Dance is a largely female field, but still a male-dominated one at the top. Vicki Igbokwe of Uchenna Dance on the challenges faced by women in business
Women in business often find the higher they go, the less they see other women. The dance world is no different.
As the founder, creative director and choreographer of Uchenna Dance, my mission is to entertain, educate and empower our clients, taking them on a journey that reflects British multiculturalism.
Starting my business in January 2009 was scary and exciting. I had been working as a creative projects manager for a dance organisation, earning good money, leading and developing (successfully, I should add) one area of the company’s activities.
Life was great but something was missing. My inner voice was gaining strength and volume. She said it was time for me to explore my creativity as a choreographer and pursue this full time, not as a hobby.
This is what I had trained for at university. It was the career I always wanted.
Women in business: fierce, fabulous, free
I have a mantra that gets me motivated: fierce, fabulous, free! It means being fearless, confident and making things happen.
As female entrepreneurs and women in business we need to be bolder in who we are and what we do. We need to take the space and demand our place through our work.
Looking back now, I can see how naïve I was in the early days, working in the studio creating steps and exploring new styles with my dancers.
My previous job equipped me with skills I would use, but who knew that being an entrepreneur was so hard?
I soon realised I needed more than great moves and a pretty face to get ahead. I needed to feed my brain with business knowledge.
In September 2009, I started a master’s in cultural leadership, a two-year part-time study that enabled my growth as an entrepreneur, gave me space to think about the company and forced me to see my current business model (there wasn’t one!) was not working.
Balancing the ‘why I do what I do’ with the ‘how’ was a massive learning.
Although the dance industry can be described as a ‘woman’s world’ it is very much led by men.
At grassroots level, you can walk into nine out of 10 dance classes and see a ratio of about eight women to every man.
But there is a shift once you move into the professional world, especially at the top. Men dominate and tend to have greater profiles then their female counterparts.
I am still working out why. As a woman in business, I don’t think I am any less ambitious or creative. But there is a gap between the sexes that doesn’t look like closing anytime soon.
I have visited conferences and been part of discussions and keep hearing that women in business are not that ambitious, that we don’t think big or push creative boundaries.
This is so far from the truth! (I wanted to put that a different way, but doubt I’d be allowed to here.)
I believe the initiatives created to empower female choreographers and give us much-needed visibility are a good thing, but I hope I’m alive to see my industry change.
And that these ‘women-only’ programmes become more of a choice to get together and share stories, skills etc, and less of a necessity because women in business are trying to break down the walls of a male-dominated industry.
If I don’t get to see this, I pray the generations behind me do.
My journey with my dance company so far has shown me that my ideas, dreams and business know-how mean nothing without that positive inner voice cheering me on. I pray I get to a point where I don’t need her, but life would be dull without her.
Join Vicki Igbokwe and other inspirational UK businesswomen at the IoD’s Women in Business Conference on 13 November. The event is a chance to listen to the success stories of female business leaders – and learn about the challenges they have faced in their rise to the top.