As a principal dancer with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Sheri “Sparkle” Williams has inspired audiences locally and internationally for decades.
Recently we caught up with our Daytonian of the Week, who is in her 45th year with DCDC, to learn where she got that nickname and what dance has meant to her life.
Last week you became part of the Women of Influence class of 2019 and you were awarded the Inspirational Artist Award by the International Association of Blacks in Dance in January. What do these two recent honors mean to you?
WOW, to be thought of as both inspirational and influential is a bit overwhelming and humbling. I’m not one who thinks about or even talks about myself often, but such recognition makes me look over my span of work and feel both honored and proud to be living what I feel is my best life.
How did you get the nickname “Sparkle?”
While on a break during a tech rehearsal eons ago, we (the dancers of DCDC) were hanging out in the dressing room of Blair Hall at Sinclair Community College, which was then DCDC’s home theater. One of the dancers, out of the blue, said, “Sheri, you sparkle on stage”, and the other dancers chimed in agreeing and such. It was really sweet. Well, as an inside joke, I decided to have my name listed in our show playbill as Sheri “Sparkle” Williams. It was only supposed appear in the playbill in Dayton but low-and-behold there it was printed in touring playbills as well and people started calling me “Sparkle”! It sort of took on a life of its own. It’s endearing.
How long have you been dancing and what drew you to it?
I took my first dance class at 9 years of age because my bestie, Thelma Smith, started taking class and we did everything together, so she asked me to do it too. So I did. I started with just one class a week, ballet. I quickly added the remaining techniques Jeraldyne’s School of Dance offered which were modern and jazz. I was never drawn to dance but it did quickly take a hold of me.
What’s the biggest lesson Jeraldyne Blunden, the founder of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, taught you?
That’s difficult to answer. I guess soooooo much would be too vague an answer…lol! After pondering over this question and I have to say her biggest lesson expressed to me was never to doubt myself. I’ve learned the lesson well because I never do.
What opportunities has dance brought to your life?
Whew…opportunities galore! But, I have to say all the travel afforded me because of my profession is priceless! The places I’ve experienced, the cultures, the people I’ve met and in many cased forged friendships with have proven to be invaluable. I network with people from all walks of life on a global scale from stage hands to dignitaries to gazillianaires…lol! Dance goes far beyond performing for me. I am made to feel as though what I do on stage, along with my fellow dancers, in some way always brings joy/warmth/sentiment to audiences and that makes me feel really good.
When did you start dancing with DCDC? What season are you in now?
I started dancing with DCDC in 1973 at the age of 11…whew! I am currently in my 45th season with the company.
You are one of the oldest professional dancers in the country. What do you attribute this to? What do you think it says about people’s conception of aging?
I am 56 years old. I’ll turn 57 in April. I believe I am the oldest professional dancer in the country who dances at the heightened level of exertion demanded by DCDC.
I attribute my longevity to taking excellent care of myself and truly enjoying what I do. There’s nothing special about me and there’s nothing mystical about my ability. I am doing what I was doing as a youngster and I’ve been doing it nonstop. So, my body doesn’t know anything different and my mind definitely hasn’t entertained the widely accepted standard that I shouldn’t be able to… (fill in the blank).
The mind is a powerful thing. Because it has been accepted as normal to hit 40 and begin to deteriorate, I believe people set up this dread and simply manifest the downward spiral and succumb. I suffered a devastating hip injury seven years ago that has a devilish grip on me and has negatively affected my prowess. I believe if I had not suffered such I would still be looking forward to the next physical challenge without impairment.
I hear people say all the time something about this or that hurts so they stop using whatever body part or participating in whatever activity when in many cases they should do the opposite. ‘Move it or lose it’ should be a motivating mantra.
Aging is a real thing we all must go through, but how we age is totally on us, save any unforeseen occurrences. I enjoy my age and celebrate it. I have no frets about wrinkles and whatnot. Maybe when my face/being readily shows the signs others obsess over I might feel differently…I doubt it! I believe it’s about walking right with God, eating sensibly, respecting people and our environment, recognizing the importance of others, celebrating friendships, doing things you enjoy, making integrity and laughter a must, and moving with a purpose!
Whew…I’m rambling on. I must reiterate the fact that I am not special and I have no mystical regimen to stave off ageing. It takes work and, while God willing, I choose to do it.
If you were to give advice to someone who feels shy on the dance floor but would like to move their body, what would it be?
I’d simply tell him/her to get up and do what you feel/what comes natural because if you don’t you’ll possibly miss out on having a good time and that would be a shame. And if I were right there present I would get up and dance with him/her. That would be fun!
What’s a typical day like for you?
A typical work day goes like this: Beginning at 8:30 a.m. I lead a conditioning session with the dancers that lasts 50-60 minutes. Next there is a 90-minute technique class (Ballet, Modern or Jazz/Contemporary/Hip Hop). The remainder of the day is rehearsal which runs 2.5 hours before our 60 minute lunch followed by 2.5 hours of rehearsal to end the day.
On off days…I do nothing…lol! Actually, I’m in school studying Physical Therapy so I’m usually studying. Otherwise I watch TV/movies, go to shows, I get out and about or simply chill.
What do you do for fun?
I love going to the movies, hanging with friends, I enjoy grilling with my friend Adrian so we cookout all the time, actually he does the grilling I’m just the sous chief which on grilling days is just fine with me.
What do you love about Dayton?
It’s my home! I love the fact that we have such a vast array of talent and support of said talent in our little ‘Gem’ of a city. I’m not a big city girl. I absolutely love traveling to such cities around the world with all their hustle and bustle, is great. But there’s something to be said about having neighbors you’ve grown up with who watch out for you and a cost of living that big city dwellers envy…lol!
What’s your guilty pleasure?
This is probably lame but a guilty pleasure for me is chillin’ in my bed in the mornings I don’t have to get up. Sometimes I’ll play games on my phone (my mind is always going so I like to exercise it…why not). Another thing I do is take long soaks in my bathroom Jacuzzi tub. It’s definitely a pleasure but I don’t feel at all guilty about it…lol!