Culture change on ‘pointe’: Tamara Rojo reflects

5 min read
Culture Change On Pointe

On the 5th episode of the Culture de-cooded podcast Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet candidly shared insight from her career, specifically her time leading the cultural transformation of the English National Ballet (ENB). Tamara recalls many important learnings and lessons from her tenure as Artistic Director at ENB and this blog highlights just a few of her guiding principles for successful culture change.

Mindset drives culture change

When Tamara was approached for the role of Artistic Director, ENB was in decay, it was losing purpose, audiences and dancers drastically and the Arts Council had decided to withdraw funding. As a passionate and determined dancer, Tamara felt she could not let this happen.       

“I said, I will not tolerate it. I will fight you all the way. I will make ENB such an important company that you will not be able to do this. And that’s what I set out to do”

Originally from Spain, Tamara didn’t train at any of the traditionally admired institutions in the ballet world, but from a small school in Madrid, and she says this ‘outsider status’ gives her a fresh perspective and the ability to always question everything. Tamara highlights that her ambition takes the shape of a passion to create art that really matters and she isn’t afraid of questioning absolutely everything in order to succeed.

“If I’m going to do something, I want it to mean something and I want it to matter…I don’t want to do things because we’ve always done it this way, which was an answer I got very often at the Royal Opera House”

Tamara was a principle dancer herself for many years and openly discusses the mindset that it takes to succeed, stating that those who make it to professional companies have a certain mentality and understanding of the pursuit of excellence.

“From every 3,000 little girls that wear a tutu when they’re five, one makes it. That one person has a specific mentality and a training and a common understanding that the art form survives as long as they continue to pursue this excellence…a bit like the Olympic athletes, you know, you want to build upon the legacy of the past and you want to leave the next legacy for the future”.

For culture change, mindset is crucial, and even more so for effective leadership. Leading by example provides members of an organisation with a strong sense of direction, credibility and trust.

Culture change is a Team effort

Tamara states that she finds it easy being ambitious on behalf of others, and highlights that she wants every dancer in her company to be proud of what they do, who they are and the company they dance with. During her time at ENB, Tamara sought to unite the dancers with a shared pride.

On the podcast, Tamara describes the symbiotic relationship between the principal dancer and the corps de ballet, highlighting that whilst dancers need to be individually the best they can be, they must understand that ballet is a commonality, and they all perform in unison as a collective.  Common goals are crucial in culture change, as is the establishment of collective belief systems.

“When you are a principal dancer and you dance in front of a corps de ballet, you’re not dancing alone, they are helping you, but you also have to not let them down… as a principal dancer, you feed from their support, the resilience, the consistency, the professionalism and their generosity. And in exchange, you have to deliver a performance that ensures that the audience will come back and that the tickets will be sold. We have a common responsibility.”

Tamara reminisces fondly over the late chairman, Justin Bickle, who shared her passion and workload during cultural change at ENB, which enabled Tamara to ‘not have to fight every battle alone’. Tamara describes Bickle as a visionary who was her “right and left hand”. Collaboration and team work is crucial to culture change, as well as leading by example, Tamara and Bickle’s revolutionary work at ENB sets a strong example for other leadership teams looking to enact culture change.

Accountability is essential for successful culture change

During the podcast, Tamara reflects on her experience at ENB and highlights that even when an organisation has to change, individuals often pass the blame to others, and rarely take accountability for culture change themselves.

“I think even when an organisation knows it has to change, the individuals always feel that it’s somebody else’s problem…Very rarely have I heard someone say ‘I have to change’ Because if we don’t all change, the organization cannot change… individuals themselves often don’t want to, because change is hard.”

Tamara continues to say that often the type of people who make it as professional dancers thrive on rules and discipline, so change can be very hard in the world of ballet and bring with it extra challenges, uncertainties and fear. Accountability at the corporate leadership and individual operational level is key to success as it ensure all members of an organisation assume liability and invest in the change fully, in order to be successful.


This blog highlights the importance of a resilient mindset, teamwork and accountability for successful culture change in the world of professional ballet, based on Tamaras learnings from time at ENB. Tamara is currently in a new role as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet in the US and as she looks to the company’s future Tamara highlights her current challenge, stating that they have over 18 nationalities, which means it is extra important to establish team work, accountability and commonality.

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