Women's History Month
She who is naturally gifted in anything becomes expert in it. (Hausa)
I met Lavinia Williams when she was my summer school dance tutor. At midlife, I had finally attained my childhood dream of attending dance classes. The dances I did at my colonial-type school were Irish reels and Scottish jigs. Now, with Lavinia, my blood could throb to the beat of Africa. If my hips seemed contained by memories of my British schooling, I would hear her say, “Energy! Energy!” Freedom at last!
In 1953, the Haitian government hired Lavinia to work with Haiti’s National Folkloric Troupe. A year later, she founded the Haitian Institute of Folklore and Classic Dance, and became director of Haiti’s Theatre du Verdure.
She remained in Haiti for 26 years, helping to develop dance schools in Guyana and the Bahamas as well, and training hundreds of dancers.
Lavinia was seventy when I met her, and she was doing unbelievable splits and leg raises. I credit her with my acknowledging myself to be a dancer today, even if I missed out on dance classes as a child. She brought me in touch with the spirit of Katherine Dunham – she learnt Caribbean dance from Dunham and was a lead dancer in Dunham’s troupe for five years. She connected me to Alvin Ailey’s Dance Center School where she taught in the 1980s. Most of all, she put me in touch with my ancestors through her links to Haitian Vodou culture.
Born in Philadelphia in 1916, she died in New York in 1989. Her daughter Sara Yarborough, a professional dancer raised in Haiti, continues her tradition.
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