People pass away. Itâ€™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 peopleâ€™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 Iâ€™m still in touch with today–and acquired a large part of my lifeâ€™s memory imprints.
I remember being afraid of Ms. Williams because she was so tell-it-like-it-is and didnâ€™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, sheâ€™d come out on stage during the showâ€™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 Lanitaâ€¦I canâ€™t remember her last name but we called her â€œMs. Lanita.â€ We danced to Janet Jacksonâ€™s â€œTogether Again.â€ Itâ€™s one of my favorite dances that Iâ€™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 Iâ€™d like to dedicate the actual music video and the memory of the dance to Ruth Williams, a Black History legend: