How often does one get to say thank you to someone they love, for gifting them the tools they need to succeed in life? Who really gets to share the process of what they’re building with someone they’ve admired and looked up to their whole life?

I watched Judith Jamison give birth to the Joan Weill Center for Dance; images home of the Alivin Ailey American Dance Theater, years ago and today just for a moment I felt the tables turn. I, Dwana Adiaha Smallwood Pease greeted Judith Jamison at the front entrance of 857 Lexington Avenue; street viewhome of the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center, Inc. to share what I had given birth to. Can you believe it! As I gave her the tour of our center, I was reminded  of the day she walked several of the Ailey dancers through Ailey’s then new building. We tested floors, jumping and twirling and gazed upon endless piles of floor plans. I never imagined that one day, I would be looking at my own floor plans.

Unknown-5 I remember that day; looking at her and wondering how on earth did she have the vision, the drive and the patience. Today, I can actually say I can taste the joy and feel the drive burning in me.

You see, Judi watered a seed in me when she looked me in my face seconds after I danced CRY and said, ” When I look at you, I know all things are possible” I felt like I had truly made her proud then, and today I felt the sam2015-03-17 11.08.09e way. So you see why I have so much to be thankful for.

Dear Judith Jamison,

Thank you. Thank you for being a vision of beauty; statuesque, bold, elegant and graceful. Thank you for noticing me when I didn’t notice myself. Thank you for showing up in my life when I didn’t know what I had. Thank you for molding and shaping me. Thank you for paying attention to the details of Dwana and sharing your secrets and kind and encouraging words. Thank you for not giving up on me when I couldn’t get the step. Thank you for staying on me all the time and making no excuses. Thank you for excepting me into your world, your life. Thank you for teaching me the art of it all – life, dance and me. And thank you for showing up today and sharing in my accomplishment and always giving me advice. Thank you for opening my ears and placing me in the right place at the right time. Thank you for trusting me with Alvin Ailey’s choreography. Words cannot express what it was for me to show you something I was proud of today. Me, Dwana, an adult, a world traveler and yet still wanting to show you that I can do it. I am more complete because of your love and guidance and praise. Thank you for all of it, my first computer. My first Ailey poster. My first magazine cover. My first Ailey solo. For Cry, and for so so so much more. I am deeply grateful.

Your Daughter in Spirit,

Dwana