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; 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; home 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.
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 same 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,
How serendipitous is it; after having such an extraordinary year, that I would end 2014 doing the one thing that started me on my life’s journey and has allowed me to live the life of my dreams. Can you believe it? I’m dancing… and not just any dance, but Alvin Ailey’s Revelations with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, on New Year’s Eve at City Center. It’s just phenomenal. Words cannot express the host of emotions that are flowing through me right now. I only pray that all that I have learned in my years away from Ailey will be expressed through my movement. What great joy.
With this; my last blog of 2014, I wish everyone a blissful 2015 filled with small and monumental moments that will strengthen your belief in the unimaginable. I pray that everyone find peace in their hearts and grow closer to discovering their life’s purpose. Happy New Year!
What are the events that led you to where you are today? How have you glided across your life’s journey? How are you weaving your time and your experiences to create your own story; the journey of your life, your legacy? Have you compared your life’s story to others’? Have you stepped out on faith and trusted that the thread you need to build your story will arrive right on time?
We all have a unique journey and story to tell. However remarkable my story may seem to others, I seldom allowed the noise of the world to enter and cloud my thinking. I had never considered, the importance and the profoundness of my story.
Then I opened my eyes to what’s really happening and what’s occurring in my now and I once again am renewed to living my own truth. No matter what the pages of your life are filled with, you still have a story to tell and it means a lot to someone else in the world. It may provide hope for someone else to see you live and manifest what is possible.
This Saturday I’m creating a new chapter in the story of my life with the groundbreaking of my performing arts center. I know that this portion of my life brings with it a host of new lesson and bright new faces. I welcome it all.
Write your own story. Dance your own dance. Live your own life. Never weaken the importance, the impact of the events in your life have had on you and the people around you into making you move the way you do.
I have a story dipped in the teachings of a world full of endless possibilities and I’ve grown to understand that it is mine and mine alone to build upon it as I see fit, keeping in line with my purpose.
So when you are ready pick a day, choose a moment, take some time and start living your life, doing you, writing your story and living out loud. You never know what you might do, who you might help or what impact you may have.
Am I Enough?
I have battled with this my entire life. Demanding choreographers and teachers loved to belittle me in an effort to get me to dig deeper. Dig further into myself, hoping to find more passion, more technique, more grace. Hurtful as it may have seemed at the time, it worked. I now have grit. And I now see myself as an individual with nothing to prove on the Marley
A friend once said, “Never let them steal your joy, never allow someone to take from you what your creator has gifted in you.” These were wise words that have become useful in other areas of my life as well. Like when I found myself listening to someone very close to me tell me that no matter how hard you work there isn’t always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This sent me into a month-long depression because at the time, I thought I was enough. I believed that if you want something you have to work for it: simple. You want it, need it: just work for it, it’s yours. You get what you put out. So I worked extremely hard to prove I belonged, to prove I had more than what people saw on the surface. Hearing those words from someone I loved at such a young age shook my will to try for a minute. I thought to myself: why work if it amounts to nothing? Why spend years fighting for something you will never have? But once I began to reflect on why I started dancing in the first place and thought about my reasons for enduring the pain and struggle and endless criticisms I realized it was about the journey. Once I thought about all that I had in me, how no one else in the world was like me, how no one had what gifts I had, I was at peace.
I also thought about the joy dance brought me, the feeling of being alive and closer to my most valuable and divine self, and how it made me feel. When I danced I felt like it was the closest thing to being in the same space as my creator, like a prayer. I was who I was meant to be in that very moment the music pierced through my soul and my feet hit the Marley. I knew then just as I know now that I’ve been gifted, before birth with the teachings of a million dancers, the will, the skill, the craft of dance. It’s up to me daily to perfect my craft. I have to learn and continue the journey.
Dancers, try not to get so bogged down with what you don’t have and what you can’t do that you lose sight of all you do have and why you started dancing in the first place. Learn, practice and fine-tune your instrument. Live in the joy of the movement and know that today – in this moment – You Are Enough!
When I looked into the faces of the young women who walked through the doors to audition a few weeks back, I was reminded of what I owed my creator, my ancestors, my mother, my elders, and my teachers for the life I am living. I’m renewed each time I encounter a young person, eager for the adventure of learning and exploration of movement; ready to grasp the power they possess.
I remember like it was yesterday, my audition for the Ailey summer program. I waited, holding my breath as the fate of my life – I thought at the time – lied in the hands of then Director, Denise Jefferson, who has now moved on to be with the angels. She said my name and I knew it was going to be the start of something awesome. I was awarded a full scholarship and ran home to share the good news with my anxious mother, knowing that if I didn’t get a scholarship, fees would be expensive. Quality cost and I knew that in order to be good, I had to train where the good people trained.
That first audition led me into a door of multiple accomplishments. Today I’m asked over and over, “Why did you come back? Why are you doing a free workshop? Why are you opening a performing arts center? What was here for you?” I answer by saying I was brought back. I was pulled back and willed back to Bed-stuy because of my duty to repay what I received. My life has been – and is more than – extraordinary. When I find the words to write about it all, I will share. Until then I will use what I know to pay what I owe: a life for my life. I’m ready to raise a dancer, build a dancer, guide a dancer and teach them to be everything they want to be. I will guide them in the direction of whatever their creator destined for them.