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Tony Williams Awarded Dr. Michael Shannon Dance Champion Award at BDA gala

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Tony Williams Awarded Dr. Michael Shannon Dance Champion Award at BDA gala
Left to right: Duggan Hill, Debra Cash, Tony Williams, Joyce Kulhawik PHOTO: CRAIG BAILEY

On Monday, March 25, the Boston Dance Alliance presented Tony Williams with the 2019 Dr. Michael Shannon Dance Champion award and Duggan Hill with the 2019 Boston Dance Alliance Unsung Hero award.



Tony Williams has been making waves in the Boston dance scene for decades. Growing up in Bromley-Heath housing development in Jamaica Plain, Williams became interested in dance early on. He worked hard to foster this passion despite economic and racial barriers.

“Boys and ballet, it wasn’t done, especially if you were already part of a marginalized group,” said Debra Cash, executive director of the Boston Dance Alliance. “Tony Williams and Boston Dance Alliance share a mission of lowering barriers for underprivileged dancers. Throughout his career he has made it his mission to support inner-city kids — kids like the one he was in the 1960s.”

The hard work paid off. Williams was the first principal dancer of color in the Boston Ballet and he went on to perform with Joffrey Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the National Ballet of Portugal and the Norwegian National Ballet. Back in Boston, he turned his attention to fostering diversity in dance, first with the Tony Williams Dance Center and then with the establishment of the annual “Urban Nutcracker” performance. In 2018, he established the City Ballet of Boston, a racially diverse company committed to creating opportunities for dancers of color.

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Learn more about the Boston Dance Alliance awards at:

The Dr. Michael Shannon Dance Champion award is given annually to recognize a member of the Boston dance community over the age of 60 who has contributed significantly to the dance culture during his or her career. Community members nominate candidates and a panel of past Dance Champion award-winners chooses the winner. Previous recipients include Andrea Herbert Major, founder of Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts, and Jose Mateo, founder of Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre.

The March 25 awards event included performances by several groups, including Jenny Oliver and Connections Dance Theater, who performed a vibrant piece titled “In the Midst of Chaos, IS the Party!” City Ballet of Boston performed a jazz ballet number, “Ben’s Trumpet,” and the hip-hop group Ginette Christie Crew performed a routine to “Ugly” by Bubba Sparxxx.   

Ever energetic, Williams dwelled not on his past achievements, but on the work that can still be done to make dance accessible to all Bostonians. “Dance transcends race, gender and socioeconomic barriers,” he said. “We exist to provide a sense of value to all.”

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