The winner of the top honour at last week’s Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards – Caroline Miller – reflects on the people who have inspired and guided her career.
Miss Doris Dorbon
Miss Dorbon was my teacher at a small local dance school in Sidcup, Kent. She is the same age as the Queen and was formidable, but a very good teacher! My mum sent me when I was three, because I was shy and someone told her dancing might help. She had no idea I was going to love it so much and it became a hobby that dominated our family life.
Miss Dorbon demonstrates the power of local dance teachers in young people’s lives. I spent two or three nights a week with her until I went to university. She gave me my love of dance, taught me discipline, how to present in public and the importance of supporting and celebrating my classmates – all skills that have been vital to my career.
I was lucky my parents could afford to send me to private dance classes. This is why I worry so much about the erosion of the status of the arts in education. The lack of specialist dance teachers in schools means that children whose parents aren’t wealthy enough, or don’t have experience of dance, will be deprived of the chance to try dancing or be introduced to watching it.
Anthony gave me my first full time job as marketing officer at Colchester Arts Centre. Until then, I had very mainstream tastes. Anthony introduced me to performance art; he took me to the Edinburgh Festival and encouraged me to watch shows day and night, and got me hooked on Live Arts at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. It was so exciting, and perfect for someone in their early 20s looking for an edgy outlet!
Anthony is a wonderful producer and artistic director, championing the most ‘out-there’ contemporary performance artists whilst also celebrating quirkiness, from Dad’s Army to Ealing comedies. He truly demonstrates ‘Great Art for Everyone’, proving that regional audiences don’t just want to experience mainstream shows.
Lori was the Head of Press and my boss when I joined the ICA as a press officer in the mid-1990s. She was wild and exciting, and showed me that you can work hard and play hard.
She taught me that being a publicist could be creative – you needed to build trust with the artists you were representing and plan campaigns based on imaginative ideas. Most importantly, she taught me that you can ask anyone – no matter how famous – to do anything, so long as you make the approach politely and explain why the idea is an interesting one to be involved in. They can only say no!
Alistair Spalding CBE
Alistair and I have worked together at the Southbank Centre and Sadler’s Wells, and he was the Chair of Dance UK when I became Director in 2006. Alistair is my guru because he introduced me to some of the most exciting dancers and companies that I’ve had the privilege to work with – from Ballet Frankfurt to Ultima Vez, Wayne McGregor to Antonia Franceschi and New York City Ballet. He always puts the art and the artist first. A true inspiration and the reason that he has made Sadler’s Wells such a success.
Michael Kaiser and Fern Potter
I spent three summers at the DeVos Institute of Arts Management in Washington DC led by Michael Kaiser, who was then President of the Kennedy Center. Michael’s theory of how to run successful arts organisations, called ‘The Cycle’, gave me the tools to turn Dance UK around when it lost 100% of its regular Arts Council England funding. Three years later, we had doubled our turnover and diversified our income.
I couldn’t have done this without Fern Potter, Director of Development at One Dance UK. Fern is a former dancer, teacher and manager. She helped me apply Kaiser’s management theory to Dance UK and taught me that fundraising can be exciting, creative and needs to be intrinsically linked with the creation of any arts project, right from its inception.
Arlene Phillips CBE and Tamara Rojo CBE
Arlene and Tamara are my gurus because they are two high-profile female artists and leaders who use their fame to help the dance and arts communities, and in the case of Arlene, to champion charities working in wider society. They engage with the wider world of politics and artistic development. Even with their extremely busy work schedules, they are always generous with their time and ideas to help champion dance, and use their public profiles to ensure issues are given profile in the press and with politicians.
I couldn’t have been happier when they were both there to present me with the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards last month.
Caroline Miller is Director of Dance UK.