Mastering the business of ballet

Ballerina leverages MBA to lead dance's next era.
Mastering the business of ballet
Photo credit: Alexander Iziliaev.

Few would have faulted Jordan-Elizabeth Long if she had performed an impromptu pirouette or two across the Watsco Center’s commencement stage, after collecting her business diploma last May.

That’s because Miami City Ballet ballerinas like Long earn MBAs from the University of Miami about as often as snow descends on Coral Gables. Due to the fact that Long, 34, prioritizes decorum over spontaneity, drawing attention to herself at the Watsco Center was never a consideration.  

As someone who’s danced ballet professionally in Miami, Amsterdam, and Stockholm, the buttoned-down ballerina wanted the focus of graduation to remain on her fellow graduates. However, when she feels the spotlight needs to find her, she can be methodical about making it happen.

She first heard about the University of Miami as a child growing up in Blacksburg, a small southernJordan-Elizabeth Long Virginia town home to Virginia Tech University. Long’s father, Marcus Long, tended to view the University of Miami as an infallible collegiate yardstick, as well as a bit of a bogeyman.

“Dad was a huge Virginia Tech fan,” Long recalls while sipping coffee in a Miami Design District cafe. “My dad was always like, `Oh, if the Hokies beat the Hurricanes this year, they’re going on to the ACC championship!’

“That’s a vivid childhood memory of mine.”

Like her father, an attorney who became a Virginia circuit court judge, Long is fixated on athletics. Not stick-and-ball stuff, but anything incorporating ballet slippers, tutus, and arabesques. Her love for ballet is derived from Long’s mother, Elizabeth Long, who worked as a school psychologist.

“I feel like I have a right-brain mother and a left-brain father,” Long laughs. “It was kind of the perfect combination to be a ballet dancer because you have to have an artistic side, along with the discipline to get things done.”

By age 4, Long had her life mapped out: She was going to be a professional ballerina. Period. Long’s journey began at Blacksburg’s one ballet school, an arrangement that ended after she turned 10. At that point, Long’s mother began exposing her daughter to a more advanced ballet studio in Roanoke, Virginia. Mom and daughter dutifully made the 90-mile roundtrip six days a week, except Sundays.

Unfortunately, as Long was starting sixth grade, her tightly structured, pre-teen existence looked like it might fall apart at the seams.

“I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis when I was 12 years old,” Long recalls, still looking vaguely glum. “I was pretty horrified when I saw the X-ray of my spine...but I knew what I could do, I knew the way that I could work. And I wasn’t in any pain at all. Still, it was shocking to see my spine with this humongous curve in it. I remember crying that day and feeling that something was really wrong with me.”      

Long was outfitted with a white plastic back brace she was only allowed to remove when it was time to dance. While conversing with her ballet instructor one day, Long casually noted that she probably wouldn’t be able to execute a ballet turn she’d performed innumerable times before scoliosis.

Long was told, 'When you come into this studio, you’re never going to say the word “scoliosis.” Ever!' I was 13 years old, just went with it, and never looked back."

With time, Long was delighted to find her growth as a ballerina continued unabated. “What I learned in that situation was that you can have a setback, but if you put your blinders on and just keep going in the direction you were headed, you can still get there.”

That dovetailed with the mindset of Long’s mother, who was determined not to allow academics to impede her Mozart-loving daughter’s ballet career. Long’s mother enrolled her in a prominent online, California K-12 school that’s had Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Jennifer Love Hewitt, as students. 

The move marked an educational turning point for Long, who hadn’t set foot in a classroom since elementary school.

After turning 15, Long moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., enabling her to study under renowned Cuban ballet teacher Magaly Suarez.

“I typically did ballet from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m., then I did academics from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and then would go back and dance from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.,” Long says, looking back on her grueling high school schedule. “I always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to eventually go to college. I did not want to get a GED, so it was always extremely important to me to get excellent grades.”

Following high school, Long was invited to join the Dutch National Ballet, in Amsterdam, where she danced for a year. That preceded a five-year stint in Stockholm, where Long was a soloist with the Royal Swedish Ballet.

Eventually, a desire to be closer to her parents and younger sister lured Long back to the United States and the Miami City Ballet. Long was only five classes short of getting an online business degree with Liberty University when COVID-19 shuttered the Miami City Ballet in March 2020.

“At that moment, I couldn’t envision anyone ever sitting down in a theater again,” Long remembers. “So, I just threw myself into my academics. What got me through the summer of 2020 was being really focused on my academic work.”

Once her Liberty business degree was completed, Long applied to Miami Herbert Business School’s MBA program and was accepted. 

“Eventually, I would really like to use my MBA to do something within ballet,” said Long, who in April 2023, was promoted to principal soloist by the Miami City Ballet.

When it’s time to hang up her ballet slippers, Long says that working as CEO of the Miami City Ballet, or executive director, should keep the left and right sides of her brain nicely engaged.