Women leaders in dance: Six women artistic directors of regional American dance companies discuss community engagement, dance education, and negotiating personal responsibilities
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Women in the United States lead regional dance companies for many reasons and with many artistic and leadership goals in mind. This dissertation research provides insights into the challenges women in these leadership roles face, their strategies for success, and the issues that arise when navigating through differing leadership environments. Women artistic directors’ descriptions of adapting artistic practices and leadership approaches for their dance companies to fit the unique needs of the communities they serve, the impact of dance education on financial success, and the need to balance their artistic responsibilities with their personal needs are highlighted. Finally, this dissertation provides insights into how women in leadership positions describe their motivations for continuing their work, given the challenges/state of funding in the current American dance field. The purpose of this dissertation, therefore, is to explore connections between differing theoretical conversations concerning the issues women face as leaders in general and the descriptions provided by women leaders of successful dance companies more specifically. These theoretical conversations are then put in connection to the specific voices of the dissertation research participants as they describe their personal structures of support, leadership, and artistic strategies for their dance companies' continued success within the contexts of the communities they serve. The dissertation research employed a multisite, qualitative study of six women artistic directors of regional dance companies, specifically those identifying through their dance companies’ missions as aiming to connect to their communities through dance. Over a period of fifteen months, interviews and participant observations of the six artistic directors were conducted highlighting their narrated successes, failures, unexpected challenges, support structures, leadership strategies, and reasons for doing their work within the diverse communities they live. These interviews and observations offer important insights into how and why women leaders in dance create opportunities for dance to affect their communities and for their communities to affect their dance making. Further, the ways the participants frame their experiences of leading dance companies offer insights into future research geared toward possibilities for dance education and mentorship to support the work of women leaders and their dance companies.