Rest In Peace Ruth Williams, A Black History Legend - GangStarr Girl : GangStarr Girl

Rest In Peace Ruth Williams, A Black History Legend

[ 7 ] August 1, 2011 |

People pass away. It’s a part of life. But I honestly never imagined that Ruth Williams would fall into that category. This is a woman who has watched people’s grandmothers grow up, so why would I expect that once she aged over 90 and then 91 and then 95, that she was going anywhere?


I was reminded of the inevitable fact that she was human yesterday afternoon. Ruth Williams, a woman who has inspired generations, died in her sleep. It was one of those things where I never imagined how I would react but then when the tears began to flow I realized just how much she meant when she was here and how terribly she will be missed.
The Ruth Williams Dance Studio has played an integral part of my life from ages 5-17. I went there and took affordable priced dance lessons, learned about Duke Ellington, West African dance, how to shuffle off to buffalo, how to pirouette, how to do the lindy hop and generally sparked an interest in dance that helped build confidence, discipline and keep me out of trouble. The Ruth Williams Dance Studio was an amazing place where I encountered wonderful teachers and students–some of whom I’m still in touch with today–and acquired a large part of my life’s memory imprints.
I remember being afraid of Ms. Williams because she was so tell-it-like-it-is and didn’t spare feelings. She accepted nothing less than perfection, even if it meant dry shaving someone who was deemed too hairy or unkempt at a show right before they went on stage (true story, but it came from a place of love. I also remember being in awe of Ms. Williams. She kept a dance school afloat in Harlem for over 50 years and gave everyone a chance. She never told anyone they were too big to dance and if there was a financial set back she offered scholarships. And every year, at the RWDS annual dance recital at Lincoln Center, she’d come out on stage during the show’s finale in a beautiful gown looking effortless, despite the fact that she had been on her feet fussing, sometimes bickering and maintaining an event all day. She was a strong, wonderful woman who will be missed.
The following picture was taken during my second to last year at RWDS (I danced there until I graduated high school).

I was about 16 here (I’m in the middle) and this was a modern/jazz class taught by Lanita…I can’t remember her last name but we called her “Ms. Lanita.” We danced to Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.” It’s one of my favorite dances that I’ve ever done in all my years at the school.
At the time, Ms. Lanita told us that someone close to her had passed away that year and that the dance was a tribute to them but she also told us to think of anyone in our lives who had passed and dance for them on the day of the show. I dedicated the song to my grandfather then. Today, I only have vhs footage of that performance but I’d like to dedicate the actual music video and the memory of the dance to Ruth Williams, a Black History legend:


Janet Jackson – Together Again by Hakunamatata67

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Category: News, Reflections

About the Author ()

Starrene Rhett Rocque is a recovering journalist who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun-toting B-movie heroine.
  • http://twitter.com/JustineIsBitchn Justine H.

    Lovely! Ms. Williams sounds like a real treasure : )

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Justine. She really was. I wish there were more people out there like her. 

  • Elizabeth Betrand

    I danced at Ruth Williams Dance Studio for over ten years. I can still today remember her telling me to kick those legs high, to always keep smiling and to walk strong and tall. Posture was everthing to her then as it is now to me! :)  I am so thrilled that I got the opportunity to see her this past June at her annual dance recital, which was held at City College. She taught my mother, my cousin and me to dance.

    I will always remember her strength, her dedication and tireless effort to instill perfection all her students, collegues and parents. She will be greatly misseded.  

  • Boomerbev1

    I am glad to have known Ms. Ruth Williams. A teacher like myself, Ms. Williams always stressed discipline, punctuality, preparedness and professionalism. She was lovely, dignified and cultured! She will be missed!

  • Ms Boston89

    Wow i can’t believe this i seen her not too long ago at the Senior center 🙁 You will be missed and forever loved. I am a dancer now because of the dance studio. Words can’t express how loved she made me feel (& everybody else for that matter) & always had the most sweetest, most encouraging words to say. I hope her legacy goes on forever (also the studio)…R.I.P Ms. Ruth Williams

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  • SyreetaR Kirkland Willis

    I remember when I 4 yrs old and I took tap dance class at her school.