Tory Gozzi is the Owner and Artistic Director of Newtown Centre of Classic Ballet & Voice. This Brookfield mom of one (with one on the way!) spoke to me about her path to running NCCB (she was a former student), her plans for the studio, and of course some of her favorite things in our area.
Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in town?
I am originally from Brookfield and still live there but feel like I grew up in Newtown because I spent all my after-school time dancing at the Marsha Ismailoff Mark’s School of Ballet on Mount Pleasant (which now turned into Newtown Centre of Classical Ballet & Voice two generations later!)
Child(ren) and Age(s)?
I have one four year old, Cecilia, and one on the way in early May!
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I had a heart operation when I was ten years old because I had an extra electrical pathway in my heart which made it “short circuit” and race very quickly. I believe I was on the forefront of the procedure because I remember they only did it at Yale and had brought in a specialist from Texas to do it. Now it’s quite commonplace; my mom had it done shortly after mine, and actually one of my ballet students had it done a couple years ago. It was cool that I was able to understand what she was going through and hopefully make her a little less unsettled about what was happening to her because I had experienced it too.
Favorite thing to do with your daughter?
This winter, it has been enjoying the ice skating rink that we built in our backyard! We figured we wouldn’t have many fun winter activities with the pandemic and still wanted to get outside. It has been so much work to maintain with all this snow but so worth it (and I know we aren’t the only ones — I was shocked to hear how many people had this same idea this winter!) But in general, I think my favorite thing to do with my daughter is cooking and baking. She absolutely loves it and we make a special breakfast almost every morning. She’s even gotten into watching Bobby Flay and others on the cooking channel now and likes to talk about things that might be good additions to meals we make (my favorite is she loves to “add a little crunch”— in her words — to our dinner salads, to make them fancier!)
Favorite spot in Newtown?
I feel like I couldn’t justify picking a favorite restaurant, as I have a few in Newtown!, so I will have to say Ferris’ Creamery because everyone in our family loves it, including our two dogs!
Greatest gift about being a mom?
Getting to watch this tiny human that’s part of me and part of my husband grow up into this crazy combination of the two of us and yet also into someone who is uniquely her own with her own interests and strengths. Especially with the pandemic, and because we decided to keep her out of pre-school this year, we got to watch firsthand the first year of her “formal” education at home with us instead, and it has been so cool — to see how she at first couldn’t even trace a straight line or recognize letters and numbers to now being able to color in objects and tackle almost any art project, write her letters and her name and special notes to family and friends, name all the days and months, count to fifty — it’s been really fun seeing that develop and seeing her thrive in her confidence of who she is and all the things she can now do on her own. (And as an aside, selfishly!, watching her fall in love with ballet and getting to bring her to work with me when she has ballet class — to see her wanting to do this with me and surprising me with new steps she’s learned, with a big smile on her face because she knows I’ll be impressed…it’s really fun and something I always hoped for but didn’t want to force on her! It makes directing the shows even more special now that she is in them and gets to experience that joy right beside me).
Can you share a bit about your background and your path to owner of Newtown Centre of Classical Ballet & Voice?
I started dancing with Marsha Mark in Newtown when I was nine. I remember wanting to get more into classical ballet at that point — I had been a competition dancer and was doing tap, lyrical, and jazz, but my mom found this school and thought I would like it (in hind sight, I think she just got sick of me loudly practicing my tap dance on the kitchen floors, haha!). Mrs. Mark retired a year or two later and her protege Jennifer Johnston took over the school. I kept dancing with Miss Jenn until I graduated, and with her I had the opportunity to be the lead in several ballets including Cinderella as well as dance several lead roles in the Danbury Music Centre’s Nutcracker for my four years of high school. I think both those experiences shaped me greatly as a person and a dancer and gave me the discipline to work hard and organize my time well since there were so many hours of class and rehearsal in addition to my school work. In my junior year I injured my hip after falling on stage and that really caused me to re-think my college plans. I had been singing as a soloist at my church and taking private voice lessons and my dad really encouraged me to find a music program for college instead but I wasn’t quite ready to switch away from my love for ballet yet. Long story short and one of those true God-moments in life, I auditioned at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi for ballet but also had a music audition scheduled (again, thanks to dad!) — as soon as the professors walked through the doors of the music building to come meet me, I just knew that’s where I was meant to go to school. I had an incredible experience and learned so much, especially under my voice professor who mentored me into a teaching track, quite early on, which I thoroughly enjoyed, much to my surprise! From there I looked into programs that were specifically designed to focus on the science of teaching and developing curriculum, etc. which was absolutely incredible for when I found out that Jennifer needed to step away from the school because her husband’s job was relocating out of town. I already had so much foundation for the ballet through my own personal experiences and now with a masters in teaching, it was easy for me to complete the specific ballet certifications I needed to step into the role. I added the voice division the next year and here we are seven years later!
What do you have planned at NCC for the rest of the year? (We’re big fans of NCC’s annual performance of The Nutcracker in our house!)
I’m so glad to hear that! The older dancers in our studio company just performed “Circus” — it’s a children’s ballet that we would normally take to several elementary schools in town as part of our ballet education outreach here in Newtown. This year it will be sent as a virtual presentation to the schools as well as to several nursing homes we had been frequenting before the pandemic (the elderly are always the best audience and give the kids big heads because they love the dancing so much haha — I miss that about the last year especially, not being able to go there to bring them things like these little ballets and the Nutcracker too and seeing the mutual joy in brings). After Circus, all our attention gets shifted to Sleeping Beauty — the entire studio will participate and the sum of the classes will make up a ballet about an hour in length to culminate our school year in early June. This is the first ballet that we are reprising under my leadership, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes from my first experience six years ago to our current cast this year (and of course, there will have to be several changes to make accommodations for COVID protocols).
To say that you have a lot on your plate right now, would be a huge understatement! How do you find balance and still check off all your daily to-do’s?
Yeah, I was just thinking about the fact that it’s one thing to be a full-time working, pregnant mom and how that’s a challenge in and of itself, but that an international pandemic has really taken that even further! Just this week I had a “simple” migraine, but because some of the symptoms mirror COVID, I had to get substitutes and make up class plans for all my classes and get a COVID test before returning to work, which all made the headache even bigger! Right now, it’s frustrating not being able to do everything I can normally do because of being pregnant and because of COVID, but the older kids at the studio have really been amazing at stepping up and helping me out this year. And I have a huge network of support at home too; my husband also has his own business and we cover for each other — he leaves on appointments in the mornings and then is back most afternoons for when I need to leave, and our parents are thankfully really close by, so they’ve kind of quarantined with us by necessity and by choice. And last but certainly not least, I also have an amazing relationship with my notes app on my phone, which syncs with my computer and iPad so I always have my to do list at all times and can always jot something down as I remember it and as I’m working with different students throughout the day. I don’t think I would be very much good to anyone right now without that app LOL.
Best mom hack that makes life run more smoothly?
I have a tote bag for every activity and don’t unpack them. My daughter’s swim class bag is separate from her ballet bag… is separate from her backpack…. is separate from the bag we use skiing, skating, and so on! I knew some day all these tote bags we accumulate as moms would come in handy!