The parallels between the arts and leadership have been underexplored, especially in the context of classical ballet. An interdisciplinary exploration of ballet and leadership by a leadership scholar and a classically trained ballet dancer enable a thorough and thoughtful look at the intersections of these worlds. This will bring a fresh perspective to ballet's unique culture, one often stuck in nineteenth-century contexts based on outmoded gender roles.
Women dominate the art form yet few rise to prominent leadership roles. Data reveal unequal opportunities for women in areas such as choreography. Moreover, choreographers embody a different kind of artistic leadership, crafting the way audiences view the dancers in the troupe. Men most often craft this view of women with the works they choose to present. A recent accounting of choreographic works by major American ballet companies showed that women choreographed only 25 of the 290 ballets performed in 2012. Thus, on stage, men largely manipulate the image of women in ballet. If ‘ballet is woman,’ according to the late choreographer George Balanchine, why are there still so few at the top?
The example pulled for a new outlook breaks with outmoded representation. Bold, confident, and embodying a very different paradigm, Misty Copeland (American Ballet Theatre's principal dancer) presents a different face of the ballet dancer/leader. This paper gives a brief history of the introduction of ballet to the United States, highlights gender norms in the context of leadership and offers a different perspective on women's roles as leaders in dance.