Arts / Performing Arts

Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Founder Reflects on Her Seminal Company, and the Current State of the Black Dance Community

Ann Williams' Mission Has Always Been to Unite Diverse Communities

BY // 02.27.20

The women who have been featured in my monthly PaperCity Bomb Girl column have all been inspirational. Many have raised millions of dollars to make our community better through social services and the arts. Others have been powerful business leaders, and often rose through the corporate ranks when glass ceilings were much higher than they are today. This month’s Bomb girl forged a road that, at the time, led into unchartered territory. She focused her energy on supporting black dance, founding the seminal Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Ann Williams, the seventh child of 12, was born in Coolidge, Texas; her family moved to Dallas when she was a teen. As a child, she went to the opera on a field trip, and her eyes were opened to the world of the arts, which inspired her to take dance classes. It would be hard to fit in all the “firsts” that Ann has achieved. But one of them occurred after graduating from Prairie View A&M University: She continued her education at Texas Woman’s University, where she became the first African-American in the country to receive a master’s degree in dance.

The Dallas Black Dance Theatre: Encore! group presents Rising Excellence

Post-grad, Ann realized that her communities, both the city of Dallas and the African-American community at large, needed an organization that would foster dance — an art form (particularly ballet) that was dominated by white dancers. She started Dallas Black Dance Academy in 1974, then founded Dallas Black Dance Theatre in 1976. The building where DBDT stands today was originally Moorland YMCA, which served as a center for the surrounding black neighborhood, where dignitaries including Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King spoke.

The mission of Ann’s organization has always been to unite diverse communities through dance. DBDT has earned a reputation for producing contemporary modern dance at the highest levels of artistic excellence. The company offers performances and educational programs, which further bridge cultural and racial gaps. Ann’s mentor was the legendary dancer, director, choreographer, and activist Alvin Ailey. The founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — one of the most successful dance companies in the world — provided Ann with advice on developing DBDT. Today, the company is the oldest, continually running professional dance company in Dallas.

Ann Williams Alvin Ailey_crop
Ann Williams with Alvin Ailey

Ann has always understood the power of appearances in representing herself and her company. She admits that one of her vices is clothing. She has had too many St. John suits to count, she says, “in every color of the rainbow.” Ann’s love of vivid and vibrant hues is likely due to her life as a performer and understanding the spotlight, she tells me.

The love of Ann’s life was Nathaniel Williams, a retired administrator of the Dallas Independent School District, to whom she was married for 43 years until his passing in 2007. They have one child, a daughter, Angelia Williams who now lives in Florida.

Introducing Pêche

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I ask Ann for her thoughts on the current state of the worldwide black dance community. She reflects, then tells me that she is happy to see that black performers seem to share equity in terms of their visibility on stages around the globe. However, she does not see equity in regard to financial support for dance companies from the government, foundations, and corporations. She feels strongly that more needs to be done in order for organizations to grow and reach sustainability.

Dallas Black Dance Theater
Dallas Black Dance Theater

This octogenarian doesn’t take a moment to rest. Ann is still a dance consultant and serves on the International Association of Blacks in Dance. She is a loyal friend, and, with a wonderful wink of her eye, she told me she had some Bomb candidates for me. I can’t wait to meet them if they are anything like this force of nature.

Approximate date of the photo (top of page).
September 1991.

The occasion.
I am standing in between Harry and Julie Belafonte. The occasion was a reception honoring Harry following his performance benefitting Dallas Black Dance Theatre at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. We had a true celebrity with us.

What you were wearing?
A designer evening dress and jacket selected by Dallas fashion icon Idelle Rabin from her boutique.

What price fashion.
Likely somewhere between $350 to $500.

Why this is a picture?
It was the first major gala for Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Having such a high-profile artist such as Harry Belafonte gave us higher visibility and crossover recognition of new audiences who are still supporting us today.

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