T’aja soars high with dance scholarships
Bermudian T’aja Williams was surprised when her name was called at the Grier School’s Annual Dance Gala in Tyrone, Pennsylvania.
Out of 500 dancers, she was chosen for a scholarship to attend a four-week intensive with the Paul Taylor Dance Company in New York City.
“My first reaction was: huh?” said the 18 year old.
The class was difficult and abstract, and she thought she had done only “OK”.
“I felt excited and emotional,” she said. “Paul Taylor is a dance legend. I guess they really liked what I had done.
“This was in the fall of 2021 and I was in the beginning of my senior year at the Grier School. It was a gift. It could not have come at a better time.”
The intensive was scheduled for November 2021, but because of the ups and downs of Covid-19, she asked to attend in the summer.
Last week, she finished the programme held at Fiorello H LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York.
“We had a very rigorous schedule,” she said. “We were dancing from 1.30pm to about 7.30pm. It was balanced with a film composition class where I made my own dance film with some of my peers.
“It was an awesome experience. We got to go to the Taylor Studios where the professionals of the company work.”
While there she saw Bermudian Jada Pearman who dances with the Paul Taylor Company.
“I did not dance with her, but being able to be in her space was great,” Miss Williams said. “I really look up to her. It was great to be dancing in New York where dance is a very big deal and there is so much opportunity for it. There was so much potential for exposure.”
During the intensive, students gave performances every Friday.
“We balanced technique classes, Paul Taylor modern classes, a repertory class, and then the film class,” she said. “My mother, Shanika Parfitt, was there during the whole intensive, but other family members would come down every couple of days.”
So far, this has been a very good summer for Miss Williams.
This year she received the BF&M National Dance Foundation’s $7,500 scholarship, and also $5,000 from the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society.
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia also awarded her a scholarship to attend.
“I will be majoring in dance with a possible minor in psychology,” she said. “I am super excited. The dance programme there is almost an addition to what I have been doing.
“I will be able to collaborate with guest artists. There will be a lot of performance opportunities, but it comes down to auditions.”
She is looking forward to meeting dancers and teachers in the dance community.
“When I visited the university in May I automatically felt very safe and comfortable there,” she said. “The dance director made me feel like it is a family. The attitude was: let’s dance. I am very excited to be going on to that.”
Miss Williams was born in Bermuda, but spent part of her early childhood in California.
At four years old her parents enrolled her in gymnastics lessons after noticing the arabesque movements she was doing with her leg while riding a toy scooter.
When she returned to Bermuda to live at age seven, she continued gymnastics with the Bermuda Gymnastics Association.
She won several gold medals for Bermuda in overseas competitions.
“Gymnastics was my first love,” she said. “As I got older and I got into the groove, I started to find this love for the floor exercises.
“I was told when I was younger and competing, that I reminded people of a little ballerina on the floor exercise. I loved dancing. That escalated into what if I just do dance?”
So she started taking dance classes at In Motion School of Dance. Her gymnastics background has given her dance a sense of perfectionism and focus.
“I cannot do the same backflips I could do in my gymnastics days,” she said. “But gymnastics has given me a strong base in my body when it comes to technique and form.
“That is something I have been complimented on. Dance and gymnastics are very similar in regards to strength and conditioning. You are using your arms and legs in the same kind of way.”
After graduation, her dream is to join a dance company such as Paul Taylor or Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
“I just watched Alvin Ailey perform last night,” she said. “I loved the energy, rhythm and coordination. Being able to watch them perform was incredible.”
She could not help but imagine herself on the same stage, dancing with them.
“Being a dancer of colour, it was very inspiring to see this could happen for me and others,” she said.
She is also considering doing some kind of dance therapy with children or perhaps dance coaching.
“I have this fondness for working with kids,” she said. “I love seeing young people with passion for dance. It reminds me of myself as a younger child.”
Miss Williams believes that dance, in some form, is for everyone, no matter their physical shape.
“I love to dance,” she said. “It makes me feel good. No one can really take that away from me. I want to be a gift to my audience.“
But as much as she loves dance, academics have come first for her. While at the Grier School she was in the National Honours Society.
“After being accepted I had to maintain a 96 per cent grade average each year,” she said. “I love to dance but I feel a lot of people don’t know that I really love school and I like to learn. I am always looking to expand my knowledge.”