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Focus on Leadership: Michelle Ryan

Oct 19, 2015

Michelle Ryan, Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre, shares her experiences with the Sync Leadership Program and her thoughts on leadership. The 2015 Sync Leadership Program is on in Adelaide 12 to 16 October.

What were your experiences of the Sync Leadership Program?

The Sync Leadership Program came along at a perfect time for me. I have a lot of responsibility in my current role on many levels and the program gave me the time to reflect upon my strengths and weaknesses, and to consider how best I could use my passion for equality to move the company and my own practice forward.

I learnt that there are many leadership styles and that my way of working, problem solving and realising my vision was valid. Working collaboratively and connecting with others is a rich way of seeing a project come to fruition.

What is ‘cultural leadership’?

Cultural leadership for me is about facilitating change through adventurous thinking and challenging the perceived norm. Taking a bold idea, molding, analyzing and converting it into action.

What do you think is the most important trait a cultural leader should have?

The qualities in leaders that I find aspirational are having the courage to be bold, to always be respectful of others and their opinions but also being prepared to make the hard decisions when required.

What advice would you give your past self or someone else about leading others?

The small bit of advice that I would give that I still struggle with is that you can’t always make everyone happy all the time. Sometimes life isn’t fair but you find ways to navigate the difficult times and you can inspire others to find different paths.

It is also important to celebrate significant achievements and absorb what has contributed to the success for future endeavours.

What other leaders do you admire?

Last year I met an amazing woman at the Unlimited Festival, Caroline Bowditch who is an Australian woman living in Scotland. She creates beautiful work and she is a strong advocate for change. I hope to work with her in the near future.

Meryl Tankard has had a large influence on me in many ways. She always gives complete commitment to making art and has never stuck to the safe option.

Dr Gill Hicks MBE is someone I have admired from afar. As a survivor of the London bombings in 2005 she experienced immense trauma. She now uses her strong and articulate voice to contribute to society by giving an insight in to the capacity of people and showing how you can succeed in the face of adversity. She is a wonderful role model.


Michelle Ryan is the Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre, an Adelaide based company that works with artists with and without disability. 

During her career Michelle has worked extensively with Meryl Tankard in Canberra, Adelaide at ADT and overseas in London, Portugal and Sweden. Life changed dramatically at the age of 30 when Michelle was diagnosed with MS and stopped dancing immediately. 

After a hiatus of 10 years, she returned to the stage. Michelle still pulls out her own dancing shoes at times, most recently in London at the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival with the Torque Show production of Intimacy. The production won an Australian Dance Award this year and will be presented at the Adelaide Festival Centre in October 2015.