Dorothy Gunther Pugh

CEO & Founding Artistic Director

Dorothy founded Ballet Memphis in 1986 with two dancers and a budget of $75,000. Today, the Company has 21 professional dancers, the most diverse ballet company in America, and a budget of more than $4.4 million. In August 2017 Ballet Memphis opened a new multi-million administrative and studio space in the heart of Memphis’ arts and theatre district. Under Dorothy’s direction, Ballet Memphis has been lauded by the Ford Foundation, the Hearst Foundations, and the Mellon Foundation, among others. Dorothy has appeared on several national dance panels, including PBS NewsHour, the National Endowment for the Arts Dance Panel and the Glass Slipper Ceiling Symposium. A member of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, she has received the Women of Achievement Award for Initiative and the Gordon Holl Outstanding Arts Administrator’s Award, and is a recipient of a fellowship from the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. She is a fellow in the National Arts Strategies’ Chief Executive Program™ and was named a 2012 Legends Award winner from the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis.

In 2013, she received the Briggs’ Foundation Community Service Award and in 2015 was named to Leadership Tennessee. In 2017, Memphis magazine named her its “Memphian of the Year,” and in 2019 she was honored with a Memphis Mojo Award for contribution to the community. She chaired for three years the Artistic Directors’ Council for Dance/USA, the nation’s largest dance service organization for professional dance companies, and also serves on its panel for diversity and inclusion.

Dorothy is a native Memphian who began her ballet training with Edith Royal of Orlando, Florida and later studied with Louise Rooke and Memphis 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 New York ballet master David Howard. Dorothy appeared in many roles with Ballet Memphis before leaving the stage.