Nowadays, dancers and singers and artists can’t solely rely on their artistic talents. They also must tap into their business minds and come up with a plan.
Lily Cabatu Weiss knows that better than anyone. The artistic director at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts has been with the school since 1978 — first as a dance teacher, then as dance coordinator and now as artistic director.
She grew up in El Paso, taking dance classes in school, and then earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dance from Texas Women’s University.
“In the El Paso schools, they have a full arts program, and they certainly have dance in all their public schools, so when I went to college, it was highly unusual,” she says. “No one had dance in those years in the public schools.”
Her own dance teachers, as well as her parent’s respect for education, led Weiss to enter the teaching field herself.
She landed in Dallas and began teaching at Booker T. as a dance teacher. In 2001, she was promoted to dance coordinator, where she wrote curriculum, handled the consultant budget and taught herself how to write grants for the school’s dance program.
“And as I moved into head of the dance department, I needed both sides of my brain,” she says. “And part of that is because in 2015, they’re more entrepreneurs than anything else. They are artists, but most of them are coming into this by not necessarily joining a company or an ensemble or a chamber orchestra or whatever that model is — most of the time, they’re their own agent. They are the self-promoter.”
In 2014, she took some time off and was promoted as interim artistic director, working part-time. But in the summer of 2015, she came back full-time and ready to face new challenges.
“Why, I don’t know, I think it’s in my DNA, but I’ve always moved to things that are more challenging for me and that is not normal and that is a little bit out of my comfort zone,” she says.
As artistic director, Weiss says she tries not to carry her work home. If she knows she needs to finish administration work, she stays in the office. However, the artistic side of her is always open to new influences.
But above all else, being in the studio is what she describes as her heaven. On Monday, she was in the dance studio helping two students with their senior routine.
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“That’s heaven to me. That is my haven,” she says.
Weiss laughs at the thought of retirement, but knows what she would like to see when the time does come.
“I want this school to succeed. I want this school to stay at the cutting edge of everything,” she says. “I would like to walk my grandchildren down through the Arts District and have this be so much a part of Dallas and an important part of the community that I can proudly say, ‘This, I helped build.’”
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