The last few weeks have been a depressing and deeply saddening time for women. Consequently, AWA Dance’s uplifting new award ceremony which celebrates women comes at a very good time. The Women in Dance Awards honour those who have made a significant impact in dance across the sector during the challenging year of 2020. Unlike the National Dance Awards which recognise the very visible achievements of dance artists and choreographers, the Women in Dance Awards celebrate outstanding women who make things happen often behind the scenes. While just one winner is awarded by a jury of industry experts, all of the 28 nominees are women who shape and define new leadership models.The event also marks the first birthday of AWA Dance (Advancing Women’s Aspirations with Dance), a charity dedicated to helping women and girls aspire to leadership roles through dance. AWA’s vivacious director and founder Avatara Ayuso speaks passionately about the need to reward women whose work as administrators, directors, producers or technicians is often overlooked and who struggle to become leaders. Ayuso’s understanding of leadership, a far cry from the hierarchical, competitive and forceful values of traditional male-defined leadership, draws on the embodied skills that women in dance seem to possess anyway: her vision of women-led practice is transformational, adaptable, empathetic, inclusive, collaborative, creative, resilient and resourceful.
This is the first virtual award ceremony I’ve attended and it took place on the online networking platform Remo. The experience, complete with background music and a map of the venue offers an exciting and flexible alternative to zoom where attendees can socialise with others by joining a table or moving to others with just one click. It’s also possible to see a list of all attendees and connect directly with people via a messaging facility. I choose the table named Josephine Baker where I meet dance colleagues I haven’t seen for ages as well as new people and award nominees. The ceremony began (like a webinar) and our host Ayuso, complete with drink and tapas made us feel that we really are out for the evening. After a dazzlingly informative introduction to both her charity and the ideas behind the award ceremony she introduced guest speaker Amanda Skoog, chair of One Dance UK, senior producer at the Royal Ballet and ex-managing director of Royal Ballet New Zealand. With her impressive CV, Skoog’s an appropriate guest and touchingly pays tribute to her mother, as her first role-model. Skoog emphasises how empowering women (and girls) to believe they can be leaders needs to start at an early age and that good leaders not only recognise talent but are able to nurture it, mentor and share it.
Presenting the award, Graham Watts, calm and collected as ever despite having to grapple with technological problems, generously acknowledges how all the 28 women nominees could be described as impactful and empowering in the work they do. We’re introduced (briefly on video) to the six short-listed women before Watts announces and interviews the winner Vicki Igbokwe, highlighting her multiple roles as choreographer, director of Uchenna Dance, coach and facilitator as testimony to the outstanding impact she has made on women and girls.
Cherished in the dance sector for her ability to bring change, healing and transformation, and as an active voice in the conversations around Black Lives Matter, Igbokwe couldn’t be more deserving of this particular award and the values it endorses. In an emotional acceptance speech, Igbokwe, clutching an extraordinarily beautiful award sculpture by visual artist Silvia Lerin, talked about her mission to keep educating girls and women, to empower them to feel their self-worth and continue making great dance, delivering her mantra “Think Fierce, Be Fabulous and Live Free spirited”.
It was a heart-warming finale to a special event and although I couldn’t feel the buzz in the room, I certainly sensed the desire and determination of all those present to transform the dance sector into a fairer and more inclusive place. Next year, with luck, the Women in Dance Awards will take place in person in a real venue, but the fact that it could happen at all is due to the power of women’s leadership.