John Gallo was deep into his career in finance before he ever mentioned to any of his colleagues that he had once been a ballet dancer. In the past, it was just not something guys talked about in the clubby, male-dominated corridors of Wall Street. The times, however, are changing for the better.
It was a long, long time ago. He took up ballet, at his mother’s urging, when he was 5 and growing up in New York City. It wasn’t long until he was a professional, performing regularly at the Lincoln Center, and he would continue to perform until he was 15.
He believes the things he learned while dancing have greatly informed his life and career, and contributed to everything he’s achieved across his 25-plus years in finance. He is currently Global Head of Sales for BNP Paribas in New York City, in addition to serving as the firm’s co-Head of Global Markets. Prior to his arrival at BNP Paribas in 2017, he held executive posts at Deutsche Bank and Citigroup, and was once the youngest managing director in the history of Lehman Brothers, having earned that distinction at the age of 30.
Would any of that have been possible without the discipline and focus he developed while dancing? He doesn’t think so. Gallo pointed out that ballet is an extremely demanding discipline, and requires participants to not only exhibit grace under pressure, but also to adapt when things go sideways. All eyes are on you. If you fall, you have to get right back up. He developed those skills when he participated, and would like to believe that they continue to serve him well.
One other thing: You’ve got to be tough. While he managed to avoid injury, those who devote themselves fully to ballet are at constant risk. A 2019 study of 99 professional dancers showed that they suffered 196 injuries among them over the course of a single year — i.e., nearly two per dancer. Most of those injuries tend to be to the lower extremities (ankles, knees, etc.), and are the product of overuse.
Again and again, he said, he saw painkillers administered. Again and again he saw dancers power through pain. It is his belief, in fact, that professional dancers endure at least as much in the terms of physical punishment as athletes in any sport.
But the bigger point remains the manner in which the skills he learned as a dancer have translated to his fiance career. There are many parallels, in his estimation, not the least of which is the stress level associated with both. He can recall, for example, performing on stage at the Lincoln Center — how it required not only individual grace and poise, but working in synchronicity with the group.
It has been the same the last quarter-century. How do you handle the hard times? How do you deal with losing money or missing out on a big trade? And the answer is, the same way he dealt with the stressful times in his younger years. His ballet training has served him quite well.
Let the record show that he’s still pretty tough, too. Early in his career he worked hard to lay the foundation for a deal at the firm where he was working at the time, only to be met with resistance from senior staff. No way did this seem feasible to some of them.
He persisted, however, and ultimately the deal proved profitable.
At other points he has made the difficult decisions to close businesses or fire people, even though they weren’t popular things to do. But again, he stuck to his guns, and his decisions proved to be correct in the long run.
He weathered the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008, changing course and landing on his feet. In so doing he displayed flexibility that is obviously somewhat different from that which he learned in ballet, but nonetheless reflective of what he learned, all those years ago.
The bottom line is that he found a new direction after giving up ballet. He played lacrosse in high school, and in college. He put himself through college by tending bar.
Both those things had a sizable influence on him as well — particularly the latter. What better place to learn the gentle art of negotiation than in a neighborhood watering hole? But nothing was more impactful than ballet. He believes it made him who he is, and what he is.