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Joffrey Dancers Train JW Marriott Staff to Serve with 'Poise and Grace'

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | August 29, 2014 5:40am | Updated on August 31, 2014 8:23pm
Joffrey Dancers Train JW Marriott Staff
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DNAinfo/Lizzie Schiffman

THE LOOP — Navigating a tray full of carefully-plated food and high-end cocktails around a crowded party may not be as complicated as landing a perfect grand jete — but it's a similarly-challenging physical feat.

That's the logic behind a new staff training program launching Saturday at the JW Marriott Chicago hotel at 151 W. Adams St., forged from the longtime partnership between the hotel and the Joffrey Ballet school and dance company in Chicago.

The "Poise and Grace" training program will instruct the hotel's servers, concierge team and other staff in ballet movements, postures, and other techniques from the dance world that can be applied to their daily tasks in guest services.

Lizzie Schiffman says don't expect the staff to be pirouetting anytime soon:

"Agility — especially if you're working in a restaurant or you're working carrying a huge tray of drinks, your body needs to be agile and it makes for a much smoother and more conscientious form of service," said Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater during a preview of the program presented earlier this week.

Working in a hotel and being a ballet dancer are "very similar," Wheater said.

"We practice behind the scenes, we prepare for our performance in front of an audience."

Wheater also broke down proper foot placement while walking — always heel to toe, with an effort to glide more than stomp — and used visiting dancers from the Joffrey company to demonstrate how correct spine alignment can influence posture.

"Even the smallest things, [like] holding your shoulders back and your chin up, really make a difference," said Laura Burmeister, JW Marriott's guest experience supervisor, who went through the training program while it was in development.

Starting Saturday, the hotel will incorporate the "Poise and Grace" video series shot at the Downtown dance studio into its training programs for staff at 68 Marriott locations in 26 countries, with the Loop Marriott recognized as the program's "host hotel."

Videos within the series address the importance of warming up, proper breathing, flow of movement and connecting to the audience, and will be screened and referenced during daily team meetings at each hotel.

"We didn't want to teach the JW Marriott ways to be ballet dancers, but I think there are great disciplines that come out of there, and if we can apply them, it then just becomes part of your discipline in the workplace and makes it a lot more enjoyable," Wheater said.

"Being around our friends from the Joffrey, everyone just stands up a little straighter," joked JW Marriott General Manager Catherine Mrowiec. In that sense, Mrowiec said the training will "impact the guest experience, whether they know it or not."

Wheater said the training series is a perfect fit for Marriott hotel teams around the globe.

"We live in a global world," he said. "The one thing we all understand is gesture."

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