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Meet Imani Watts

Today we’d like to introduce you to Imani Watts.

Imani, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I began my dancing career at the age of 3 like most people. But of course, I had no idea what I truly doing at that young age so I quickly became uninterested. I then left dance and went to gymnastics, which I ended up doing for five years. Once I got too tall to do gymnastics, I ended up going back to dance without knowing that this was my calling and true passion. By age 13, I began professionally training at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles California. In addition, I also attended Ramon C, Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts. Through all of my experience, I have studied and became proficient in over ten styles of dance which include: Ballet, Modern, Modern Variations, Jazz, Lyrical, Contemporary, Tap, Hip Hop, Latin Fusion, African, Dunham, Graham technique and more.

Over the years I have performed in shows with a number of stars such as; Debbie Allen, Chaka Khan, Raven Symone, Cathie Nicolas- daughter of the world-renowned Nicolas Brothers, and many more. I have also appeared in various music videos and productions such as The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker held at the Dorthy Chandler Pavilion. After graduating high school in 2016, I began my college education at Spelman College Fall of 2016 where I will soon be graduating from with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Performance and Choreography in May of 2020. With a strong passion for dance, I Co-Founded a heels hip hop collective called YinYang Dance Company, joined the freshman stroll team and became the coach, a member of Spelman Dance Theatre, a choreographer for the fashion and dance organization based in Atlanta called The AUC Agency, became an executive board member for Creatives of Color, and the Co-President of Arts In The AUC.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I always say, Spelman College chose me before I chose it. When I was in the eighth grade, I attended the Black college tour and got the chance to visit Spelman College. Fast forward to my senior year of high school, Spelman representatives came to talk to the students in the Black Student Union which I co-founded, where we got the chance to apply at the end of the session. Within a few weeks, I received a blue envelope and my life changed forever. With plans of wanting to attend Fordham University for Dance but then not being able to due to several body injuries, Spelman opened a door for me. Spelman College is one of the few Historically Black Colleges and Universities that offer a degree in Dance. As shocking as this sounds, it did not come as a surprise to me. Just a reminder that there is work to be done.

The moment that I attended the Black college tour in the eighth grade, I did not know that it would be foreshadowing my future. The mantra, “A Choice to Change the World” is exactly what Spelman College has pushed me to do. Coming to Spelman and having this mantra as a daily reminder has led me to create my own dance education curriculum to eventually be brought to several if not all Historically Black Colleges and Universities upon graduation. The arts is important for countless reasons and it should not be up for discussion. Not only does it have the ability to heal individuals, but it also serves as a unique platform to address social and political issues, making information easy and accessible to all of society. Spelman Women are agents of change in all fields, and I will continue to do the work inside and outside of my institution to ensure that the arts is appreciated and gets the recognition it deserves.

I will be one of the first students in history to receive a BA in Dance Performance & Choreography from Spelman College. There is nothing that I am more proud to say. This major has affected not only my Spelman experience but my life as well. I found my place in this world through this major and found my true passion. Before choosing to attend Spelman, I thought I would be training at Fordham University, a predominately white institution, to become a professional dancer in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Not only was l not able to attend due to body injuries, but I also did not want to have to choose between my own culture and my own career. Spelman solidified the Dance major the year it chose me and I am eternally grateful. This institution, but major specifically allowed me to gain a cultural experience and professional dance training without having to give one up. It has also pushed me to find my true passion which is focusing on providing young black children with knowledge, resources, and connections in the dance field, as well as using dance as a platform to address social and political issues within the black community. I strive to create a platform for young gifted individuals to unleash their creativity, giving them a true outlet to express their themselves.

In the next five years, I plan on opening a nonprofit dance organization that focuses on planting various dance studios across the world in urban and underserved communities. I seek to educate, empower, and to create opportunities for young black children to release their artistry. I am currently in the process of creating a dance curriculum that can be brought to other Historically Black Colleges and Universities to help other young black students get a degree in Dance. Career vs Culture should never be the question, and I dedicate my life to make sure it never has to be.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I strive to create a holistic environment by accentuating the interconnectedness between life experiences and artistry. To discover the artistry from within, I take the ambiguity of everyday life and translate it into movement. I am black. I am a woman. But more importantly, I am an artist. With being a “creative chameleon” as I like to call myself, I am able to choreograph in several different styles, with my favorites being hip hop, tap, and contemporary. My art is a reflection of the complexity of my identity. I am an undefinable being which inspires the movement that I create. I am a multiplex figure which allows me to fully release each dimension of myself, pulling knowledge from every aspect of my life. I view dance holistically and as an extension of life, refraining from separating personal experiences and artistry. I strive to tell stories that my mouth cannot articulate and only my body can show. Dance is my art, I do it because I have to, not because I want to. I am a dancer who dances with intentions of exploring the unknown, allowing my body to have a mind of its own. I dance for myself along with the need to positively impact the black community by bringing healing and knowledge. Dancing to bring beauty, to bring possibility, and to change the narrative of having to know the unknown. I dance in unclarity to find my clarity. With dance I am whole, and when I am whole, I am the most true and rawest version of myself.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I have had such an amazing support system in my creative journey. First, I have to give all the credit to God for blessing me with my talent and gifts. Secondly, I must give credit to my amazing and supportive parents Peter and Didi Watts, and my family who have been there every step of the way to watch me grow. I must give credit to one of greatest influences, Debbie Allen. She created an ample amount opportunities for me and I thank her for all that she has taught me as a dancer, educator, director, and more. My dance teachers from high school have become so much more than that so I must give credit to them from teaching me all that I know thank you Marlita Hill and Robin Scott. My greatest teacher and turned mentor who has had the biggest impact on my life is Karen McDonald and I can’t thank her enough for her insight. I would also like to include the entire dance department faculty at Spelman College, as well as friends, and my AUC sister’s and brothers!

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Image Credit:
Arion Kidd-Weeks, Stephanie Richland, Cam Kirk Studios, Malika Deshon

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