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Rising Stars: Meet Lara O’Brien

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lara O’Brien.

Hi Lara, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I am originally from the Chicago area. I began ballet classes at the age of eight, and it quickly turned into my passion while performing children’s roles in professional ballet productions. By the time I was a teenager, I began pre-professional training in the inaugural class of The School of Ballet Chicago and became an original member of the Ballet Chicago Studio Company. At 17, I accepted a scholarship to continue training at the School of American Ballet in New York City. I also spent time as a teenager training on scholarships in Philadelphia and Copenhagen as well.

My professional career as a ballerina began at 19 in 2001 when I was invited to join Carolina Ballet by then director Robert Weiss. I was promoted to Soloist in 2004 and Principal Dancer in 2011. I held the rank of Principal Dancer for the majority of my career and performed leading roles in ballets such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Macbeth and countless others all around the country and as far away as Europe and Asia.

During my ballet career, I followed along on the journey of a good friend of mine who I had danced with during my time in Chicago, Genevieve Weeks, as she developed “Tutu School” — A boutique ballet school concept designed specifically to introduce young dancers to the world of ballet. I connected with the mission that “every child should know what it feels like to dance” and to do so in a way that instills both the fundamentals of ballet but more importantly nurtures little imaginations, pure joy of movement and music, and big dreams.

In 2015, I opened the first Tutu School outside of California right in downtown Raleigh and my own journey into business began. In 2017, we opened the 2nd NC location in Cary, NC.

I continued to dance with Carolina Ballet for five additional years after opening Tutu School however, I recently retired from the stage in September of 2020 after a 20 years professional performing career. I still live in downtown Raleigh with my husband, Matthew (another Raleigh entrepreneur) and our four years old son Theo, and have turned my full attention to passing on everything that I loved about a lifetime in the world of ballet to the littlest generation of dancers just discovering it. I deeply care for our growing community and what the Arts provide those of all ages, both as participants and observers. In the coming years, I look forward to opening more Tutu School locations around NC and always being an active participant in the Art of the Triangle.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The biggest struggle was balancing it all. When I opened Tutu School, I was still in the height of my performing career, rehearsing and performing full work days, six days a week. I didn’t however take running multiple businesses as a “side” thing, so learning to manage it all at the level that I demanded of myself really took something. Especially after becoming a mother in 2017 just six months before opening our 2nd Tutu School location.

With all that said, the bumps and struggles along the way were manageable because of an incredible team of staff that we started to develop at Tutu School over the years – Each wonderfully committed to our purpose and mission of making space in children’s lives for creativity and joy in their own way. Our approach and commitment to our students and families has shown through in all we do and is evident in our growth over the years. In that way, the road has been smooth. We’ve always been clear on the purpose of what we’re doing.

Thankfully so because I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the pandemic has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge we’ve ever endured. All the twists and turns of the last year navigating new platforms, changing restrictions, multiple schedules for multiple class formats to meet the needs of all of families. Having a clear sense of purpose however guided us through it all.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a dancer. I have been for over 30 years since I was a child. I’m known for being a ballerina and it is absolutely what I specialize in. My current pursuit in business ownership is very much tied to my life as a dancer, as I’m completely focused on sharing the pure joy of movement and music with little dancers through Tutu School. I’m most proud of my tenacity, discipline, and commitment to a craft over the course of my life and now to be sharing it with others in a new way.

How can people work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
We love to collaborate with organizations and causes that are complementary to what we do — Arts, creativity, and children! Similarly, we’re invested in contributing to schools and parent organizations and create relationships that are symbiotic and bring families to us as well so that we can continue to spread our brand of magic further in the community.

Pricing:

  • Ballet Class Memberships – $82/month
  • Ballet Summer Camps – $300/week

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Mason Dee Photography Cindy McEnery Photography Armes Photography Denise Cerniglia

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