Sayward Grindley is a study in multitasking.
Just poke your head into her office on the first floor of the FSU Center for Performing Arts and you’ll notice that she doesn’t just dance. She juggles.
Now in her third season as education director of the Sarasota Ballet School, Grindley, a North Carolina native, is the first to admit she’s got a lot going on.
First, there’s her daughter, Parker — a vocal 9-month-old who happily toddles into the arms of any of the dancers who pass by Grindley’s office.
“They adore her,” Grindley says of the company dancers and students who take turns watching the baby between rehearsals and classes. “Yoohung (Lee, a member of the corps de ballet) loves her so much he says his girlfriend is jealous.”
Parker’s playpen takes up one-half of Grindley’s small office.
On top of the pen, Grindley has tossed a plastic bag of glittery green costume accessories that will soon adorn the tutus of her younger dance students in an upcoming St. Patrick’s Day-themed recital.
A baby stroller is pushed up against another wall.
“The older she gets, the more stuff I need to occupy her,” Grindley says, hoisting Parker on her hip as coryphée dancer Jamie Carter walks past; his face lights up at the sight of the child.
“I joked about bringing her to work after my maternity leave,” Grindley said. “I didn’t think Iain (Webb, the company’s ballet director) would go for it, but he’s been really amazing. I get emotional whenever I think about what they’ve done for my family and me. It used to be women had babies and they couldn’t work.
They had to stay home.”
Grindley’s office is brimming with dance programs, dance books, stacks of loose-leaf paper, plastic cups filled with crunchy baby snacks, manila folders and newspaper articles trumpeting the 29-year-old’s accomplishments in expanding the ballet’s dance program.
When she was promoted to education director after three years of teaching part-time at the school, there were only 65 students in the program. Since then, the roster has more than doubled and grown to include a trainee and pre-trainee program for older dancers.
The Sarasota Ballet School has become such a draw it now has a waiting list.
“I like being presented with a challenge,” Grindley says. “Especially when people don’t think things are possible. I ask myself, ‘What do we need to do to make this happen?’ And, then, I just do it.”
It helps that Grindley, a former dancer with Fuzión Dance Artists, studied dance performance and education at East Carolina University. A teacher at heart, when she received a full ballet scholarship to attend the university, she insisted on pursuing two degrees.
“It took me an extra semester,” Grindley says. “But it’s helped me tremendously in the long run.”
When she moved in 2005 to Sarasota, she began working as a dance instructor at Manatee School for the Arts and later Booker Middle School, where she completely rebuilt the school’s dance program.
Sarasota Ballet’s Dance — The Next Generation program now rehearses in a studio Grindley helped design during her time at Booker.
“I always tell my students to get a well-rounded education,” Grindley says. “The ballet world is very competitive. If you can walk into a company looking for a job and you can teach every age and every style of dance, you’ve got a greater opportunity to make money doing what you love.”
One of her biggest projects this season has been overseeing the company’s new downtown dance studio on Lemon Avenue — Studio 20 at Pineapple Square, which, in addition to providing additional rehearsal space for overflow students, offers a full schedule of adult dance classes.
“I’m trying to start a mommy-and-me class dance class,” Grindley says. “I want something interactive, though. I’ve seen some classes where babies just sit in a stroller while the moms dance around. Kids love to dance. I know Parker’s already bouncing to music. When she was younger, I would wear her to class, and she’d fall asleep on my chest.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Sayward Grindley was named after a character actress Elizabeth Montgomery (“Bewitched”) played in the 1978 television miniseries, “The Awakening Land.” The series was based on a book trilogy by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Conrad Richter about an American frontierswoman.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]