Close up of three ballerina's feet in ballet shoes.

Post pandemic change for ballet companies

2 March 2022

The article at a glance

Pandemic offers a unique opportunity for ballet companies to innovate, says paper by Megan Jones, an Executive MBA graduate of Cambridge Judge.

Pandemic offers a unique opportunity for ballet companies to innovate, says paper by Megan Jones, an Executive MBA graduate of Cambridge Judge.

Megan Jones.
Megan Jones

Cultural and creative sectors were some of the worst affected by the pandemic, and of those, dance in particular suffered huge supply and demand shocks across the entire creative value chain. Creation in its usual sense halted; production became impossible; and distribution in its traditional sense ended abruptly in widespread dismay.

Yet the crisis also offers a unique opportunity for ballet companies to overhaul their long-standing organisational norms, creating a new and unexpected opportunity to innovate, says a paper by Megan Jones, an Executive MBA graduate (EMBA 2019) of Cambridge Judge Business School.

The paper seeks to contribute to the study of performing arts organisations, considering specifically classical ballet companies in the UK, and reflects on whether the impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic provides a unique opportunity for those organisations to renew and change.

Dance Co. Incubator is key component

The paper sets out two key proposals. Firstly, the Dance Co. Incubator, which has three overarching objectives:

  1. To train and mentor ballet dancers as arts leaders of the future
  2. To innovate for the benefit of ballet companies and all stakeholders, across the entire creative value chain
  3. To lobby the UK government to better understand how arts funding is being used, and for its intelligent and impactful use.

Secondly, the paper sets out a hybrid “performance+ model”, which meshes in-person and digitised offerings under one umbrella offering to audiences, and suggests that such a model could itself be developed from within the Dance Co. Incubator.

Paper was Individual Project on EMBA programme

The paper was the Individual Project of Megan as an integral part of her EMBA studies at Cambridge Judge, and was supervised by Associate Professor in Strategy Allègre Hadida, whose research includes many studies on film, music and other arts. The paper is entitled “Ballet companies and COVID-19: an opportunity for change?”

“The ideas, concepts and recommendations developed in Megan Jones’s monograph have the potential to change the way we manage and develop careers in dance in particular, and the performing arts in general,” says Allègre. “They contribute to the ongoing conversation on transferrable skills in the creative industries, by offering a fruitful route to career development and reinvention for dancers and other performing arts professionals aimed at allowing them to put their skills to good use off and backstage.”

Megan, a finance lawyer based in London, originally trained at The Royal Ballet School, where her interest in the creative industries began. She is particularly interested in how business and management practices, particularly those relating to innovation and change, might be applied to dance companies and other arts and cultural organisations for the benefit of audiences, performers, and other stakeholders in the creative value chain. Megan is passionate about the development of dancers and performers into cultural leaders of the future, and is also a career mentor to professional dancers as part of the Moving Ahead programme, supported by the charity Dancers Career Development (DCD).

The study and its proposals are topical and relevant given the extreme impact of COVID-19 on ballet companies, and suggests that the current social and economic climate is an opportunity to reconsider existing industry norms.

The paper relies on a series of structured interviews with professionals in various roles in the dance industry now or previously – including male and female ballet dancers, a choreographer, stage manager, and an orchestra director and musician.

A focus on dance company leadership

The paper, in developing its proposals, specifically considers the nature and status of dance company leadership. In conducting her research, Megan was struck by the rich and diverse ideas coming from dancers themselves, and how their thoughts and reflections were rooted essentially in company management, despite their current roles not accommodating nor requiring such management sensibilities.

As Megan outlines, there are currently few ex-dancers on any of the major dance company boards in the UK, and dance companies must therefore galvanise to actively participate in the retraining and retention of dancers for leadership roles if they are to utilise the existing organisational knowledge that these individuals possess.

“The highly unusual and challenging macro social and economic climate is an opportunity to re-consider existing industry norms,” says the paper, which “frames the pandemic as a catalyst for change, targeting in particular some of the often discussed, and potentially damaging ‘norms’ inherent within the ballet industry.”

“Dance companies have perhaps been subject to somewhat archaic categorisations and presumptions, preventing true strategic and business model innovation,” Megan writes. “The paper sets out to prove useful to dance companies, dancers and wider arts organisations as they rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis, in the hope that rebuilding post-pandemic will actually lead to stronger, more agile, and more thoughtful companies.”