According to Dallas Black Dance Theatre Artistic Director Melissa M. Young,
Ann Williams gave a precious gift to the city she loved 43 years ago–a gift that has inspired millions worldwide through the splendor of dance. My personal 26-year journey with DBDT began as a dancer for11 years before advancing through multiple roles under her guiding hand to succeed her as artistic director. During that time, I was privileged to watch her amazing gift grow into the fourth largest black dance company in the nation. As one of the few opportunities for African Americans in professional dance companies, DBDT launched the careers of many prominent choreographers and dancers.
My time as a DBDT dancer gave me the unique opportunity to assist choreographers like Hope Clarke and perform at prestigious theaters like The Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center and for U.S. Ambassadors to Ireland and Zimbabwe. DBDT’s commitment to its dancers makes the organization a leader in promoting their careers as artists.
In the 1980s, DBDT began offering full-time salaries with benefits at a time when most companies only paid dancers for performances. Continuing Ms. Williams’ dedication to their financial stability, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s dancers are paid first, with senior leadership paid after all other staff. This commitment extends beyond the stage with opportunities for dancers to expand their skills as choreographers, teachers, and staff. As I transitioned from professional dancer, I was exposed to DBDT’s community impact in new ways. While rehearsal director, I assisted many DBDT dancers in cultivating their own artistic voices through choreographic opportunities.
The annual Black on Black series launches many choreographic careers with its program of works created entirely by dancers. While overseeing Dallas Black Dance Academy and its educational outreach programs, I realized the importance of keeping classes accessible to a diverse community by offering affordable tuition and need-based scholarships without compromising the level of expert dance training. Since 2012, Academy alumni have consistently had 100% high school graduation and college attendance with many receiving scholarships to prestigious dance programs, including four students to The Julliard School and nine named U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts since 1980. This dedication to arts education earned DBDT the Texas Medal of Arts Award in 2017.
Last year marked my first season as artistic director. Meeting audience members and hearing the joy they express sharing performances with their families makes everything worthwhile. In addition, launched in 2018, the Academy’s Espresso Nutcracker helps eliminate racial stereotypes and promote diversity in ballet by offering the only Nutcracker of color experience in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
As African American youth watch a performance for the first time, they realize what they can accomplish through hard work and determination. As the company embarks on its next chapter, I am honored to further the impact of Ms. Williams’ gift on future generations. I hope that you will join me in supporting Dallas Black Dance Theatre this North Texas Giving Day. Your donation on September 19th will ensure Ms. Williams’ gift keeps on giving.
* Graphic/photo provided by Dallas Black Dance Theatre ** Photo credit: Kim Leeson Photography *** Photo credit: Xavier Mack
In ten years, Communities Foundation of Texas’ North Texas Giving Day has pumped more than $240 million into the North Texas community. In 2018, more than $48 million was raised through more than 157,000 gifts benefiting over 2,700 area nonprofits.