She is not only a dancer; Sylvan Williams is also a walking encyclopedia.
“We’ve all been saying that she’s like Google or Siri because she’s just this wealth of knowledge,” dance Professor Cynthia McLaughlin said. “She watches a lot of documentaries so you can sort of bring up any topic and she will [have] seen something about it recently and have some interesting thing to share.”
Williams is a senior dance education major who has been involved in various Keene State Dance Department productions and has been involved with the theater department.
Williams’ passion for dance began at a young age and has only increased since then.
“[It began] in school productions in elementary and middle school, and in middle school was when I started to get more like, ‘I really want to do this,’” said Williams. “… The high school I went to has a really strong arts program and an award-winning theater program so I was lucky enough to be able to be in a high school that’s doing professional quality productions.” Additionally, Williams applied her passion for dance as a student choreographer.
“Where I really found my love for education was helping out the middle school musicals. When I was in high school [I was] able to choreograph for them and coach them in acting,“ Williams said. “… One of the most rewarding things for me was being able to cultivate an environment in which students feel comfortable and watching them grow in confidence in moving their body.”
Williams added, “Sophomore year, when I did my first theater production [at KSC], I did Urinetown. I acted but I was also dance captain for that,” Williams said. “And so that was really fun to see the other side of the program because unfortunately the dance department and theater department don’t have chances to overlap very often.”
The fall 2022 Choreography Showcase also gave Williams the opportunity to self-choreograph a piece centered around women’s rights.
“Junior year was my first time in the research and choreography class,” Williams said. “I was selected… to showcase part of my choreography at a day for prospective students who are interested in social justice, and it was the first time that they were bringing something from the arts department to that day.”
Being part of a competitive field, Williams said she had to find strength and confidence within herself to continue pursuing dance. “The dance world is pretty intense and very competitive and difficult, especially as a young girl and just growing up, the desire to conform is really a unique issue,” Williams said. “It was definitely difficult grow up in front of a mirror critiquing every part of your body to get better at your craft.”
Williams added, “When I’m teaching, I try to find ways to [incorporate] things that maybe I wish my teachers would have done for me… I really tried to create an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable in their bodies and they don’t feel like they have to fit this certain mold of what’s perceived as a dancer.”
Theater Department Chair Kirstin O’Brien said she enjoyed witnessing Williams’ creative process.
“[I] got to kind of get to know what makes Sylvan tick, what kind artists make Sylvan want to create, which was so cool.”
In regards to Williams’ strengths as an actor and singer, O’Brien said, “The biggest strength that Sylvan has is she doesn’t know how creative and good she is, which is sometimes a really exciting thing. Because when somebody truly doesn’t ultimately know their fullest potential, [but] performs that potential every time you see them, it’s like magic. To me, that’s Sylvan.”
O’Brien said Williams was apprehensive about being the only dancer auditioning for the Theater and Dance Department’s fall 2021 production Urinetown, but ended up flourishing in the role.
“Overcoming that obstacle of auditioning for Urinetown, getting in and being such a pivotal role in that show was just a beautiful, blossoming moment for Sylvan,” O’Brien said.
When asked what her favorite memory was with Williams, O’Brien said, “I’m seeing her specifically in one of the opening numbers in the second act [of Urinetown] with Ty Nash… and literally, they have a moment where they do the hand jive from Grease, and just their smiles… you could just tell that they were so connected in that moment.” O’Brien said she admires Williams’ sense of self expression she carries through all her mediums of art.
“What’s beautiful is working with her, whether she is singing, whether she is acting, whether she is dancing… [in] any medium, the story is always so clear from beginning to end,” O’Brien said. “And I think it’s because she knows exactly what her role is, within whatever story she’s creating or creating with other humans.” McLaughlin said Williams was resilient as a dancer and as a person.
“Even when disappointed, even with facing disappointment, [she] really show[s] up and that in the long run serves something in the world because there are 20,000 disappointments for every one success,” McLaughlin said. McLaughlin encourages Williams to challenge herself academically and to consider all points of view.
“Sylvan is so naturally curious and naturally looks at all sides of something and really probes things and challenges herself and everyone around her,” McLaughlin said. “… It’s my job as a teacher to get her to be uncomfortable and maybe go to the next level of inside herself finding something that she didn’t expect.”
Additionally, Williams channels her energy towards being a leader within the dance department.
“It’s really exciting to see she’s a natural leader and her peers really look to her for guidance and leadership and she has found a really great balance of when to step back and let others take that role and when to take it herself,” McLaughlin said. “I think she’s found a really beautiful balance and that can be really hard for natural leaders… it’s exciting to think of what she’ll be doing out in the world, what she’ll be, what sort of ways that she’s going to lead the culture.”
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