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Animated Edition - Winter 2007
Players not spectators
Sue Hoyle, Deputy Director of The Clore Leadership Programme, Patron of The Foundation for Community Dance and Lead Advisor for Dance for Arts Council England offers a rare insight into the underlying principles that permeate dance and cultural leadership
My involvement in dance did not get off to an auspicious start. So unimpressed was I by my first childhood visit to a ballet performance that I have absolutely no memory of it whatsoever. As a child, my short-lived efforts to attend ballet lessons were no more successful, nor were my attempts at contemporary dance when I was an adult. 'But you carry your head so well', said my teacher. I might have been fine from the neck upwards, but I lacked co-ordination, confidence and grace. It was clear the art of the body was not for me.

Some years later, when I was appointed Director of Dance at the Arts Council, it was a similar story. I found myself the guest of honour at a small dinner party, the other guests being the great and the good of the British ballet establishment. The most terrifying of all was Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, and a very formidable figure indeed. (Arnold Haskell wrote of her: 'she has her own... ideas about talent that are frequently in open contradiction to those around her, and time and time again she has been right') (1). 'Madam' looked me up and down throughout the meal. I dreaded the moment when she would give her verdict. Eventually she pronounced her assessment: 'Good neck'.

Given this background, it is perhaps surprising that, for nearly 30 years, dance has been such a significant influence on my professional and personal life. The reasons for this are three-fold. Dance has a profound impact on me, as a form of human expression - as the Dance Manifesto states, 'watching dance we feel a connection with the bodies on stage that goes beyond anything that can be expressed in words' (2); many of my own values and beliefs have been influenced by dancers, dance-makers and others involved in dance; and I have learned a huge amount about leadership from the dance sector. This has prepared me well for my current role in helping develop cultural leaders (3).

Over the last few years, much has been written about leadership. If you search for 'Leadership' through Google, you will be directed to 164 million entries; if you visit you will discover over 186,000 books on the topic. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of these publications addresses the issue in relation to dance, despite the fact that many of the qualities of good leadership are readily apparent in the values and behaviour of those working in this sector. Although leadership experts have not really exploited this potential, I believe the cultural sector as a whole could benefit greatly from the leadership knowledge that resides in the dance profession and which I have witnessed on numerous occasions during my career.

Although my early experience of dance was rather off-putting, I still found another route into it. My first job in the arts was in the box office of Sadler's Wells. Sneaking into the back of the auditorium to watch performances by London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, I became hooked. When I went to work in the press and marketing department of London Festival Ballet (LFB now English National Ballet), I began to understand more about the values underpinning the performances I had enjoyed so much. The company's founders Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin remained involved in the company: they were passionately committed to making ballet widely available, as was Beryl Grey, Artistic Director of London Festival Ballet at the time. I admired all of them for their courage and determination. They were true leaders - and, as such, they enabled their staff to grow and develop.

Working in marketing and then in education, I had to accelerate my learning about ballet, and the company's leaders were generous in giving me every opportunity of doing so. I was able to see new productions being created in the rehearsal studios, observe company class and watch performances from the wings; in the evenings, as a dresser for principal dancers, I realised the dedication that was required for a career in ballet.

Outside rehearsals and performance, my colleagues Dick Matchett (now a freelance dance consultant) and John Travis (Director of the British Ballet Organisation) inspired me with their passion for dance and the happiness they found in it. Dick was a mentor for me during this period, making sure I was aware of other forms of dance and teaching me about political tactics as well as marketing. In due course, encouraged by Dick, I became LFB's first Education Officer. I - and with my peers at London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Rambert and the Royal Ballet - were in a brand new profession. We were the first generation of education officers for dance companies in the UK, and in many ways we were pioneers. We collaborated on organising road-shows for teachers, talking about the repertoires of the different companies and our varying approaches to education work. We endeavoured to show how the companies were distinct from one another but how we were also part of the same creative continuum. Our parent companies might have been in competition with one another for audiences and funding, but we wanted to work in partnership with one another and with artists, educators and animateurs. Perhaps more than any other art form, dance is highly collaborative which can translate into a more open, participative style of management and leadership.

Shifting to contemporary dance in the early 1980s as manager of Extemporary Dance Theatre, the other qualities I learned to value were integrity, curiosity and risk-taking. We toured far and wide with works by choreographers such as Michael Clark, Lloyd Newson and Steve Paxton; we persuaded business sponsors to support the first dancer apprenticeship; and the Artistic Director, Emilyn Claid, ensured that education, and in particular creative work with young people, was core to the company's activities. We took the whole company on residencies, presented work by young people alongside our own repertory; and had our own team of dancers in education (including Cecilia MacFarlane and Maggie Semple).

My career journey took me to the Arts Council and British Council, where I worked across all the art forms. When I returned to work in dance in 1997, at The Place, I discovered anew the familiar qualities of collaboration, adventure and dedication that I had seen in other dance organisations. But The Place is virtually a whole dance ecology, all on its own. This single organisation provides a route for anyone to get involved in dance, from age five to 95. If you wish, you can follow a pathway from childhood classes, via a youth dance group, full-time training in dance and choreography, professional performance and film and adult participation - in other words, you can get on and off the dance 'bus', being involved at any stage of your life.

The Place is also characterised by a passionate commitment to contemporary dance, a spirit of enquiry and a commitment and sensitivity to the environment in which it operates. These underlying principles permeate the whole organisation. In appreciating those characteristics - what its founder Robin Howard described as 'quality, enterprise and love' and what make The Place a stimulating, (if not always comfortable) place to work - I also discovered, perhaps for the first time, what a 'learning organisation' could be. That understanding led to the realisation that an organisation which is committed to helping others learn must itself be open to learning, to challenge and to change. This requires strong, sensitive, open leadership - and it can also offer leadership to others.

Dance is very different now from the art-form that first enthused me in the 1970s. 'Dance has found new languages, forms, meanings and applications over the last four decades' (4). It is more diverse, better supported and more interconnected. We are discovering new ways of engaging people in dance, way beyond the technique classes which failed to ignite my interest. As Charles Leadbetter wrote recently: 'new forms of mass, creative collaboration... announce the arrival of a society in which participation will be the key organising idea rather than consumption and work. People want to be players, not just spectators, part of the action, not on the sidelines' (5). In this context, community dance has come of age. Across the country, artists, companies, agencies and dance development initiatives provide focal points and magnets for dance creation and participation. And the qualities I value in dance - commitment and dedication, courage and adventure, curiosity and risk, humanity and humility, generosity, collaboration and enterprise - are what characterise community dance activity today.

Many of these qualities are now seen as essential ingredients of good leadership. The twenty-first century leader is very different from the heroes of the past. We are seeing the end of predictability, deference and so-called 'command and control'. The kind of traits which we expect to see in a leader nowadays include 'adaptive capacity' (6), by which I mean flexibility, openness to new ideas and ability to make decisions. A leader needs to be able to trust their intuition and respond quickly and intelligently to relentless change. In dance we understand the importance of resilience, of reinvention and of the need to evolve. We recognise the need to be permeable, and to be alert to the changing environment in which we operate.

As John Holden of Demos has written, 'Leaders can no longer expect their title, or the position that they occupy, to confer automatic authority. They have to revalidate themselves every day'. Different kinds of perceptions, skills and talents are needed, including the ability to operate across diverse worlds. Holden states, 'Leaders need to be able to stimulate and to manage creativity in a fast-paced an unpredictable world'; they have to operate across networks (not just within their own organisations); they should be able to 'lead creative people who are constantly questioning what they do; and they must somehow provide the conditions in which those creative people can flourish'. (7)

These are areas in which dance excels, but which it has not fully articulated. In the Clore Leadership Programme (8), we look for people who have the ability to motivate and develop others, to 'form, value and give inspiration to team', and who 'think laterally and creatively, innovate, solve problems and encourage change'. These are the characteristics I have found time and time again in dance. Our diverse sector demonstrates a respect and practical understanding of other people and opportunities. We have the ability to be 'multilingual' and speak the languages of a range of different disciplines, not only of other creative forms such as music or design but of partners in areas such as health and social justice. Dance operates inter-culturally, bringing together the skills, knowledge, experience and intelligence of diverse groups of people and communities. Dance is able to work, often in unusual or innovative ways, with people from prisoners to cultural attachés, doctors to drug addicts, elite artists to disabled people, and (as I discovered at The Place) from the very young to the very old.

In other words, dance has the adaptive capacity which is crucial to leadership today. Dancers have both physical and intellectual agility. You can see this in many places, from the class-room to the rehearsal studio to the youth centre or large theatre. Dancers, dance-makers and educators are able to galvanise people, to draw on and harness their talents. Dance thrives on trust and on partnerships between unusual or diverse combinations of people. By helping to shape vision and translate it - through team effort - into practical delivery, educators, choreographers and dancers engender ownership by the whole group. Everyone has a leadership role.

I believe that dance can provide some excellent models of 'distributed' leadership, in which everyone plays a part. We are re-inventing the role of the leader, which is very different from the autocratic model of the past. The sector itself needs to continue to learn. It has the potential to do so, both from within dance and outside it, through mentoring, secondments, job-swaps, shared learning and peer group support. But as well as continuing to learn about leadership, dance also has the capacity and the experience to teach others about it.

Sue Hoyle, is Deputy Director, The Clore Leadership Programme please visit

Sue Hoyle chairs the Board of DV8 Physical Theatre and the advisory group for CreateKX, is Lead Adviser for Dance for Arts Council England, adviser to the British Council on Drama and Dance, a member of the Franco-British Council, on the steering group of the Jane Attenborough Dance in Education award and Patron of the Foundation for Community Dance. As a consultant, she has advised a range of UK and overseas institutions, including the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, and is the co-author of a comparative study on funding for culture in France and Britain.

1. Haskell, A. (1938, revised 1945), Ballet, Penguin Books
2. Arts Council England, DanceUK, National Campaign for the Arts (2006) Dance Manifesto,
3. Sue Hoyle has been Deputy Director of the Clore Leadership Programme since it was founded in July 2003
4. Siddall, J. (2001), 21st Century Dance, Arts Council of England
5. Leadbeater, C. (2006), We-think: Innovation by the Masses, not for the Masses,
6. Bennis, W. (1989, revised 2003), On Becoming a Leader, Perseus Publishing
7. Holden, J. (2006) Culture and the New Leadership, Keynote Address for the Australian Screen Council, August 2006,
8. The Clore Leadership Programme,

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Animated: Winter 2007