Tag Archives: Stephanie Rae Williams

Q&A: Stephanie Rae Williams, Dance Theatre of Harlem

Stephanie Rae Williams of Dance Theatre of Harlem returns home for the Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival and the Dance Council Honors this weekend.
Stephanie Rae Williams 2017 (1)
Stephanie Rae Williams. Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dallas — As the oldest of six siblings, Stephanie Rae Williams says her parents had to get creative when it came to financing her love of dance, especially classical ballet. Williams credits her mom with discovering the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which also happens to be where she will be performing this weekend, along with attending the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence by the Dance Council of North Texas. “My mother is such an amazing woman and she just wanted me to have all these different opportunities in dance and so, she was really the one who sought out different scholarships that were available and helped me apply for them,” Williams says. Her mom’s hard work paid off in 2005 when Williams was awarded the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which she used to attend Julliard’s summer intensive that same year. The scholarship also gave Williams the opportunity to perform at the SSDF, which was a big deal for the 16 year old at the time. “I think I performed a classical piece, which is nothing like the solo I will be performing this time.”

The event, newly renamed Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival in honor of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), runs Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School and includes performances by Williams, Sydney Winston (2017 SDDF scholarship recipient), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. The schedule also features a master class with former Bruce Wood Dance Company member Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase and an industry roundtable. The event is made possible by Arga Nova Dance with the support of Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center.

For SDDF, Williams will be performing José Limón’s Chaconne, courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Out of the four casts, Williams was the only female chosen for the solo, which she describes as modern-based and challenging, yet extremely satisfying to perform. “There’s something really gratifying about the way Jose Limon choreographed this piece. It feels like you evolve as a human being throughout it and by the end of it you’re like dead, but alive at the same time.”

Growing up in Allen, Texas, Williams started her dancing at Texas Ballet Theater School (formerly Dallas Dance Academy) when she was 8 years old. She grew up training in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and hip-hop with Joyce Seaborne Bader, Lyndette Bader and Fiona Fairrie. After graduating from Allen High School, Williams joined Ben Stevenson’s Texas Ballet Theater for a season before heading to New York City. There she worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden at Complexions Contemporary Ballet before joining DTH’s ensemble company in 2010. After DTH returned from hiatus with Virginia Johnson at the helm in 2012, Williams was then asked to join the revived company and has spent the last five years here gaining more confidence in herself and her craft. “It’s the first company that I was able to make my home and really feel like I could grow and be nurtured there. What’s interesting is that half that dancers that came with us to Dallas in 2014 have moved on and yet I am still here. It’s surreal being one of the veterans that the new company members now come to show them the ropes.”

When asked if she ever gets the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, Williams responds, “Yes, I do sometimes get the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, and I have done that with Virginia’s approval, but DTH remains my home base.” Williams mentions that she just completed four shows with the Seattle-based Arc Dance Company, which she says Johnson was nice enough to allow her to do. “It a lot of fun because for once I wasn’t the seasoned dancer. I was the new girl and I feel like it’s really important to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable anywhere, and so I am really thankful I have a director that encourages these types of opportunities.”

As far as what Williams is looking forward the most at SDDF, she says, “Just mingling with everyone there and also seeing so many smaller dance companies from professional to the local high schools perform. And because it’s not just the professionals performing this really does feel like the whole South Dallas community is coming together to celebrate dance throughout these three performances.” Williams adds that she is also looking forward to seeing the kids attending the festival as she believes there are not enough black dancers for them to look up to in the industry today, especially in classical ballet. “I was the only black girl in my entire dance school, but I just thought that this was the norm. It wasn’t until I walked into DTH to audition that I noticed there was this whole other side missing from my dancing because at DTH when we dance there’s this whole other type of soul that we bring to the stage.”

While in town Williams will also be attending the DC Honors where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence. The event takes place at Dallas Black Dance Theater on Sunday afternoon and will include food, a silent auction and performances by local companies and scholarship recipients. In addition to Williams, this year’s honorees also include Kathy Chamberlain, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy. As far as Williams’ reaction to the award news she says, “I was both humbled and excited when I heard I would be receiving this honor. It’s just really nice knowing that I have so much support here in Dallas and it means so much to me to be recognized in this way.”

» For more information about Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival, please visit www.becklesdancingcompany.org, and for more information about the Dance Council Honors, please visit www.thedancecouncil.org

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.



Dance Council of North Texas Honors returns to Dallas Black Dance Theatre

The Dance Council Honors has thankfully split from Dallas DanceFest and will return to its more intimate setting at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Me at the 25th Dance Council Honors Sept. 30, 2012 at the Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Dallas.

I know I am not the only person happy about the fact the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) will no longer be squeezed into Dallas DanceFest (DDF). For the last few years the DC Honors has occurred in conjunction with DDF and unfortunately has suffered as a result with the main complaint being the length of each evening’s program.

The presentation of the awards also lacked the comradory and celebratory atmosphere that has always been a part of the DC Honors, which is why I am glad that the event has split from DDF and will be returning to Dallas Black Dance Theatre on Oct. 29 for some food, fun and fantastic dancing. And, of course, we will hear from this year’s DC Honorees, which include Kathy Chamberlain, Stephanie Rae Williams, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy.

Over the last couple of decades, these incredible individuals have made huge strives to better our local dance community thanks to their passion, dedication, knowledge, cultural awareness and above all love for the art form of dance. Because God knows we are not in it for the money!

Kathy Chamberlain. Photo courtesy of Chamberlain School of Ballet

I know I will be there to watch Kathy Chamberlain as she receives the Mary Bywaters Award for her lifetime contribution to dance.

I met Kathy one day at Sandy’s Shoes and Dancewear back in the summer of 2009. I had just moved to Dallas from Cleveland and knew absolutely no one in the local dance community. She took me under her wing and she and I had multiple phone conversations about the ins and outs of the Dallas dance scene. She is the one who lead me to local dance writer Margaret Putnam. I started off by reading a lot of Margaret’s reviews, which at the time were published in the Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones.com (TJ). This eventually lead me to contact TJ where I have now been writing dance previews, Q&As and reviews for the last six years.

Kathy was ultimately the one who jump-started my career here in Dallas and I will forever be grateful to her. And her willingness to help me is also one of the things I like most about our local dance community. Although everyone is technically in competition with one another they are always willing to lend a helping hand and offer up support when needed. So, I recommend offering your support to the dance community by coming to this year’s DC Honors. Even if you don’t know any of the honorees you should still come. I did when I first moved to Dallas and it taught me a lot about the city’s dance culture and the wide range of work being made here as well as the wealth of talent being fostered in our city schools and studios. You should definitely check it out!


I have included the official press release below:


For Immediate Release:

WHAT:  Dance Council of North Texas 2017 Honors 

WHEN: Sunday, October 29, 3:00 P.M.

WHERE: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 2700 Ann Williams Way, Dallas, TX 75201 in Dallas Arts District

Dance Council of North Texas is pleased to honor five people within the area dance community who have made a significant contribution to world of dance.

 2017 DCNT Awardees:

Kathy Chamberlain is receiving the Mary Bywaters Award, which recognizes a person who has made a lifetime and significant contribution to dance. Dance Council of North Texas is delighted to join with Chamberlain School of Ballet, (CSB) Plano, as itcelebrates its 40th Anniversary. Chamberlain School of Ballet is the supporting school for Chamberlain Performing Arts, a leading North Texas pre-professional dance company founded by Ms. Chamberlain. She received the prestigious Ford Foundation Scholarship for study at the School of American Ballet, NYC.

Stephanie Rae Williams. Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Stephanie Rae Williams is the recipient of the Natalie Skelton Award honoring a person who is currently performing. Ms. Williams was featured in Dance Magazine’s “On the Rise” in 2013. In 2005, she received the South Dallas Dance Festival Scholarship from DCNT. Stephanie was a Fellowship recipient at the Ailey School, a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Winner as well as a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Finalist. As part of DC Honors, Stephanie will perform My Funny Valentine, choreographed by Darrell Mourie. She appears through the courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem, NYC.


The Mary Warner Award for service in dance recognizes Patty Granville, who exemplifies

Patty Granville. Courtesy of Garland Center for the Performing Arts

the individual whose vision is essential to the dance community. Ms. Granville has been the Director of the Garland Center for the Performing Arts since its opening in 1982. As one of the founders, she has served as producer for Garland Summer Musicals since 1983. In 2003, the Garland City Council unanimously voted to rename the Performing Arts Center to the Patty Granville Arts Center. Patty provides countless opportunities for performers, musicians and craftsmen to participate in musical theatre.


Larry White Educator Award recognizes Alpana Kagal

Alpana Kagal Jacob

Jacob for her inspiring and innovative contributions to her students’ development. After her Arangetram and graduation, she has been teaching Bharata Natyam to young children and adults. Alpana has been a guest lecturer at both UNT and TWU and has served as choreographer and teacher for Dallas Theater Center Summer Workshop projects. Alpana has taught at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Brookhaven College and Richland College. She is a disciplined  and loving teacher to all her students.

Malana Murphy. Courtesy of Next Step Performing Arts


Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award celebrates the exemplary contributions of Malana Murphy to America’s original dance form: tap. Malana began her professional career at the age of 14 while performing in the production of Calling All Kids, choreographed by Gracey Tune. In addition to graduating from Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Malana has performed commercially and in industrials. Malana’s love for tap dancing has inspired her to share her passion and knowledge with students locally and across the United States. She is also the head of the local tap dance festival RIFF, which stands for Rhythm and Fusion Festival.


DBDT: Encore! will perform as well as Dance Council 2017 scholarship recipients.  The opening number is generation# (sic) choreographed by Tammie Reinsch of Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Doug Voet of Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie will serve as the event’s emcee with Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran Nycole Ray providing production assistance. Reception, refreshments and a silent auction will complete the afternoon’s agenda.


$35 – ADULT 

$30 – MEMBERS, Dance Council of North Texas

$20 STUDENTS, ages 13 through 18.  

STUDENTS, ages 12 and under: Free when accompanied by an adult

Tickets available: www.thedancecouncil.org  or by phone 214 219-2290

Weekend Performances: Jan 24-26, 2014

If you have some free time this weekend make sure you check out these dance performances:

1. Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Jan.25 at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas presented by TITAS in association with the AT&T Performing Arts Center. LINES Ballet is a celebrated contemporary ballet company whose works draw on a diverse set of deeply rooted cultural traditions, imbuing classical ballet with new expressive potential.

2. SMU Dance Sharp Show – Jan. 25-26 at the Margo Jones Theatre on the SMU campus in Dallas. SMU Meadows School of the Arts presents the annual Sharp Show featuring works choreographed and produced by seniors in the SMU Meadows Division of Dance. Admission is FREE but tickets are required.

3. Dance Theatre of Harlem – Jan. 26 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. In revitalized DTH brings its innovative and bold new forms of artistic expression to audiences in New York City, across the country and around the world. Check out my interview with AD Virginia Johnson and Texas native Stephanie Rae Williams HERE!


The Comeback Kid

Photo: Rachel Neville Gabrielle Salvatta and Anthony Savoy of Dance Theatre of Harlem
Photo: Rachel Neville
Gabrielle Salvatta and Anthony Savoy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

The revitalized Dance Theatre of Harlem brings its resillient and versatile classical movement to North Texas.

Fort Worth — Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) has experienced some hard knocks across its expansive 44-year history, but in the end it has only made the company stronger. Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, the first African-American dancer with the New York City Ballet, and his teacher Karel Shook, DTH quickly became known throughout the U.S. as the first black classical ballet company. Since its official debut in 1971 at the New York Guggenheim Museum, DTH has shown audiences all over the world that ballet is accessible to all races.

As the story goes, Mitchell was on his way to the airport in 1968 when he heard the news of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Instead of going to Brazil where he was to create a ballet company, he returned home to Harlem where he created a school to provide the children of the community opportunities in dance. DTH Artistic Director Virginia Johnson says the idea for starting the company came to Mitchell after he realized these young dancers didn’t have anyone to look up to in the world of classical ballet. So, he created the DTH Company to be a series of role models for these children.

“I was really fortunate in that I was a young dancer who had been told I couldn’t do ballet, even though I had trained my whole life in it, and I came to New York just at the moment Arthur Mitchell decided he was going to have a company,” Johnson says. “So, I was able to be part of that first group of dancers who were embodying the principle that given access and opportunity any human being can do anything.” During her 28 years dancing with DTH Johnson has performed most of the company’s repertoire, including principal roles in Concerto BaroccoAllegro BrillanteAgonA Streetcar Named DesireFall River LegendSwan LakeGiselle and Voluntaries just to name a few.

Unfortunately, the company was forced to take a hiatus in 2004 due to budgetary constraints. However, DTH returned to the stage, under the direction of Johnson, in 2012 and was met with great acclaim and encouragement especially from the Harlem community. “One of the best things about bringing back the company was the enthusiasm we got from all kinds of corners. It was tremendously difficult to put together the pieces that enabled us to do this and it was a lot of hard work, but the response and encouragement from people who really wanted to see DTH again made it worth it.”

Over the past couple of decades DTH’s message of empowerment has struck a chord within many aspiring black ballerinas, including DTH company member and Allen, Texas, native Stephanie Rae Williams. “I remember the first time I saw Dance Theatre of Harlem perform. I was 16 and my mom drove me to Tyler, Texas, on a school night to see them. I remember how shocking it was because I had never seen so many dancers of color onstage doing ballet before. It was a beautiful experience.” Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has dance with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012.

“When I first came to the company I was so intimated by Virginia,” Williams says. “I had been so many different places and finally felt like DTH could be my home, and I so wanted her to be that next mentor figure in my life. I would constantly push myself to my breaking point, and she has really taught me to calm down and go back to the basics of ballet.”

Johnson admits that today’s dancers, like Williams, are physically and technically stronger than the dancers of her generation. “Their physical embodiment of dance is so powerful. They’re technically strong, flexible and very hungry. In my day I was at the end of that generation where you were either a modern dancer or ballet dancer, but because we have such a diverse repertoire today this generation of dancers has got to be able to do all kinds of movement.”

Today, DTH consists of 18 dancers and currently has 16 pieces in its repertoire. In its first season DTH produced 12 works, which Johnson says was pretty exhausting, but also gave the dancers a real challenge. “It gave them diversity in style and gave them opportunities to perform many different pieces,” she says.

In regards to its second season Johnson says DTH remains committed to carrying forth this message of empowerment through the arts. “We are working in classical ballet, which is an incredibly demanding art form and you are always trying to reach new heights. I think dancers are the most powerful people in the world because we have such focus and attention to detail, and we don’t settle for second best.”

Williams adds, “We had a really great first year, but there is still a lot more growth and a lot more work to be done.”

DTH’s tenacity and talent will be on display for North Texas audiences Jan. 26 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth and Jan. 30 at the Irving Arts Center. The Fort Worth program includes the Act III pas de deux from Swan Lake, Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven and Robert Garland’s Gloria and Return. The Irving program includes George Balanchine’s Agon, Donald Byrd’sContested Space and Garland’s Gloria. 

Williams will be dancing in both Gloria and Return in the Fort Worth performance and all three pieces in Irving. “I haven’t toured back to Texas since I moved away when I was 18 so, this will be the first time that a lot of my friends and family will see me perform. I am very excited!”

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.