“I’m at a five minute plank now which I’m really proud of. It’s a little competition with me and Michelle Obama, because I heard she does a three minute plank every morning,” said African Diaspora Dance teacher Dawn Williams, affectionately known to her students and staff as “Doc Dub.”
Most mornings, Williams begins her day at 4 a.m., rising before the sun to begin preparations for a long day of teaching and meetings as she often doesn’t leave Berkeley High School until 8:30 in the evening. “I cook dinner (in the morning), because we’re gone all day, and I want to make sure that we come home to … a home cooked meal,” Williams said. While she cooks the family’s dinner during the morning, her husband takes care of breakfast for the family.
Her family commutes 40 minutes every morning from Pinole to BHS, and they have morning prayer together in the car before Williams arrives at school about 30 minutes prior to classes beginning. She sets aside that first half hour to prepare for her day of teaching, whether it be creating new choreography for her students or composing a Spanish lesson for her Spanish 1 students.
Whether it is a Beginning or Advanced Dance class, Williams always begins her class participating in the same daily warmup along with her students. “I like to show that I’m learning and trying and for my students to understand that, you know, that’s just a part of it,” Williams said.
She starts her day with Beginning Dance, in which her students learn the basics of African Diaspora as well as different step routines that Williams has choreographed for them. After that, she moves on to her Advanced Dance class, in which students learn more technical movements and often have faster choreography.
According to Williams, the Advanced class participates in events within the community, acting as the face of the dance program on multiple occasions. “We took our advanced class to ‘Arts on the Run’ this past Wednesday. So we made rounds to Willard, to King, and to Longfellow and entertained the eighth graders, in the hope that they would register for classes, kind of like a live commercial.”
During lunch, students often stop by the dance studio to rehearse for upcoming performances or for the general sense of community, according to Williams. As students walk through the door, their friends will offer them a gentle reminder to remove their shoes in the dance space. “I mean, it’s really a beautiful space. And I feel like my colleagues really try to create a sense of safety, love, respect, (and) family here in the dance studio.” Williams said.
Being co-chair of the AFAM studies department with Spencer Pritchard, Williams uses her sixth period for Teacher Leader meetings to organize events such as Black graduation and the after-school Black Scholars program. Her day doesn’t end there. She helps to run the Black Scholars program after school during seventh period several days a week, which is a tutoring space for students.
Beyond that, she stays late into the evening due to her son’s soccer practice and occasional game. Williams said that depending on the night she will be at school as late as 8 p.m., and the hard part for her is “trying to keep snacks on hand so that we have food accessible.”
When asked what goes into producing the African Diaspora performances, Williams said, “It’s a team effort. I will tell you that.” Each member of the team has a different job that creates the end goal of these performances. The Artistic Director, Tanzia Mucker (Ms. Shorty), has a creative spirit, and comes up with the options for each dance’s theme, matching them to the dancers. Music Director Madiou Diouf (Brotha MD) helps to edit their tracks as needed and also teaches drummers and other musicians how to play.
Williams also expressed her gratitude towards the parent volunteers who help out with the show, as well as the alumni students who ensure that any last-minute details are handled smoothly. While she works diligently to obtain grants, handle ticketing, and teach her students, according to Williams, the most important part of her job is the relationships she builds with others.
“I’m all heart and I really want people to feel good about themselves, their bodies, how they move, to not be afraid to build confidence (and) to have a sense of collegiality with the other dancers,” Williams said.