Cookie Ruiz

The globetrotting powerhouse at the helm of Ballet Austin

The globetrotting powerhouse at the helm of Ballet Austin

Cookie Ruiz Executive Director of Ballet Austin
Cookie Ruiz Photo by Jessica Pages

"My love for this city comes as a result of a wide-range of comparative data," says Cookie Ruiz, executive director of Ballet Austin, of having lived in 17 cities around the world before settling in Austin.

And the city of Austin, particularly those within its creative contingent, should take that as a compliment. A child of a military pilot and devoted mother, she counts her parents among the influencers who helped to shape her "go get 'em" mentality, which has sent her to assume commanding positions in the international arts world as an adult.

Ruiz is a past Chair of the national Board of Trustees of Dance, Chair of the "CreateAustin" 2006-2010 city-wide cultural planning process, 2010-12 Citizens Advisory Council for Austin's Comprehensive Plan (ImagineAustin), a member of the national Board of Directors of the Performing Arts Alliance, and a member of the Board of Directors of Texans for the Arts, among several other positions and affiliations. 

But a cause that's especially close to Ruiz's heart is to provide the same type of leadership she was privy to as an adolescent for young women today. As a graduate of Leadership Austin, Ruiz served as a member of the Leadership Austin Board of Directors and co-founded the principle-based curriculum for the Teen Leadership Austin program. She's also provided the research and development for the nationally replicated youth-oriented social service programs.

Her straightforward savvy has landed her awards such as The American Red Cross “Clara Barton Medal of Honor,” Volunteer of the Year for the Austin Independent School District, and the Lone Star Girl Scout Council “Women of Distinction." 

Ruiz is on deck to lead Ballet Austin through the decade and into 2021. Take a look at what makes the philanthropic powerhouse tick each day.

What is your chief characteristic?

I think my thing in life is to maximize the potential around me... a nice way of saying that I like to make stuff happen.

Your idea of happiness?

There’s a magical moment after all the collaborative work to bring a Ballet Austin production to the stage, and the audience to the theater. It occurs as the lights go down with audience members sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in anticipation of the first note of the overture, and just as the curtain is about to rise. In that moment, all of the collective training and talent of Stephen Mills, our dancers and crew come together in the most perfect representation of team work, because what is coming next is not edited, nor CGI... it is live... and anything might happen. That moment is sheer happiness to me...

Your favorite restaurant — in hometown, in the world?

Any mom/pop restaurant in New York City, Madrid or Paris with about 10 tables; a place that solely exists to serve its neighborhood, sometimes over generations. In Austin, an exceptional culinary treat is the amazing Hudson's on the Bend.

Your favorite motto?

"Do or do not... there is no try." - Yoda

Your favorite heroes in real life?

I grew up in the midst of the growth of aviation and the development of NASA. Chuck Yeager's house (he broke the sound barrier) backed up to ours. Frank Borman (Commander of Apollo 8) and his wife Susan were my Sunday school teachers, and my father was a U-2 pilot who commanded the squadron responsible for taking high altitude images of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My she-ro was my mother who created a sense of home for my sister and me, wherever we happened to live at the time.

If not yourself, who would you be?

I would be an F1 driver... I’ve followed F1 since I moved to Europe at 21 years old... or I'd be in the Peace Corps.

What is the best advice you ever received?

"Enjoy yourself!" These two words that may have little meaning to others have been spoken to me throughout my life by my father in moments of greatest stress (the last time was last month before a speech I was about to give). As an admitted type "A" planner, this has been my father's way of reminding me that once the plans are in place... relax and be in the moment. As someone who has endured many challenging situations, his belief that it is our choice with the start of each day to be happy remains a gift in my life.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I’ve called 17 different cities "home" before becoming an Austinite "by choice." I love Austin, but my love for this city comes as a result of a wide-range of comparative data.