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From Pliés to Politics

In the dance of life and career, Margaret Nordstrom ’70 is leading

Margaret Nordstrom ’70 jokes that the 20 years she spent teaching children ballet proved to be good preparation for her second career in politics.

“You can’t say, ‘Go away, darling, you have no talent,’” she says. “You have to work with anyone who comes through the door and get the best out of them.”

Nordstrom, a political science major at Swarthmore, originally planned to be a professor. 

“I got my master’s at Rutgers and was working on my doctorate when I decided I just didn’t want to be there anymore,” she says. “I floated around, did a whole bunch of other things, got married. I had danced my entire life, and I went back seriously to dancing, and eventually I was asked to teach.”

Even as she taught dance, Nordstrom grew concerned about increasing suburbanization in the Highlands region in northwestern New Jersey where she lived. So when she was asked to run for office, she did. 

A self-described Rockefeller Republican, Nordstrom spent 12 years on the governing committee for Washington Township, including six as mayor. She is particularly proud of negotiating the purchase of development rights to preserve a 740-acre farm. 

In 1999, she ran for county government, winning a seat as a freeholder—New Jersey’s term for a county commissioner—for Morris County until 2012. Today, Nordstrom is executive director of the Highlands Council, a governmental body charged with implementing the New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act of 2004.  

This latest chapter in her political life has served as a reminder that, for Nordstrom, growth occurs as gracefully as if it were choreographed.

“I’ve reinvented myself every 15, 20 years or so,” she says, “and it’s worked out very well.”