In 1986, Dorothy Gunther Pugh founded Ballet Memphis with two professional dancers and a budget of $75,000. Today, the Company employs 26 professional dancers, operates with a $4.4 million budget and is building a new multi-million administrative and studio space in the heart of Memphis’ art and theatre district. Pugh is one of only seven female artistic directors of American dance companies of similar size and budget, and she frequently speaks on gender and diversity issues in the ballet world at universities, in the media, and on national symposia and panels including appearances with PBS Newshour, at the Glass Slipper Ceiling Symposium, at Dance/USA, and at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
A fellow in the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA), she has received the Gordon Holl Outstanding Arts Administrator’s Award and the Women of Achievement Award for Initiative and is a recipient of a fellowship to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business to study at the Center for Non-Profit Innovation. She also has served on the Board of the Greater Memphis Chamber. She was a fellow in the first class of the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program – one of only 100 arts leaders in the world selected for this honor – and in 2012 Pugh was honored with the Women's Foundation for Greater Memphis Legends Award, and in 2013 received the Thomas W. Briggs award for Community Service. Since 2014, she has chaired the Artistic Directors’ Council (for companies with a budget more than $3 million) for Dance/USA. She also serves on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for Dance/USA.
Under Pugh’s direction and leadership, Ballet Memphis has received numerous accolades including a $1 million New Directions/New Donors for the Arts grant from the Ford Foundation, a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop a network of national and local thinking partners to explore the future of mid-sized American ballet companies, and two National Dance Project grants in support of a new work. The Ford Foundation praised Ballet Memphis as “a national treasure.” The Company has been written about and reviewed in many print and online publications including the New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Dance magazine, and Pointe magazine. It has performed to excellent reviews at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., at the Joyce Theater and the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York City, at Spring to Dance in St. Louis, at Dance Salad in Houston, and at other prestigious dance showcases in France and Canada. Ballet Memphis has toured across the U.S. and in Central America.
Pugh is a native Memphian and began her ballet training with Edith Royal of Orlando, FL, and later studied with Louise Rooke and Memphis Concert Ballet. After graduating cum laude from Vanderbilt University, she studied with Raymond Clay and Donna Carver and performed with Dance Concert Theatre. She completed teacher-training courses at the Royal Academy of Dance in London and with noted New York ballet master David Howard.
She retired from the stage in 1991. She is married to Robert L. Pugh, a former associate professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. He currently is in private practice. They have two grown daughters.back to Board of Trustees