Cool Jobs: ‘Single Ladies’ Dancer Talks Longevity in the Industry

Ebony Williams (Image: Stephen Gray)

We have good news for you. You can have a cool career and make a good living. No need to choose between loving your job and paying your mortgage. The following profile, part of the Cool Jobs series, offers a peek into the nuts and bolts, perks and salaries behind enjoyable careers.

Who doesn’t remember the video for Beyonce’s hit single, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”? The signature dance from the video went viral on the Web, inspired an SNL spoof with Justin Timberlake, and even made an appearance in top movie franchise, “Sex & the City 2,” with Hollywood royalty Liza Minnelli.

One of the three women who fiercely dominated the dance floor in the video is Ebony Williams, a trained dancer with New York-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. A native of Boston, she got her start at the Boston Ballet and attended the Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts. She went on to graduate from the Boston Conservatory with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

In addition to touring with Queen Bey, she’s also enjoyed a successful career working with top artists, including Rihanna, Fergie and Ciara, and she has appeared on shows including “30 Rock,” “America’s Got Talent” and SNL. caught up with the bold and beautiful diva to talk body image, longevity in the industry and inspirational advice for young black girls who want to become ballerinas. What inspired you to pursue a career in dance?

Ebony Williams: It’s the freedom of expression. I love to speak through my body … that’s my form of expression. I like making people happy through my vulnerability as a dancer… letting them know who I am as a person through what I do as an art.

What moment did you know you could make a living being a dancer? I feel like dance chose me. I didn’t choose dance. I [took a break from] dance for quite some time at one point in my life, and I felt like I was missing something. Several people encouraged me to go back to it, and it brought me back to a place that was so comforting. I just knew that I had to do this.

Dance companies are where women and men can hone their skills professionally and expand their careers, so choosing the right one is key. Why did you choose to join Cedar Lake?

I liked that it was a young company. When I first joined, it was only two years old, and I was eager because I knew they had the possibility to go anywhere. I had a friend who auditioned, loved the work, came back and showed me some of the combinations, and it intrigued me. I wanted [to study work and styles] that were new and innovative. I was young and wanted to grow with the company, [which is now in its 10th year.]

RELATED STORY: Former Dancer Takes Career to Next Level at Harlem School of the Arts

What tips would you have for women of color who want to pursue a career as a dancer and make a great living doing it?

Get to know who you are as a dancer. What do you love to do? What specific area interests you the most?

Learn from different choreographers and diversify the classes. Over all, make sure you love dancing. If you don’t love it, it’s very evident. Keep a very open mind. Do your research, and try to learn every style of dance you can. You want to be able to bring so many different things to the table when joining a company.

Know the industry besides the physical dance factor, especially when auditioning for a particular company. Find out who the key people are, their style, what they typically look for and history of the company.

Aside from having your own agent, you have to be your own agent. Social media is a great way to market yourself as well and being involved in the dance scene—supporting and attending events and shows—is a great way to network and get leads.

Embrace and learn from your mistakes and vulnerability. Sometimes it’s the mistakes that are really beautiful. Own them. It shows your vulnerability and where you’ll go when you have a mistake happen. How do you think on your feet during a performance?

Body image has been a major issue among black women, particularly related to entertainment and media in terms of the perception of beauty and body types. As a dancer, have you faced these issues, and how do you deal with them?

We are looking at ourselves every day in the mirror, and it can be draining and overwhelming to always have to think about those things. It’s hard, especially being a female. We’re very critical of ourselves.

I think it’s important to know that you can have your best body … You must take care of your body and make sure you look your best, whether you [are shapely or curvy], make sure you’re in shape and do it the healthy way. You don’t have to look like everyone else. You are an individual and it’s okay to be an individual.

I remember being a kid, and I always had a little round, union butt, and the teacher would say pull it in, but I couldn’t pull it anymore than I already was. That was just the reality. … It’s OK to have a shape. You just have to look great—your great. Feel comfortable in your own skin and own it.

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