MEET ELIZABETH “LIZA” YNTEMA, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF DANCE DATA PROJECT®. A GLOBAL RESOURCE FOR THE STUDY AND ANALYSIS OF MAJOR NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL DANCE COMPANIES, VENUES, AND CHOREOGRAPHIC AWARDS. SHE IS MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES FOR WTTW/WFMT, THE ADVISORY BOARD OF THE TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND IN ILLINOIS AND THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEATER.
Who is Elizabeth Yntema? Define yourself
Introvert/extrovert, a woman with huge amounts of energy but a shameless napper. Poetic and pragmatic, stubbornly moderate in politics and life. Recent science tells us that we are literally different people by age 60 than the person we were at early adulthood.The joy of not being one of those vaunted “old souls” is that this present moment, this life, is teaching me all the time. What brings me the greatest pleasure, is being of use, and making unexpected connections.
I am terrible at math, but have become fascinated by quantum mechanics and string theory, now dipping into science as well as art journals, silencing the voice in my head that tells me I am not worthy, not smart enough, but choosing to gingerly explore the cosmos anyway.
How were you as a kid?
Tiny, uncertain, solitary, with a surfeit of energy. My mother, who worked as a full time professional (unusual for the time), put me in ballet to wear me out and because it was socially acceptable for a young lady (no Title IX back then). Testing revealed ADD, physical activity has always calmed me down and allowed focus and reflection. I loved the discipline, the slow progression, the community of dancers.
Of course, like so many wanna-be ballerinas: I starved myself to dance, and my family grows late in life. So, in 8-9thth grade for example, I was 4’11 and 89 lbs. Everyone else was developing, and I had buck teeth and a bowl cut. I leave it to the imagination how that went. Let’s just say things didn’t change much in high school. However, Winsor School in Boston saved me. All girls, proudly fiercely intellectual, it gave me wonderful academic training and a community of incredibly smart women. I am proud to serve on their Corporation.
You were graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, where you were awarded the annual prize for Outstanding Contribution to Social Justice. Why did you choose that course of study?
To be honest, I went to law school for two reasons: First of all, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Enrolling in grad school seemed to guarantee respectability and allowed me to delay for 3 more years figuring out what “I want to be when I grew up” (still haven’t worked that one out) Secondly, I came from a highly academic family, extremely distinguished, opinionated. Our dinner table was not about catching up, it was full on, constant “point counter point.” The positive was the discussions were high level and never ever about extraneous surface chitchat. Even as a small child, I was allowed to engage with the adults. The negative side was that even at 9 or 10, offering an opinion meant you were fair game: without proof for a statement, you got shredded. I wanted to understand and be able to use the “language of power.”
I have been “making trouble” since the age of 15. Law school presented an opportunity for advocacy, but as I look back, I wish there had been a focus less on case law, or even trial clinic, and more on dispute resolution. While injustice has always made me absolutely nuts, I also don’t like tearing things down and apart. It’s much harder, but I would prefer to invest in solutions. Once I got to law school, while I was intellectually intrigued by some of it, I pretty much knew after the first year that I didn’t want to practice. But, if you do well, and I was then at the third highest ranked law school in the US, one gets sucked into the prestige, are recruited and end up in a cubicle. My original intention, before I met my husband, was to go back to the DC area and work in an agency or for a Congressional committee, which I think I would have very much enjoyed. Instead I followed my husband to Chicago, knowing no one. My volunteerism began as a way to engage, make friends.
You served as an attorney and lobbyist. After staffing the Tech Review Staff of Speaker Michael Madigan, you enjoyed a stint in public relations/issues management and served as the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Chicago Area Chamber of Commerce, how did you jump from to that point to found your company Dance Data Project®?
Mike Madigan is considered by many to be the single most powerful state wide politician in the US. While mayors and governors have come and gone, he has endured. While I don’t agree with most of his policies, and he is commonly referred to as on a level with Voldemort (He Who Shall Not Be Named), I had an incredible experience working for his Tech Review Unit. I literally loved every second of the experience, and he was a great boss, totally fair and zero issues with women. He just wanted the work done, and I delivered. Getting an insider’s view of “the sausage being made” was invaluable. He actually let me draft legislation, and this is back in 1985, for “parental” not maternity leave. Dealing with an avalanche of bills coming in over the transom, with about 30 seconds to read, decode/flag, and determine what to do, was superb training, as was briefing legislators who had no interest or background on a bill, bringing them up to speed as quickly as possible by laying out the salient facts and where their interests lay.
I wasn’t happy toiling away for a big firm, so jumped off the law firm path before many of my contemporaries then worked for what is now the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce as well as Edelman Public Relations. After children, I moonlighted at a not for profit think tank. Great experience, loved most of my colleagues, got to decide in great measure where to focus priorities, and learned more about interacting with the media and doing in depth governmental budget analysis.
Read the full interview here.