Ann Williams, the founder and artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, said last week that she will be stepping down next May after 37 years of running the company.
“This is my last year,” Williams said in her office in the Dallas Arts District, where Dallas Black Dance relocated to a renovated building in 2007. “I have had the opportunity to mentor more than 300 beautiful people that are out around the world doing their own thing.
“Many have their own companies, their own dance schools. Many dance in Broadway shows, many are at colleges and universities. I feel good about the experience I’ve been able to give them. I call them all my kids.”
But at 75, Williams says she’s hoping to spend more time in her time-share condominium on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. It’s a whole new phase of her life, which began on a farm in the central Texas town of Mexia. “It was never my desire to die in this job,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to build an institution, and I think I have done it.”
salaried dancers who perform a mixed repertory of modern, jazz, African and spiritual works by nationally and internationally known choreographers.
The company has performed before an estimated 3 million people in 30 states, 14 countries and on five continents, having toured Peru, South Africa, Austria, Uganda, Japan, Great Britain, Italy and Canada. The National Endowment for the Arts has given the company its designation of American Masterpiece Touring
Charles Santos, executive director and artistic director of TITAS, a Dallas-based presenter of touring dance shows, cites Williams as “one of five African-American women who have had a huge impact on dance in the United States.” She has been honored for such in the past, he says.
“Her legacy is going to be that she built from scratch her own local dance institution, focused on the African-American community,” Santos says. “For years, they have won recognition for Dallas on the national and international scene and will, I predict, get even better in the future because of the foundation Ann has
built. Her successors will take it to the next level.”
Williams has managed to sustain her company, even while facing personal challenges. She survived a serious
automobile accident in 1986 that temporarily threatened her ability to walk. Her husband died six years ago
Despite her accomplishments, she says she won’t miss the kind of organizational “hassle” that surfaced recently when she tried to work out a new 10-year contract with the AT&T Performing Arts Center — which she did.
“It’s all worked out now,” she said, but it took prolonged negotiations to get there. In the past, Williams said, Dallas Black Dance had performed at the Wyly Theatre for one week in December, one week in February and one week in May.
Under the new contract, Dallas Black Dance Theatre no longer has a December performance in the Wyly, despite having been a resident company in the space for the past three years. For the season now underway, Dallas Black Dance will perform at the Wyly only once, in February. It will perform at the 2,200-seat
Winspear Opera House in October and May 2014. Beginning in November 2014 and continuing through 2024, it will perform in the Wyly in February, May and November.
The AT&T Performing Arts Center issued a statement Wednesday, citing its long and valued relationship with Dallas Black Dance Theatre. "The center appreciates the invaluable contribution that Dallas Black Dance Theatre and its founder, Ann Williams, have made both to the history and cultural fabric of Dallas, and to the creation of the center itself.”
Catherine Cuellar, executive director of the Dallas Arts District, said that, “in addition to being the longest-
running professional dance company in Dallas, Dallas Black Dance Theatre is one of the world’s best-known Dallas-based nonprofits.”
She said the company has “played a key role in the revitalization of downtown. From performances at the Majestic Theatre to their new home at the Wyly, to their headquarters in the historic YMCA building, they remind Dallas of its history. But my favorite thing about working with them is seeing how many students they bring to the Dallas Arts District and how much recognition, because their graduates are recruited by the finest university dance programs in North America.”
Williams hopes all of that continues and says that, over the next decade, she hopes to replace her missing December dates with more tours. But in the meantime, she has the bigger task of finding and hiring a successor. She intends to launch an international search in September for a person who, in her words,
will be charged with a daunting double mission: He or she must be a world-renowned choreographer and, she hopes, a fundraiser capable of scoring the kind of multimillion-dollar individual donation she regrets never having landed.
Dallas Black Dance gets $255,000 a year from the city of Dallas and receives grant money from the National
Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts. She has an annual budget of $2.4 million. Williams hopes her successor can establish a large endowment that will carry her dream well into the
“What I love about this,” she said, "are my dancers. What I love is the strength and artistic expression I’ve been able to give them, to pull out of them. … I love touring with them. I get tears when I see them onstage.” Even so, she said, “I have been looking forward to this date for five or six years. I can’t wait for my new life to
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