with Lane.

He also spoke quite openly about his reaction to the offer from Dance/NYC. He was interested as soon as he was approached, but when he met the people he was excited because “They were open to the opportunity to think afresh.” Lane feels he learned so much in the process of talking with them, that for him, this is an ideal job

“Dance was my passion as a child,” Lane said. He became interested in it when his older sister was taking dancing lessons. “I always wanted to be some sort of performer — maybe a rock star or maybe an actor, or maybe a visual artist.” But once he started dancing, dance became his focus

Dancing Through College and beyondDancing Through College and beyond
(photo: Valerie Chin)

In his first case of great timing, the town he lived in was rehearsing a production of “Nutcracker.”A young male dancer was desperately sought when the young man playing the prince suffered a concussion. Lane’s mother brought him to audition, Lane got the part. Not surprising, he fell in love with dance after that!

Fortuitously, a mother of one of the girl dancers knew of a scholarship program for boys and suggested him. Lane landed the scholarship. Had he not played the prince, he might not have met the mother and been urged to apply for the scholarship.  Good timing again.

For a couple of years, he was a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre studio company. He even appeared in another “Nutcracker,” this time with the New York City Ballet. Have you ever wondered how the bed could glide so beautifully after the winter snowflakes scene in“Nutcracker”? Lane gave me the answer: he was the boy under the bed pushing it aroundHe’d come down in his role, but up in the world of dance.

By now, Lane realized he was more than just a dancer. He left American Ballet Theatre to attend Princeton, where he earned a BA in philosophy, graduating in 2002

“There were many roads I could’ve taken. I wanted to learn about the world. I wanted to test my choreographic abilities. I was interested in the history of dance, and committed to scholarship and education.”

The final summer between Junior and Senior years, Lane had worked at the world trade center in the financial industry.  He was even considering a career in that lucrative field.

Timing was certainly on his side, here, because 9/11 occurred when he was back at Princeton. This proved a wake-up call for him. He decided “I want to live a life as wild and full of adventure as possible.” Princeton offered Princeton in Asia teaching fellowships, and he took one in Hong Kong upon leaving the university. Timing not so good, the SARS epidemic hit in Hong Kong, so the following year he moved to Thailand where he taught at a smaller school and was a writing teacher.

His goal now was to continue to learn. For the next two years he studied at the University of California at Berkeley, as a Berkeley Fellow with a full tuition scholarship, earning an MA in theater, dance and performance studies.

During his first summer there he got involved with a research program with the San Francisco Ballet, going over to Paris in a cultural exchange program.  He considers himself an anthropologist on methodology, among other things.

Also while at University of California he was a Mellon Discovery Fellow and co-founder of Townsend Center Dance Studies Working Group.

After he earned his MA, Alliance for the Arts offered him a trial position in a fund raising capacity.  At about the same time, the Alliance hired a development director. Within three months, the development director left. Timing was again on Lane’s side.  Impressed with his work fundraising, Lane was given the opportunity to assume the directorship of development post. He loved running a small nonprofit company with multiple tasks to do.  He loved learning marketing and fundraising “on the go. It was a wonderful perspective to look at the arts community as a whole.”

During his three-year tenure, he increased City and State program support by 30 percent, he secured sizeable grants from such groups as Booth Ferris, Carnegie Corp, Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Rockefeller Foundation, he forged innovative corporate partnerships such as pro bono marketing partnership with Google Inc, and produced the organization’s most successful benefit events ever.

His desire for education and expanding his capabilities brought him to Columbia Business School as a Benjamin Botwinick Scholar in 2010 where he is aiming for an MBA in Social Enterprise on May 2011.  Which brings us back to the present!

Lane has had many other special projects along the way, and is an active member of many research and performance groups. 

Lest you think he is nothing but work, I should mention he is interested in poetry, film noir, foreign languages (speaks French, German and Thai) and foreign travel to over 50 countries.

Lane has made the most of his time, opportunities and undertakings, so I predict Dance/NYC has gotten the best of the best for their current needs and future expansion.