For Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we are shining a spotlight on Vanguard’s FIRST female corps director, Rebecca Compton-Allen, best known as RCA! VMAPA is proud to be a vehicle for RCA, and all of the women who presently work at Vanguard, to help pave the way for female leadership in the activity!

LeAnne Hlavka sat down with RCA to talk to her about her service in leadership, and about this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #BreakTheBias. Here’s what she had to say:

LH: Tell us about your background, both with drum corps and in your career field.

RCA: I performed in the front ensemble with an all-age drum corps called Minnesota Brass from 2002-2004 and 2010, and as a drum major in 2012. I earned my degree in Child Psychology and began working in the mental health field doing behavior analysis. At the same time, I was teaching band and wound up at Shadow Drum & Bugle Corps in 2013. There, I transitioned from technician to Assistant Director, to Corps Director, and ultimately to Executive Director in 2020. Additionally, I worked as the Director of Mobilization for the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development in 2020 and became immersed in DEI initiatives. I also joined DCI’s InStep Committee and was elected to the Open Class Advisory Committee that same year. 

 LH: Was your path to working in upper-level management of drum corps intentional or organic? 

RCA: When I came into the directorship positions at Shadow, it was mainly because there was a need that I found myself in a position to fill. From there, I fell in love with arts administration! But prior to that, it was not something I envisioned for myself because I did not see many women doing it. I was a huge fan of SCV, one of the only corps I said I would leave Shadow for, so when a friend sent me the job listing, I took the leap. Getting the job felt like a Cinderella story!

LH: What raised your awareness that progress needed to be made for women in the marching arts, and what is the end goal in that regard?

RCA: I attended the DCI Directors Summit in 2018 representing an Open Class corps and felt a palpable sense of “differentness” as one of only a few women in the room. The main topics that year were centered around girls/women in the activity, as we were in the midst of the #MeToo movement. It became obvious to me why this was an issue, as there was a severe lack of women’s voices present. The end goal is that; the activity is for everyone, therefore everyone should feel safe and celebrated. 

RCA with two of her inspirations who she says pave the way for girls and women in music; Sandi Rennick (Percussion Arranger/Composer) and Katie VanDoren (Asst. Brass Caption Head)

LH: What biases against women do you feel present themselves in the marching arts, and how do you approach them?

RCA: The biases I have experienced as a woman are that sensitivity and range of emotion are seen as weaknesses, and therefore unwelcome in the activity. I find these to be strengths that will help drive the activity forward by putting care and consideration into policy development, as well as possessing the emotional intelligence required to positively manage people. 

LH: How do you handle any intimidation that comes with working in a male-dominated field, as well as with your new role in a historical corps like the Santa Clara Vanguard?

RCA: It is common for people to attempt to intimidate and to feel intimidated, as a woman quite often, but I feel a sense of responsibility to show others they can do it which motivates me to push through. I definitely questioned my readiness and capability when it came to Vanguard, but I have a great support system in my husband, and the confidence I received from the organization’s leadership throughout the hiring process made me feel supported and encouraged to succeed here. 

LH: Is there anything you wish you could tell a younger version of yourself that you would want young women today to know?

RCA: I would love to tell my 16-year-old self that I would be the Corps Director of SCV someday! And also that leadership can look like anyone, even if you don’t see it right now. Your differences will be your strength; not in spite of, but because of.