YOUNGSTOWN — It’s hard to believe Anita Lin is 50.

By Rebecca Sloan

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s hard to believe Anita Lin is 50.

Slender, poised and attractive, the longtime former artistic director of Youngstown’s Ballet Western Reserve looks half her age and brims with youthful vitality.

When she speaks of her impending departure from Ballet Western Reserve, the words “my retirement” seem like an oxymoron coming from her mouth.

Can a woman who was recently carded while trying to buy a bottle of wine really be retiring?

“I like to think of it more as seeking new direction in my life,” Lin said. “Since 1982 when I first came to Ballet Western Reserve, it has been my primary focus, and I’m ready to explore other ways of being creative.”

Lin said a 2005 bout with breast cancer was the catalyst that fueled her decision to retire and branch into different directions.

“As a breast cancer survivor, my outlook on life has changed,” she said. “I have two daughters, ages 21 and 18, and when they were growing up, I was always teaching ballet after school and was never home for dinner. I have given so much to Ballet Western Reserve. Now I want to give more to my family.”

Lin’s daughters are Chelsea Lin O’Donnell, a student at the University of Miami in Florida, and Darby Lin O’Donnell, a senior at Liberty High School who will attend Ohio State University in the fall.

“I want to be free to be there for my daughters — free to travel if needed,” Lin said.

When Lin leaves Ballet Western Reserve, she and fianc Michael Morley, a local attorney, will make their home in New York City. But they will also retain a home in Youngstown.

“I want to stress that I’m not gone from Youngstown for good. I will still have a home here, and I am looking forward to seeing the new direction Ballet Western Reserve will take with artistic director, Richard Dickinson,” Lin said, adding, “I am also open to occasionally choreographing for Ballet Western Reserve.”

Lin served as Ballet Western Reserve’s artistic director from 1982 until 2007, when she became executive director for one year.

Her current title is director emeritus.

During her long career with Ballet Western Reserve, Lin has maintained a graceful balance between her artistic and business duties.

In addition to teaching dance and choreographing, she has written numerous grants that have helped the school receive substantial scholarships. Last year, Ballet Western Reserve students received $22,000 in scholarships, for example.

Lin is often praised for integrating new styles of dance to Ballet Western Reserve.

Besides classic ballet, she has infused modern dance, jazz, tap, hip-hop and Irish step dancing into the school’s repertoire.

Lin also has been credited with bringing Ballet Western Reserve back from the brink of ruin.

“When I came here in 1982, Ballet Western Reserve was in really bad shape,” Lin said. “This school started in the 1960s and thrived, but after the steel industry died, things really bottomed out.”

When Lin arrived, she admits she “didn’t know what she was getting into,” but added that “Ballet Western Reserve was a school worth saving.”

“It was $30,000 in the red when I got here, but along with my directorship and a really strong and active board, we got things back on the right track,” she said.

Ballet Western Reserve currently has about 300 students ranging in age from 3 to adult.

Before coming to Youngstown, Lin studied ballet at the University of Cincinnati and traveled extensively as a dancer with the Cincinnati Ballet Company and the New Orleans Ballet Company. She also studied the Royal Academy of Dance technique in London and danced as principal with the University of Louisville Preparatory Dance Company.

Lin’s career as a professional dancer ended in 1981 when she fell during a lift and injured her back.

“It sounds clich , but I really believe that old saying ‘when one door closes another one opens.’ When I was injured and my career as a professional dancer ended, I thought my life was over because I could no longer do what I was meant to do. Then when I started teaching at Ballet Western Reserve I thought, ‘No, my life isn’t over because this is what I was meant to do!’ ”

Lin said her most important lesson to her students has been to have passion about what they do.

“My students will all say that passion is my favorite word because I teach them that they must have passion on the stage and it’s the most important thing.”

Lin’s love of teaching has prompted her to consider volunteer teaching jobs at inner city schools in New York.

“I think volunteer work would be very rewarding. I have given so much as an instructor and want to now give more to myself and my family, but I also want to continue to give as a teacher,” she said.

Lin, whose childhood home was Louisville, Ky., is pleased that her parents and two of her siblings are flying into town for her retirement party on April 25.

Lin credits her father, Dr. Richard Lin, 84, of San Francisco, for instilling a passion for music in her and for teaching her the value of being a consummate professional.

“My dad was such a great role model. He understood that a dancer is an artist, but he also taught me the importance of being professional and business-like in everything. He taught me there was no room for temperamental, artsy behavior,” she said.

Lin said she was 6 when she first knew she wanted to be a dancer.

“My mom, Julia Lin, {also of San Francisco} who is now 80, took me to a performance of “The Nutcracker.” She said that after the show I leaned over and told her that was what I wanted to do,” Lin said with a smile.

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