The J.D. from PNB

Before he cracked cases, business litigator Charles E. Newton was dancing in The Nutcracker

Published in 2016 Washington Super Lawyers — July 2016

I was kind of an athletically inclined kid, and my dad was a high school teacher. He had a student who was a three-sport athlete who I looked up to, and who suggested that I do ballet to improve my soccer game.

It was hip in the late ’70s, for half a second, for athletes to take ballet classes. I remember, when I was a kid, seeing Lynn Swann, the great Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, on PBS in tights, taking ballet classes. And so I started doing it when I was 8 years old in a tiny little studio, where I insisted on taking private lessons because I didn’t want anyone to know.

At a certain point, I appeared to be pretty good at it. When I was in eighth grade, the question became, “Do I continue playing youth soccer, or do I keep dancing?” I picked dancing, and the only place to go that made sense was the school of Pacific Northwest Ballet, one of the biggest professional ballet companies in the country.

It was intense—it was definitely a professional school that trained their dancers with the mindset of being professional dancers someday. I was going six days a week right out of the gate, starting my freshman year, and kept doing that through high school, until the time that I was offered a professional contract with the company. A lot of TV shows and movies show the struggling dancer who is doing it at night but working at a diner during the day, and PNB is not that. It’s a full-time, professional company with 50 dancers. 

It was really special to be the prince in The Nutcracker, because that was one of the ones I had done as a kid. To go from being one of the fighting mice to being the lead in Nutcracker was pretty cool. 

You can have a traumatic injury and your ballet career could be done—just like any professional athlete. It’s definitely a young person’s game, and it’s incredibly physically demanding. So my parents—my dad, specifically—were always kind of on my back about continuing to get my education.

I quit dancing professionally in 2001, when I still had two quarters left on my undergraduate degree. But already, I had the long-term goal of going to law school. The dancers at PNB are part of the American Guild of Musical Artists. I was the dancer representative for our collective bargaining agreements every three years. That was, for me, the inspiration for wanting to go to law school. I thought I wanted to be a labor attorney. 

When I got to law school, I quickly disabused myself of that. I started doing all the moot court competitions at law school and realized that doing a closing argument is a lot like being on stage. And so I decided that I wanted to try and get into a law practice where I could actually be in court, which is kind of rare.

I am still involved with the Pacific Northwest Ballet—I’m on the board of directors right now. It’s a working board, so I’m in board meetings and voting on policy decisions, but we’re also ambassadors to the community. 

I retired 15 years ago, and there are still a couple of folks who are dancing professionally who were there when I was, too. But they are few and far between. 

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