Female Founders Allow Ririe-Woodbury to Succeed

By Alina Hansen

Nestled in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company has given audiences internationally renowned dance proformances for the past 54 years. First founded in 1964 by Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company has become recognized as an exemplary contemporary dance company through its successes over the years. Woodbury and Ririe, former dance professors at the University of Utah, started their own dance company with the intention of providing educational resources to anyone who wanted to learn contemporary dance.

Their perseverance, dedication and a talent ultimately established future for their company. The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company founders actively participated in the early dance programs for the National Endowment for the Arts. The company was one of very few selected to participate in the prestigious Dance Touring Program and Artists in the Schools Program. The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is also the only dance company with permission to perform full evenings of the dance master Alwin Nikolais’s works because of its success in performing his works in partnership with The Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance in 2003.

Woodbury and Ririe were in a unique position as female founders of a company in the 1960s. Woodbury noted there were many dance companies in the country decades before the ‘60s that had been founded by women, but males had become more dominant.

“Women in the ‘15s, ‘20s and ‘30s started companies and then after that got going most [founders] started … to be men,” Woodbury said. “When we were up here at the U, Shirley and I were the only two women at the university to start the dance company.”

As well as being a dance company founded and run by women in Salt Lake City, the company had other unique challenges in its early years.

“We had to be very careful about what we performed and how we performed,” Woodbury said. “We were very careful about social mores. … In the early days, we could not have any of our dancers without bras on underneath their costumes; you couldn’t see a nipple. You couldn’t show a nipple.”

In other countries, contemporary dance productions were often performed in the nude, which is not unusual for contemporary dance.

Woodbury commented that today women have more prominence in society.

“Women are really coming into their element. We have women that are beginning to take up the gauntlet,” Woodbury said.

The ongoing determination of these two women has brought their dance company into prominence. Their devotion to dance and the community is continued by the current directors of the company, such as Jena Woodbury, Woodbury’s daughter, who is the executive director.

Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s mission is to connect with everyone, from its audience, to its local community and to the entire world. It is important for the Salt Lake City community to recognize the significance of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and its exceptionally remarkable place in Utah. This dance company welcomes with open arms anyone who wants its  help and support in connecting through dance, from young aspiring millennials to families new and old. Continuing its long history of excellence, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company offers support through dance education programs for all levels, training for artists and unique performances of original productions. The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is not just a dance company, but one of the essential beating hearts in Salt Lake City’s distinct arts locale, a heart that should be treasured and loved by the community for years to come.

Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is located at 138 West and 300 South, Salt Lake City. For tickets and more information, go to its official website at ririewoodbury.com, email [email protected] or call 801-297-4241.

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Upcoming Event for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

Annual Benefit Party

The Benefit Party will commemorate the 54th year of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company with a gourmet dinner, performance and auction to support the company and staff. This event requires an RSVP, valid ID and city chic attire. Prices vary for individual and group tickets, including tables. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company website.

Date and time: Thursday, March 8, 6:30 p.m.

Location: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 West Broadway Street, Salt Lake City.