Interview with Jena Woodbury, executive director, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

This article is part of a series featuring business executives who choose to live and work in Utah. If you know of an executive we should interview, please contact us.

Jena Woodbury grew up as a dancer, with a focus on modern dance. Her mother was a professor of dance at the University of Utah and co-founded the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. She grew up with a genuine appreciation for the arts, mixed with a love for the great outdoors.

When she decided to stop dancing to pursue a degree in communications, she knew that someday she would return to the arts. Her arts administration career took Woodbury to Portland, Oregon where she worked with a several performing arts organizations and served as a tour manager for Marcel Marceau.

Over the years, Woodbury has taken on many roles at Ririe-Woodbury as education and marketing director as well as booking and tour manager, and ultimately assumed the role as executive director in 2011.

Woodbury is committed to providing a space for the creation of new dances by choreographers from around the world. She is also driven to provide access to the arts and dance regardless of language, geography, education or income. She feels dance is a compelling art form that is accessible to everyone, by the very nature of being human.

How did you get started in the industry?
I grew up in the arts and started dancing at age three. Being engaged in the arts is just a way of life for me.

What top two most recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m proud that Ririe-Woodbury endured the transition from a founder-driven arts organization to a stable institution and that can present ourselves anew after 50-plus years.

The Company’s reputation for quality performances, education and outreach programs secured us an invitation from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for a highly sought after tour to Asia as cultural ambassadors last May. The invitation was based solely on our reputation, and we are still pinching ourselves to make sure we did not imagine this dream come true.

These accomplishments speak volumes about the investment we have with our community partners and their desire for us to do the best we can as a professional dance company.

What drew you to Utah?
I was born and raised in Utah and could not be prouder of that fact. What drew me back from Portland were the seasons, landscape, quality of life, my family, and the arts community.

What do you like most about living in Utah?
Utah is a beautiful state! Additionally, it has a robust and supportive arts community.  Like our company, there are other arts organizations whose focus is the creation of new works, and collectively we make a mark on the national arts scene. You can only support a professional dance company when you have a strong foundation.

What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
State officials recognize not only the cultural benefit of the arts in a community but the economic value as well. The arts are a business.

Utah is big enough to be challenging and interesting, yet small enough that you can realize your impact on the community.

What advice do you have for individuals considering starting a business, or relocating their business to Utah?
Speaking of the arts community, people are friendly and genuinely supportive. Know and respect the history of what came before you, and you’ll thrive.

What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah?  
We have a fantastic group of talented people who propel Ririe-Woodbury forward. However, finding the right avenue to attract a more diverse population into arts administration has been challenging.

Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
I’m much more comfortable backstage than onstage.  The activity behind the scene is as interesting as the performance itself.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
It would be wonderful if the corporate world engaged with the arts more than it does. The arts are the spirit of a community. The corporate world and the arts are an important partnership for an outstanding state.

Jena Woodbury is the executive director of Ririe-Woodbury. She’s committed to providing access to the arts and dance regardless of language, geography, education or income.
Connect with her on LinkedIn.