Dance and Business. The Success Story of Sharon Watson

Dance and business. A diverse mix, and not a traditional career path, but this is the expressive life of Sharon Watson, Artistic Director at Phoenix Dance Theatre. Since becoming Artistic Director she has worked to promote emerging female choreographers. She is the independent chair of the steering group to make Leeds the European Capital of Culture in 2023, and a regional judge for the inaugural BBC’s Young Dancer and an artistic advisor for the Central School of Ballet. Thinking of her life off stage, Sharon began to wonder if she could achieve as much in the business world, as she has in the creative world.

Sharon Watson

“Just remember when you’re not practising that someone somewhere is. And when you meet them, they will win,” dancer and choreographer, Jacques d’Amboise. 

How did you decide to pursue the career that you’re working in today?

I don’t know if it was much of a decision, to be honest, I stumbled into it. Having seen my sister perform and dance at an early age, I was inspired to enter the world of dance and whilst it was provided to me at school, I think the inspiration of that particular individual enabled me to see the possibilities of an opportunity.

Many years later, having gone through the process of knowing that I could enter the world of dance, and more specifically the creative industries, I guess I was most aware of the limitations that would happen as a result of my career taking its toll physically, and knowing that there was more to be offered but not necessarily on the stage. So pursuing a career that had that transitional opportunity was very important and acknowledging that I had to go and find the skills to do that. Taking myself off the stage and being sure that going from a creative into an administrative role effectively was something that I was skilled enough to do. I think dance found me, I didn’t find dance, and the passion still stays with me because I’m able to morph what I do and see the successes of others coming through.

How do you maintain your daily motivation and that of your team, and inspire despite obstacles, push backs or setbacks?

I am inspired by creativity and I think it’s interesting that we talk about transferable skills and we don’t always acknowledge that they’re not necessarily your own skills or that we have skills that go beyond what I think is my initial forte as a performer. So the skills and challenges I have within my team, are about the creative results and the creative resourcefulness that they bring to a situation, to an organisation or to a problem.

I’m always inspired when I’m in the studio, even if it’s just for an hour and I don’t have to be the one delivering. I feel that’s almost the fuel for me to be able to share and energise me and to be able to connect with my team. I love seeing other successes and those could be very small ones, just by resolving a creative problem that could be a digital computer, could be text but also because performance for us is live seeing the results on stage is just magical. I know that there’s an emotional connection to the success of connecting and driving a team forward, and I think when you’re emotionally invested you see those results and feel them as well. Small successes are big successes when you’re working well with a team.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

I guess there isn’t really a best and a worst. The inconsistency of my role, in the sense that there isn’t one day that’s particularly the same, I always feel as if I’m playing catch up. Being able to be spontaneous to certain aspects and certain requests can always be quite a challenge. Creatively you’re expected sometimes to just turn the tap on and the creativity comes flowing, but having the time to think is so crucial. I don’t believe I get enough of that, so that’s probably the worst part of my job. Knowing I can be incredibly creative and resourceful but finding the time, when there are only so many hours in the day, and so many demands on your time is a real challenge. I love my job, I really really love all aspects of my job in the sense that no day is the same, so it’s a bit of a curse as well as a blessing. That is what inspires me. One day I can be in the studio, one day I can have a desk that looks like an absolute mayhem of ideas and creativity. The next I am in the theatre taking in art and being inspired by other people, building programs, working in education. I think if I had to do one job forever and in the same way, I think it would just kill me! It’s a bitter sweet kind of scenario because I need space and I need time and those things are about being able to think and process which isn’t really something that comes with the territory I’m afraid.

What do you think are the most important traits of successful leaders today?

There are lots of leadership courses and books and how to manage, but for me it’s listening and hearing. Finding space in between that to understand what has been said. It doesn’t always require action but it does mean that once you’ve heard something and that emotional intelligence that you have to analyse a situation or problem tends to find its way through. I think trusting one’s gut is something I’ve had said to me numerous times; that I need to trust myself more and I would advise anyone when you have that strong feeling amongst yourself, within yourself that you actually follow that through. There’s got to be some way that that’s a gift in terms of leadership, so using that is quite essential I think. I would say to any leader, just find time to listen. You don’t always have the answers and you don’t always have to have the answers but you can’t lead out there on your own, so know that if you’re actually out there and you’re in isolation, you’re not leading.

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