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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Dana Margulies Cauthen

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Dana Margulies Cauthen.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

I’m currently the Residential Theatrical Director at Thomas Nelson Community College. I’m on the Board of Directors at Peninsula Community Theatre, a former member of the Board of Directors at Little Theatre of Norfolk, and past President of the Hampton Roads Civic Ballet Company. I’m also an adjunct faculty member in the theatre department at Old Dominion University and a Kindergarten teacher at Williamsburg/James City County Schools.

I’ve choreographed at Virginia Wesleyan University, Old Dominion University, Christopher Newport University, Tidewater Community College – Chesapeake, Thomas NelsonCommunitttle Theatre of Norfolk, Little Theatre of Virginia Beach, Generic Theatre, and Smithfield Little Theatre. I’ve also recently directed at Thomas Nelson, Peninsula Community Theatre, and Williamsburg Players.

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

I started dancing at the age of three and choreographing in my early 20s. I had staged for Hampton Roads Civic Ballet, but my work in musical theatre started when I played Hunyak in Chicago, the opening show at the Village Theatre when PCT purchased the building in 1994. John Raynes, who was directing the show, asked me if I thought I could choreograph a musical, and I told him I could try. I’ve been choreographing ever since and directing since about 1998.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

I suppose I’m a "come here"; we moved to this area when I was a year old and my father got stationed at Langley AFB.

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

Find that person you can learn from. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can shadow someone whose work you admire; watch what they do and how they do it. I have had some amazing choreographers and directors that I have considered my mentors along the way, and the best feeling in the world is when one of your mentors says they like your work. Another piece of advice—don’t let anyone steamroll over you. Ever. I’m only ashamed of the times I didn’t speak up, never about the times when I did.

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

I work in two fields in which women are generally seen as assets, I think, so it usually comes as a shock to me when I run into gender-based discrimination or harassment. In my early 20s, I was sent to a photographer’s home to have headshots taken. About halfway through the session, he said that the pattern on my pants was distracting and asked if I would take them off. For HEADSHOTS. I told him that was out of the question, and he went on taking photographs as if nothing had happened. I did tell the person who had sent me there, and I got some sort of a, “Well, good photographers are hard to find” kind of an answer. Looking back, I wish I’d handled it differently, and I think (I hope) young women today are willing to make a bigger fuss than I did.

The older I get, the easier it has become to say, “You will not speak to me like that” or “You will not dismiss my concerns.” It’s a paradox; if someone uses a “calm down, little lady” remark to me, I absolutely see red. And if you respond angrily, you are just reinforcing the “hysterical woman” stereotype. I often find myself thinking, “Wait. Would they have said that to a man?” And I’m just not willing to let that go anymore.

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

I’ve been working in education since the early 90s, and things were a lot different then. I had a forward-thinking (male) administrator who asked the person in charge of salaries to create a graph broken down by gender, which we looked at during a faculty meeting. The data was ridiculously skewed, and I distinctly remember the person in charge explaining that the male employees’ salaries were higher “because they have families to support.” There was a lot of rage in the room that day, and I began to learn the right way to stand up for myself from those women. It makes me feel a little old to realize I have been working long enough to remember that this kind of bias was so acceptable, that someone was willing to say that in front of a room full of educated women who worked just as hard as our male colleagues. I’m proud to have been part of the first generation of women to stand up and say, “This is wrong. Fix it.” We still have a long way to go; the wage gap is still there in a lot of fields, and it is hard to detect unless there is transparency in reporting.

Any closing thoughts?

If you are lucky enough to get a seat at the table, really think about who you can invite in. it’s important to surround yourself with people who want to see the arts expand in the same way you do.

I think that we as a society are doing a much better job at recognizing inequities across the board now, but I think it’s important for us to share our stories with younger women and assure them that standing up for themselves is the right thing to do.

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