The Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded in 1969 and was the first African American classical ballet company. Since its founding, the theatre has grown into a multi-cultural dance institution with an extraordinary legacy of providing opportunities for creative expression and artistic excellence.
mustangconsulting first partnered with The Dance Theatre of Harlem in the fall of 2006, at a critical point in the theatre’s organizational life span. They no longer had the ability to tour and were having trouble attracting new donors. Our team was tasked with finding a way to attract new donors and sustain the legacy of The Dance Theatre of Harlem.
For the first few months of the project, mustangconsulting worked remotely with the theatre from Dallas. While this was productive, we knew to truly understand the culture and needs of the theatre, the mustangconsulting team would need to be on the ground in New York City. The next summer, the mustangconsulting team moved to New York City for three months and began work on a rebranding strategy for theatre.
The first step was a large qualitative research project to help the theatre find its voice, reestablish its position in the dance world and the African American community and understand the reservations of both members of the company and theatre management. Before traveling to New York, the mustangconuslting team knew there could be impediments to effectively interviewing the dancers because there were potential cultural barriers that non-dancers might not appreciate. In order to combat this weakness, we added additional consultants to the team for the summer, who were both communications students and in the dance program at SMU. The dancers conducted interviews with company members while the rest of the team conducted interviews with management. This split allowed for each interview to be authentic and the SMU dancers were able explain aspects of the dance culture to the mustangconsulting team. After interviewing those at the theatre, mustangconsulting moved onto the larger community that impacted the theatre’s success. This included other dancers, donors, art investors, audience members and a critic from the New York Times. The team wanted to understand the theatre’s place in the market and external reputation.
Analyzing both internal and external perspectives allowed mustangconsulting to diagnose the issue as breakdowns in the Theatre’s communication with key constituencies. This was an important element of the final presentation to the Theatre’s management. The team presented the Theatre’s market position, what it did very well and where there were opportunities for improvement. mustangconsulting’s recommendations included a succession plan for the founder and a close examination of the effectiveness of key management positions.
Today, The Dance Theatre of Harlem is at one of its strongest points and continues to break down cultural barriers in the performing arts community as well as foster arts education for young audiences. Our work with the Theatre allowed the organization to examine their market position and understand how internal structure was affecting their external presence.