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Local Arts Leader Announces Retirement from Contemporary Dance Company

Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders, CEO of the internationally acclaimed Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, retires effective December 31, 2022. 

Local Arts Leader Announces Retirement from Contemporary Dance Company

Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders, CEO of the internationally acclaimed Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC), announced her intention to retire, effective December 31, 2022. Ro Nita concludes an eighteen-year career at DCDC.

After being selected to provide leadership and stewardship of the company because of her knowledge and experience as a civic-minded, community-centered entrepreneur, Ro Nita was asked in 2005 by the DCDC Board of Directors to address issues that threatened the viability and sustainability of the company including the economic recession and lack of visibility of the company.

According to Ro Nita, "organizational change and reform, fiscal discipline, and strategic planning and networking became the requirements of the situation then, and these strategies continued to be useful and helpful in enabling the company to navigate the more recent challenge represented by the COVID pandemic and its aftermath." Ro Nita credits the creativity and resilience of the DCDC family, including the tireless donors, outstanding staff, exquisite dancers and dedicated Board of Directors for the company's recovery and renewal. The company has evolved from an excellent dance company into a performing arts institution.

DCDC Board Chair, Jacqueline Gamblin and CEO of JYG Innovations said "I have admired Ro Nita's leadership and unwavering commitment to continuing the DCDC legacy of artistic excellence and education. We appreciate her contributions and are extremely grateful for her cultivation of several key partnerships, sponsors and individual donors which are the lifeline of a non-profit. Her service has left a lasting impact and solid foundation for DCDC's continued stability, success and growth.

Ro Nita believes that DCDC is a community trust and cultural treasure, whose reason for being is to recreate and celebrate the African American heritage and experience. Through its artistic and educational initiatives, the company reaches annually approximately 40,000 people, 25,000 of whom are youth. An example of Ro Nita's belief that art may be used to heal, inform, and connect our global community was experienced in the presentation of DCDC's Young, Gifted and Black: A Transformative Experience, which brought performances of new work and residency activities by choreographers of color to students and the community of the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Ro Nita has stated that she shares "Jeraldyne Blunden's commitment to education, social change and cultural transformation." She initiated new strategic educational partnerships with area Universities including the University of Dayton, Central State University and Wright State University. These partnerships resulted in initiatives that have benefited area high school and college students and the program growth of the dance company.

During Ro Nita's tenure, DCDC has received a number of distinguished awards, including the contemporary dance world's highest honor (New York Dance and Performance Award aka "The Bessie") in 2016. DCDC also received the 2016 Workplace Diversity Award from the Dayton branch of the National Conference for Community and Justice. In May of 2018, DCDC received the prestigious Ohio Arts Council top artistic award, the Irma Lazarus Award. DCDC has also toured internationally--Chile, China, France, Poland, and in 2018 the U.S. State Department invited DCDC to tour Kazakhstan and Russia.

Ro Nita leaves DCDC after having created a legacy of leadership and service of her own, which includes her selection by the Dayton Business Journal in 2019 and in 2021, as one of the fifty most influential women in our area and her being honored in 2020 with the inaugural DBJ Jane Haley Award for determination, perseverance, and achievement. Ro Nita was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Dayton in May of 2019 for her many contributions to the vitality and quality of the community, her continuing commitment to education, and her advocacy for female and minority business ownership.

Ro Nita's belief in the vision and mission of the company-her respect for the company's history and the founder's legacy, her advocacy for individual change and organizational transformation, her faith and confidence in the potential and destiny of the company and the talented and dancers will remain hallmarks of DCDC.

The board of directors, will begin the daunting task of filling her position, in order for DCDC to continue its excellence that it represents in the arts world-wide. Vice chair of DCDC's board and University of Dayton provost Dr. Paul Benson said, "Ro Nita has been an outstanding leader for DCDC in absolutely every dimension of her responsibilities. Her agile leadership and ambitious strategic vision for DCDC were powerful catalysts for developing the close working partnership that UD has had with DCDC for the past 12 years." Benson noted that the Board will establish a search committee and launch a search soon for Ro Nita's successor. "DCDC's continued artistic excellence, rich grounding in African-American culture and artistic expression, and dramatically expanded national and regional support should make this a highly desirable leadership role."


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