Choreographer & Dance School Founder
Ruth Williams’ warmth and sparkling eyes embrace you with a nurturing glow, beckoning your heart to open and your mind to learn. When working with her young dancers, however, she can be a strict disciplinarian. Affectionately known as “Aunt Ruth,” Ms. Williams has used these qualities to teach the art of dance to 40,000 youth in a career spanning more than fifty years.
Her parents, originally from St. Croix, moved to Harlem in 1915. Williams began studying dance with Ella Gordon at the Lafayette building on 7th Avenue at the age of three. After 13 years of study with Ms. Gordon and choreographer Henry Le Tang, with whom she first learned tap and the full gamut of dance, she continued her studies at Cathedral High School on Lexington Avenue at 51st Street.
She earned a Bachelor’s degree at Hunter College, and obtained a Master’s in Early Childhood Education at New York University. She did postgraduate work at City College in administration and management. In accord with her allegiance to the development of children, Williams worked as Assistant Chief of New York City’s Division of Day Care from 1965 to 1982.
Williams performed professionally in the United States and Europe with the Heywood DuBois Company of “Porgy and Bess.” She established the Ruth Williams Dance Studio in 1948 with Vye Moore. The school teaches a variety of disciplines, including tap, ballet, modern, jazz, African and ethnic dances, and is based in the landmark Hotel Theresa.
“I think dance should be a part of every child’s education,” she says. “It teaches sociability, demands discipline and punctuality, and influences how you carry yourself. You can walk across a room with confidence.”
From 1948 to 1964, her “Tiny Tots” students, some as young as three, stole the hearts of audiences at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. For the last quarter century, children from Aunt Ruth’s dance school have performed annually at Avery Fisher Hall. “Why not the best for our African-American children?”
“Harlem means the world to me,” she says. “In my 54 years here I’ve had many opportunities to move away. But I’m dedicated to the children of Harlem.”