May 21, 2014

How I Got Started: Planting the seeds of

Posted in Business at 1:18 am by dinaheng

How did a nighttime social worker at the St. John’s Home for Boys in Queens, N.Y. get the audacity to think he could launch a national chain of flower shops? As Jim McCann says of his younger self, “Sometimes naivete can be an asset.” McCann parlayed a single shop into the easy to remember Today, it’s a florist and gift-shop company that serves 70 countries and generated $1 billion in revenue last year.

To read the complete story in Fortune magazine, click here.


Millenial-minded Pivot seeks network niche

Posted in Business, Entertainment, Politics, Television at 12:46 am by dinaheng

Nine months after giving birth to Pivot, an entertainment network aimed at inspiring Gen-Y viewers to push for social change, network president Evan Shapiro is one happy programmer.

While Pivot (like Netflix) is not rated, Shapiro says viewership is ahead of projections, and advertisers and cable companies are clamoring to get Pivot’s research findings on the coveted demographic every network wants.

To read the complete story in USA TODAY, click here.

May 11, 2014

Random Acts… So you want to dance?

Posted in Entertainment, Women at 9:33 pm by dinaheng

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to a fancy gala event. There would be dinner, dancing, and a silent auction to raise money for a worthy cause. Wear a cocktail dress and be prepared to schmooze.

Since I don’t know how to dance, I decided to take a few lessons so that I wouldn’t be totally unfamiliar with what was going on around me. Having no idea what I needed to learn, or how much it would cost, I started with a local Arthur Murray Dance Studio, which advertised a free first lesson.Dinah Eng

There, a manager immediately sat down with me to go over various lesson options. The least expensive package cost more than $600 for a set of private lessons, group lessons, and “practice parties” where everyone gathered to twirl around the floor. I explained that I was going to an event in a couple of weeks and only wanted a couple of private lessons to acclimate myself to the dance floor.

The manager immediately frowned, telling me there was no way I’d learn enough in a couple of lessons to keep from stumbling over my own feet. These lesson plans were very economical, coming out to only $34 per session, as long as I signed up for the entire package. If I wanted private lessons, it would cost $125 for an hour session. Or was it 45 minutes?

Anyway, after declining the lessons, I got up to leave, but the manager insisted that I at least get my free lesson. Since I had come for that, I agreed, and worked with J.P., an instructor who had listened to our whole conversation. For the next half hour, J.P. did his best to teach me how to do a box step for the waltz and rhumba.

Patience personified, he was determined to help me learn enough to not trip over my feet (or my partner’s feet) at the upcoming event. Since I had no idea what I was doing, following his lead wasn’t hard. Keeping my head up, slightly turned to the left, was. I know great dancers make a show of form and line, but when you’re trying to figure out where to put your feet next, it wasn’t a huge priority for me.

At the end of the lesson, though, I had to give him a huge hug. J.P. had given me the kind of basic steps I was looking for. A couple days later, I took him a little coffee shop gift card, and a cake for the manager and teachers at the studio, in thanks.

Wanting one more private lesson, I found another local dance studio online where the owner offered a “special” 55-minute private lesson for $75. Since that was more reasonably priced, I decided to take it.

This time, my instructor was Brian Fortuna, a professional dancer who competed on the fourth season of  ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars,” and who went on to host and tour with the show. Fortuna, who teaches at the studio and works as an actor, decided to teach me the fox trot and the cha-cha-cha.

The first time I stumbled over his feet, he reassured me that it didn’t hurt, and had me stand on top of both his dance shoes. “See?” he said. “Doesn’t hurt at all. If you were wearing heels, it would be a different matter.”

Fortuna pushed through the 55 minutes, efficiently teaching steps, turns, and dance floor etiquette without wasting a minute. Perhaps his best tip lie in understanding the importance of communicating with your partner. “You have a very light touch because you’re not used to dancing with someone,” he said. “But there has to be tension in the contact, or you won’t feel where your partner’s trying to lead you.”

In life, if we don’t communicate well with others, they won’t know what we’re feeling or trying to say. On the dance floor, communication is felt through the hands and the look in the eyes (when you’re not tilting your head up and to the side).

I decided to do one last dancing experiment, and found a salsa dance class at a local community college – five, hour and a half sessions for $58. No partners needed. It sounded like fun, so I went.

The instructor was a petite woman named Linda, who teaches at various colleges. With four women and two men in the class, she rotated through various steps, teaching both the male and female’s moves. When it came to practicing, the two guys rotated and danced with all the women, while Linda took the male role and led with the women, as well.

Unfortunately, dancing with Linda meant I had to hunch over because the instructor was shorter than me. It wasn’t her fault, but I found myself stumbling, trying to follow her lead. At the same time, it was even harder trying to follow the men’s lead, as they were just learning their moves.  I’m going to finish the class and soak in as much as I can, just because the music’s fun and it’s good exercise. But my advice – if you take a group class and you’re a woman, you might want to ask how tall the instructor is before signing up.

As for the gala event, I’ve learned enough not to worry about being an inexperienced dancer. The point, after all, is to just have fun, and no lessons are needed for that.