Ann Williams’ love for every aspect of stage performance began with a middle school field trip to a production of the opera Aida.
“That was the first time I had seen anything professional like a ballet, opera, musical, Broadway show or anything like that,” Williams, who founded the Dallas Black Dance Theatre in 1976, said.
“It really blew my mind away — the singers, the sets, the costumes, the lighting. It was all so magical. I thought to myself that this was something I would really like to be a part of one day.”
The Baton Rouge Sigma Foundation and the Baton Rouge Sigma Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. will present a special performance by the Dallas dance troupe at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 6, in the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre.
Williams said it was on that field trip to see Aida that she experienced the moment that would set her on the path to the entertainment industry.
“I remember the director coming out before they opened the curtain,” Williams said. “He was telling us all about what we were going to see. He showed us the costumes, and told us about lighting and how the sets were built. It was really a lecture-demonstration. This really allowed us to see how many people and departments had to come together to make this magical thing come alive.”
Williams said while she was never really interested in being “the dancer flying across the stage,” her desire was to make that happen for children.
“I wanted to be like this conductor that came out and talked about how the production came together,” Williams explained. “I’ve always wanted to be the one that put it all together.”
Williams, now the artistic director of DBDT, began dancing and choreographing pageants at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. She went on to become the first African American to receive a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University, where she met and became friends with many choreographers in the business.
“I was very much a historian,” Williams said. “I read about the famous dance people, a lot of whom came to TWU and taught us at summer workshops. I became friends with many of them.”
Williams said she traveled to the Jacob’s Pillow dance center in Massachusetts and then to New York, after which she returned to Texas and opened her own dance school.
With more than 300 students in her school, Williams had five teachers instructing students in ballet, modern dance and jazz. It was at the urging of these teachers that the idea for a dance company began to take shape.
“The teachers asked me to start a dance company so they could continue to dance,” Williams said. “They all had been professional dancers, danced in college or had their degree in dancing. I actually think the teachers got a little jealous watching the dancers perform and remembering how much they still wanted to perform, so they came to me and said, ‘Ms. Ann, why don’t you start a dance company?’ and that’s really how we got started.”
DBDT started out with six dancers as a community group and has grown into a full professional dance company nestled in the downtown Dallas Arts District. Celebrating 36 years of dancing excellence, DBDT continues to create and produce contemporary modern dance at its highest level of artistic achievement.
“We are a multicultural dance company,” Williams said. “All of our dancers are professional dancers. They are well-trained when they come to audition, and they have all studied for some time in New York with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater or Dance Theater of Harlem.”
Williams urges those with a dream of dancing to take advantage of every resource available to them to make those dreams a reality.
“Don’t give up,” Williams said. “If it is something deep down in your heart that you want to do, you’ve got to learn that it is not going to be easy. There will be sweat, tears and rejection. Use it to make yourself better. Do research. Use the Internet for more than just looking at late night movies. Even if you don’t want to be a ballerina, ballet is the basic technique that every good dancer should have.”
Williams wants young dancers to understand that they can choose to be good at some things or be great at one thing, but they have to put in the hard work no matter how talented they are.
“Keep that dream and ambition, but hone in on one talent or technique,” Williams said.
“For instance, if you are a dancer, you must define what kind of dancer you are. Don’t come into this thinking that your raw talent will get you onto a Broadway stage or in the movies. Jamie Foxx had raw talent, but he got rejections, rejections, rejections until he started attending acting classes and learned to play classical piano.”
DBDT will host a free modern master class 5:45 p.m.-8 p.m. Friday, April 5, at Scotlandville Magnet High School for ages 6 and older. Those interested should register at http://tinyurl.com/masterclassinfo.
The class will be taught by DBDT associate artistic director Melissa Young. Young, who trained with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, has been a part of DBDT for more than 19 years.
The upcoming performance at the Baton Rouge River Center will begin with a piece based on the life and work of African-American painter Romare Bearden.
A special treat will be a hip-hop dance choreographed into a concert piece, set to house music.
The performance will conclude with “Amazing Grace” and songs by Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle.