Amy Novotny and Her Unbelievable Arthur Murray Adventure
Sometimes, you just have to let serendipity do its thing.
Life can throw you curveballs and lemons, but it takes a certain mindset to see those pitfalls as blessings disguised as bad news. Where does that optimistic mindset come from? Is it based on wisdom, or some genetic mutation which makes someone numb to bad news?
Whatever it is, Amy Novotny has got it.
The eternally optimistic energy this Arthur Murray ambassador radiates makes it difficult for anyone to leave her vicinity without a smile. You may find that it also works when you read her interview.
She's just that good.
AML: Let's go back to the origins story. How did you get started with the company?
AMY: My start as an A.M. professional was, as some might say, meant to be. A little backstory is necessary to explain... In 5th grade, (yes all the way back) I decided I wanted to be a music teacher, and so I did what every 5th grader does and stuck to my plan for the next 15 years.
Wait, that's not normal?!
Ok, so here I was, having studied hard, trained with the best teachers, gotten the scholarships to study at one of the best music schools (Go IU!), moved to Chicago, and I got my dream job as a vocal music teacher. I loved it. I thought I had made it. Until 3 years in, when I was warming up my morning choir students, I switched to my head voice... and nothing came out.
My voice just stopped working. Only air. I went to my ENT Doctor, and while the scope was still down my throat looking at my vocal chords, she says, "Oh my! Well, you should probably find a new career."
Needless to say, she informed me that I had polyps (like calluses on my vocal chords), and I was devastated.
What I left out was that less that 10 days earlier, I had just taken my first dance lesson at Arthur Murray Chicago. Somehow, facing the end of, what I felt was, my life's mission, my devastation quickly turned to optimism.
I knew I was meant to start a new chapter with Arthur Murray.
Coincidentally, before I even started my first lesson, I had asked to meet with Jill DeMarlo, the person that the website said was the franchisee - not knowing anything about her or how bold that request actually was at the time- and I went on to telling her all about how she should hire me because I was already a certified teacher, and I would love to work there.
Yep, I told Jill she should hire me.
She did not hire me on the spot, but suggested I take the lessons for now and she'd keep me in mind. Mind you, on that day, I didn't "need" another job, I just thought it would be a fun thing to do in the evenings!
Jill was never made aware of my vocal problems, but a few months later she told me I could start training to become a teacher. I knew that I was in the right place and this was no coincidence. So I continued lessons for the next couple months, prepared for and competed Pro-Am Scholarship at SUPERAMA the last weekend of March and came back to teach my first lesson on April 1st. I still sometimes feel like it's a big April Fools joke and one day I'll wake up- because who could have ever thought I would get to say again, "this is my dream job!"
Talk about lemonade out of lemons, and I even got to add a twist!
AML: Making this profession is a much bigger shift than, say, becoming a bartender.Thinking of that, how did your friends and family adjust to you as an Arthur Murray pro?
AMY: I remember standing in the kitchen talking to my parents on the phone (yes, both at the same time) about the new job I was so thrilled to be starting, and I mentioned that I was only a little unsure because I still didn't know much about it, what would I make, how did it all work, besides that I had "a feeling" it was the right choice.
My dad, in his always wise perspective said, "make the choice...just go for it! And if you need to change your mind later on, you can simply make another choice..."
Making the choice to be all in from day one was one of the best things I could have ever done.
My friends and family have been nothing but supportive and thrilled to watch my dreams transform from day one until today. I feel very grateful for that.
AML: So when would you say this job became a career for you?
AMY: Day one. And actually, you could call it a "prequel" buy in. I knew it would be my career even before I got the job!
AML: This could, and should, be an article all on its own, but we have to ask you about your student, Robert Nakazawa, can you share a bit of his Arthur Murray journey?
AMY: Everyone loves Robert Nakazawa. How can you not?! He's a 95 year old man, with the heart of a child, the determination of an ox and the strength of a man half his age. He came to Arthur Murray when he was 83 years old, after having lost his wife two years prior.
He was looking for a "social club" as he said, but noted that all the clubs in Chicago he'd tried revolved around drinking, so he decided to take up dancing instead!
He and his wife did some dancing back at the USO and she had always told him he was too small to Waltz, so when he came for his first lesson, obviously that was the first thing we proved to him he could do.
Every day since, he's been proving something to us all.
He and his wife never had children and so when he found Arthur Murray, he found his family.
He comes to the studio daily, sits and does his crosswords, snacking on his chopped up snicker bars and listing to Vic Damone on his iPhone while he waits for his lesson or the group classes he'll attend.
A fixture of our studio and a message to all who meet him, that dancing sees no limitations - only possibilities.
He always wants to get better and will say, "I just want to do my best" on nearly every lesson, and that he does.
He went to his first Dance-O-Rama after 8 months, and has attended nearly EVERY ONE since, never wanting to miss a chance to dance or the time with his dance family.
10 years ago, he got his passport and traveled out of the country for the first time in his entire life (with us for our Argentine Tango trip to Buenos Aires), and this past January when his passport was set to expire, he insisted on getting it renewed so he could still travel the world with his dancing.
He knows over 22 different dance styles and could lead anyone in any of them, at any time- and just watch for him during social dancing at Dance-O-Ramas as he likes to cross the ballroom to the judges tables and ask them for a dance!
He loves to break out into his signature freestyle moves, and always asks me on Open day, "is today the day I can do whatever I want?" So concerned with doing us proud, but little does he know that EVERY day is the day he can do whatever he wants!
Most recently he learned a Paso Doble routine to help him with picking up his feet and showing masculinity - he performed it wonderfully but afterwards he told us, "I've watched the videos of what that dance should look like and I don't look like that yet". YET!? Yes, he said, "yet"!
He's remarkable. He takes no medication, still drives his car and lives on his own.He has been the single most influential person in my career, he inspires us all daily and is a treasure to me and our entire international Arthur Murray family. Truly a living legend.
AML: The guy is definitely a testament to what Arthur Murray can do for people. So, aside from being Mr. Nakazawa's booking agent, what are some of your favorite career highlights so far?
AMY: I would have to say that my highlight reel is made up of many moments where the common theme has something to do with someone believing in me, or getting to show someone else that I believe in them:
Getting introduced as "Robert Nakazawa's teacher", seeing him become an inspiration to our dance family and being able to share in his journey.
Becoming an Open Smooth Finalist and Open Champion for West Coast Swing & Hustle, and getting the opportunity to travel to other areas and share our Professional Show.
Being invited to be the featured trainer at Fall Forums and TOC's, and being invited back again!
Helping grow Team Chicago for all those years- and knowing that it also grew me! The opportunity to partner with my mentor Jill DeMarlo and become a franchisee for Arthur Murray Lakeview!!!!
Being asked to present at my very first franchisee convention...twice!!!
Helping to raise over $2,000,000 for the fight against breast cancer through Dancing with Chicago Celebrities.
Winning our first TOP STUDIO award for Team Lakeview at World DOR!
Current highlight is still a work in progress, but it is the chance to witness the birth and growth of our new studio team, and to be with Team Lakeview in this adventure!
AML: While we are speaking of highlights, rumor has it that you had a pretty special birthday present last year from a pretty special person. Care to share the story?
AMY: "Harry Connick, Jr is my husband, he just doesn't know it yet!", has been a well known phrase to anyone that knows me since my days in college when I was first introduced to his brilliance while studying music at Indiana University.
Granted, this was 1996, long before he was Grace Adler's love interest, or the charming southern judge on American Idol. This was a love affair based on my infatuation of his talents as a jazz musician. Kinda dorky, I know.
So here we are about 7 years back, and our studio's amazing graphic designer photoshopped my head onto the body of his "wife", printed out an 8x10, and hung the photo on my office at the studio, which is where it was proudly displayed for all to see.
Now skip ahead to 3 years ago, when we hired a fabulous aspiring actress, Grace Gealey, as our studio admin, who you may know now as Grace Byers, the gorgeous leading lady who plays Anika on FOX's current hit show EMPIRE!
She obviously saw the (Harry) photo daily.
Another fast forward and we are up to last fall, when my Harry had the cast of EMPIRE out to do 15 minute interviews with each cast member about the upcoming season premiere!
I had no idea this was even happening, and Grace's character was "maybe dead" as of the previous season's finale, so the appearances of the cast were being held secretly as not to alert the fans of who lived or died! So dramatic, right?!
Ok, so picture this, I'm sitting at brunch with a couple friends, and didn't have my phone out next to me on the table because I was trying to enjoy the day and their company, and when I get up to use the restroom I see that I had a missed FaceTime call from Grace.
She never FaceTimes me, and then an alert says that I have a new voicemail pops up from her. We usually just text because of our crazy schedules, so I'm totally intrigued.
As I begin listening to the message, I literally almost fainted.
"Amy! The one time you should have picked up your phone and you didn't! But if you would have, this is who you would've met... Hey Amy, it's Harry!"
I nearly lost my mind.
I couldn't speak, I couldn't breath and my heart was racing 10,000 beats per minute!!! He not only left me a voice mail, but Grace had her assistant recording the whole thing, she sent me the video, and now I have (for eternity) a personal message from Harry, marking one of the most selfless acts of a friend who used her interview time to tell Harry about her crazy friend that is so in love with him, and then have him call me!
I will be forever grateful to Grace, and to my husband Harry, for not just making my day, but possibly my LIFE complete. My heart is racing just in recalling that day!!!
AML: What a gift! Couple that with being a new studio owner, and you've had an epic couple of years! For the 4 people that have yet to see you, and Arthur Murray Lakeview, on social media, can you share a bit about how that all came together for you?
AMY: Ha! Thanks for the opportunity to finally tell those 4 people about us, and it's nice to have the support of everyone! Arthur Murray Lakeview started in the mind of Jill DeMarlo, and luckily came to life through our partnership - finally opening its doors on November 14, 2015.
At the end of 2014, I had been teaching and then Supervising in the downtown Chicago studio for almost 12 years when Jill told me she wanted to open up another studio in the city, but just a little further north (for those of you familiar with Chicago- it's up closer to Wrigley field- home of the World Championship Chicago Cubs!)
Honestly, I had always been very clear and said that I did NOT want to be a franchisee. Jill knew that. I absolutely loved training and traveling, getting to help grow my home studio while reaching the greater Arthur Murray community as a coach and trainer when invited, and that was my passion! She came to me with an opportunity, raw for the taking, ready for ownership, and presented in a way that helped me see I needed a "next big thing" in order to keep evolving and reaching new heights in my career.
After my initial "What!? You want me to leave what I thought was the perfect situation, make me leave this dream job and go start over as a franchisee?!" ....and then it hit me. I was literally living in déjà vu.
I had stood here before.
Completely happy, grateful and satisfied in what I felt was my dream job - but facing the uncertainty of an unknown next chapter. One I was not choosing for myself. There I was again and I knew what I had to do. Although he had passed a few years before, I felt my dad's wisdom come back to me once again saying, "just make the choice", and so I did.
That was just the first of many "it was meant to be" signs that keep appearing to me, and to Team Lakeview. So the next time you see me, ask about the Arthur Murray footprints in our studio, and you'll be a believer too. We are thrilled to be growing and touching more lives in our community each day, proud to always keep reaching for those next big dreams!
AML: The suspense is too much. You have to share the story of the Footprints!
AMY: When Jill and I were searching for the perfect location to open Arthur Murray Lakeview, we walked into what is now our current studio and immediately fell in love with the beautiful open space.
But when we walked downstairs to the basement, we came upon these footprints at the base of the stairs! Nothing like a direct message from Arthur Murray himself to tell you that you had found the perfect new home for all the future footprints that could be made in our studio!!! We were already convinced that we had found the perfect space to build Arthur Murray Lakeview, but this discovery more than sealed the deal!
Talk about a sign! I feel like the spirit of Arthur Murray himself is in every studio, but I believe that those footprints were there to send me the sign I needed to feel like I was indeed in the right place doing the right thing! Thanks Arthur!
If anyone should be thankful, it should be Arthur.
Amy's story is such a shining example of the power of attitude. How the path you may have mapped for yourself can have a detour, and what powerful and positive byproducts can occur when you allow yourself to make a firm decision to stay on that path.
Whether it was her upbringing, her wisdom, or DNA, this future Mrs. Harry Connick Jr. definitely knows how to let serendipity do its thing.
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Image credit: Grace Gealy