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Rodney Williams

Miss America Judge Empowers Rising Stars in Dance

Longwood University artist-in-residence Rodney Williams uses his passion for dance to instill lifelong values in students on campus and in the community.

Rodney Williams never dreamed that a random conversation at an airport would lead to the opportunity of a lifetime. While waiting for his flight, Williams struck up a conversation with a man from the Miss America organization. They exchanged cards and parted ways-a fairly typical ending to a conversation with a fellow traveler. Less typical? The call Williams received five years later. The Miss America organization offered him an exciting opportunity: acting as a dance-music judge for the pageant. He has served in that capacity since 2004.

Judging Miss America is just one dream come true for Williams, however. His lifelong ambition of teaching at the collegiate level is fulfilled every day at Longwood University, where he serves as artist-in-residence and the program director for the Longwood Company of Dancers.

"I use dance as a way to teach life lessons and instill humanity," Williams said. "Dance can create a sense of togetherness, showing that we all have things in common even though we are different. We can all love music, the arts, things that are creative. We all have that within if we allow ourselves to awaken it."

The Longwood Company of Dancers, led by Williams, is a student troupe that performs at least three times annually on campus and in communities across the state and along the East Coast. The process to join the Longwood Company is competitive; students must audition and demonstrate proficiency in at least two different styles of dance. Dancers enjoy many opportunities through their participation, including trips to New York, where the group recently attended a performance of the show Chicago on Broadway and met the cast.

Williams also coordinates the cultural arts enrichment series at Longwood, ensuring that his students are at the forefront of dance by bringing in professional dancers as guest instructors. The Longwood Company was recently taught by Desmond Richardson, "one of the greatest modern dancers of his time" according to The New York Times.
Teaching less experienced students also challenges and rewards Williams. His classes at Longwood include a variety of students, including kinesiology majors fulfilling their dance class requirement as well as others interested in dance but not planning to pursue it as a career.

"I inspire my students to express themselves through dance. Regardless of their specific studies, it creates a strong sense of self and enriches all areas of their lives. I like to think I'm either creating a dancer-or the next audience," said Williams. "My students come back in droves to be in the audience of future groups. They learn to appreciate the arts and what it takes to get to the final product once they've gone though it themselves."

Williams also encourages his students to get involved in the community. Members of the Longwood Company of Dancers mentor inner-city high school students from the City Dance Program, offered by the City of Richmond's Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities. Williams serves as co-director of the City Dance Theatre, an advanced company of 15 talented young men and women selected from City Dance Program participants. City Dance Theatre alumni under Williams' tutelage have pursued dance to great result: one attended Julliard, and another is now a lead dancer with the Richmond Ballet.

The success of Williams' programs at Longwood and in the Richmond community has not gone unnoticed by his peers. The Virginia Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance has awarded him Dance Professional of the Year three times.

"I would put my students up against any kids in the country," said Williams. "The values they learn through dance, perseverance and involvement in the community prepare them for a lifetime of success."