Imani Williams
Edited by: 
Kaitlyn Soloway

Q: How did you begin dancing?

It is a very cliche story. I was 16 when I started dancing. I was running track and playing football in high school. My freshman year, second semester, I chose musical theater as an elective because it was either that or computer science and I fell in love with it and wanted to start dancing. I was nervous because I was a jock and really into that life. When I told my friends, they laughed at me and I was really hurt. I still decided to audition for a dance company and made it. Before the audition I went on YouTube and taught myself to dance. From there I went to a local studio and auditioned for a bunch of schools and went to Joffrey Ballet School in NYC on full scholarship. When I went to Joffrey was when I really found my passion for dance. I saw how big a deal it was that I got a scholarship and it just kind of hit me that this is what I’m meant to  do. Since then, I’ve been dancing professionally.

Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage with the world?

Dance has taught me so many things. With everyday life, dance has taught me patience. Dance has taught me you have to take your time with a lot of things in order to really get the most out of it. Perspective wise too, dance has opened my eyes to what is around me in general. I think, not to sound cliche, but seeing things from a deeper perspective more immediately. Everything I see now I try to investigate and get to know more about things I don't know. I think that when it comes to being a human and practicing humanity I just started to apply those things naturally. Julie, my director, talks about not just being a good dancer but being a good dance citizen, a good human. I think dance helps me be more sensitive and practice more empathy. As dancers we work so hard to try to find ways to approach movement, so when you apply that to just being a human I think it helps you be more sensitive to life around you.

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life?

Life for me as a young black male coming into the dance world was just kind of hard in general. Life has dealt me many hardships from day one. When I found dance, it just kind of softened and maybe even erased some of my hardships. It gave me the opportunity to present myself in this light that people didn't necessarily expect but also couldn’t really judge either because I was performing. So I was able to be myself on stage and express myself without worrying what the outside world might have to say about it. Dance has helped me overcome hardships of being a young black male who is exploring his life and who he is as a person. It has definitely helped me to not focus so much on the hardships we deal with in our daily life and put that energy into an art form instead.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance that influence and inspire your artistry?

I love to write. I love to write a lot. I love writing about my own experiences, things I see, and that definitely influences my improvisation. I am actually working on a solo now to mold my writing and dancing together. My students inspire me every day. I think Chicago in particular, the community has inspired me a lot. Especially when I got to know and meet friends from the South Side. I saw so much talent in people who weren’t able to express it, who were not being given a platform to do it or opportunities to continue on. They inspired on a different level. I realized I forgot so much of where I came from because I got so caught up in getting booked and traveling the world. When I came to Chicago and met people and became part of the community, it really inspired me to explore how I can give back, for sure.

Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?

I think dance is so healing and such an expressive art form that using it and making art that is representative of what is going on in the world is a good way to help inform and fight social issues. Anger is not a bad thing when it comes to social justice, but without using protest and violence, putting that energy into an art form that allows a more broad perspective on the issue.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

It has affected me so much. We were two weeks from our last show in Chicago. We do one big show in Chicago each season, since we are mostly a touring company, where we do a lot of our repertory and new work and I was so excited for it and that was snatched away from us, as it was for so many other people and companies too. My director has done a really great job of staying in contact with us and asking how we are and sending us articles about how to stay positive. I remember feeling bad because I felt devastated and I wasn't feeling motivated to take class or do anything. I was in a head space of what is this, how can this happen, why is this happening. I felt bad. I reached out to my mentors and one of them told me you are not a bad dancer because you don't want to take an online class, you are a human first, you are going through something devastating. We are devastated in the arts community by this and we are so used to keep pushing no matter what. So when I didn't react the way I normally do when something happens and I didn’t just want to keep going, I was very confused. But this is something that is unheard of what is going on right now. There is no way to react correctly. We all need to figure out what we need right now, and I think we need to give ourselves that time and space to not judge it. I decided to come home to Atlanta and really take time away from social media to take time for myself to figure out what things I want to work on and then from there figure out how to get back to my community. I am trying not to put the pressure of needing to hustle on myself. I took time to sit back and reflect and think of how I can better myself to be a better dance citizen. It has affected me emotionally, physically. Having to workout is very hard but it is kind of nice having to set up your own plan to be focused. I have actually found some fun in it. I can be my own boss for a little bit. You can create your own work plan which is kind of fun. In the beginning I was not too happy at all. I have definitely had to change my perspective. This is my last season with DanceWorks and I just felt like “so what am i going to do?” Week one passes and you are like ok, week two you are like, are you kidding? Week three I just felt like “oh god this is going to last so long.” This is just affecting our community so much. It is very easy to fall into the “why me?” And I am so thankful for Julie Nakagawa and her words and perspective on things. When do dancers and artists in general get this much time to create and give back and just not rush so much? As dancers we just push and push. I think it’s important to keep positivity and just rest for a moment.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

I would hope that the dance world after the pandemic would be available to all communities, would not be so expensive and would be more inclusive. I think classes should be cheaper and more scholarships should be available. More inclusion for everyone is the main thing. Taking the pretentious quality out of it. Putting studios in the hood. Giving back more and just keeping that mentality circulating. I can't even imagine my dream dance world, we are never asked that, I don't even know what to say to be honest. I think being less selfish would create a whole other dope world.

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