By Tom Russotti
Dwana Smallwood has a vision: bring the highest quality performing arts back home to Bed Stuy.
After traveling throughout the world as a dancer with the renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and a four year stint starting the dance program at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, Smallwood has returned to the neighborhood she grew up in to start her new venture: an eponymous performing arts center on Lexington Avenue due to open in September.
We met Dwana at Von King park for the 79th Precinct National Night Out Against Crime event, where she personally greeted passers by amid getting the word out about the soon to open center.
Beaming and energetic, Smallwood effortlessly effused her passion for dance as she discussed her remarkable journey from the streets of Bed Stuy, where her mother scraped every bit of money together to give her a chance to succeed, to Laguardia High School of the Performing Arts, to Ailey, and then to a once-in-a-lifetime experience developing her own dance curriculum for Oprah Winfrey's school.
Asked about her dance influences, she quickly named Judith Jameson and a slew of virtuoso dancers, but then added, "and for business: Oprah. " As far as mentors go, she had the best, and now she wants to return the favor to the community.
"We want everyone in here," she exclaimed. "My personal saying is' 'Dance is my oxygen' . It allows me to live in a world where everyone is so disconnected with gadgets. Dance allows people to find themselves and each other. It allows for reconnection, and that is why it is so valuable in a community context."
With her expertise, passion, and personality, Dwana is sure to do some reconnection. We can't wait to see what she has in store.
For more information please visit, dwanasmallwoodpac.org