Hattie Mae Williams: Renegade Dancer

In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.

Dance, the most primal, universal form of self-expression, often takes a back seat in Miami. In a city where visual artists seem to be slowly covering every surface with murals -- and pulling in more money for their efforts every day -- performance all too often gets overlooked.

Luckily, Miami native Hattie Mae Williams has returned to shake up this town.

"People don't understand the importance of dance in their lives," she says. "I think dance in general is very scary for a lot of people because you have to embody yourself, you have to be in tune with things physically. I think we're taught to be scared of empowering our bodies and moving our bodies."

Williams, who grew up in North Miami, recently moved back to South Florida after living in New York for the past 15 years. Her return was equal parts homecoming and a chance to give back to the community that raised her.

"It's been a long time coming. I ultimately got my education and arts inspiration from here, so I always felt a sense of responsibility to come back and give back to the community... I know how hard it is to grow up here."

Williams doesn't subscribe to the typical ballet dancer attributes. Though she has the training and technique -- she graduated from New World School of the Arts in Miami before earning a degree with honors from Fordham/Alvin Ailey in New York -- Williams roughens up the dainty art form with refreshing rebellion.

She formed her own contemporary troupe, Tattooed Ballerinas, which welcomes dancers outside the traditional physical type. The group stages guerrilla, site-specific performances that earned Williams a Knight Foundation grant in 2013. Williams used the funds for a project that films the ballerinas performing at iconic local spots such as the Miami Marine Stadium and Venetian Pool. Her corps showed a series of filmed performances at this year's Miami Book Fair International and will continue to perform live at surprise spots in the city.

Williams wants to be part of the change she sees happening in Miami. Residents are becoming more interested in the arts, local artists are forming communities, and funding for the arts is flourishing. She plans to include community members and artists of various forms in her group's performances. As long as people bring authenticity and individuality to their craft, they're welcome.

"I'm excited to be back. I think of Tattooed Ballerinas and site-specific performances as a whole movement," she says. "Moving from New York back to my hometown has been great. It's been professionally awesome; it's been spiritually awesome... People here are open to ideas."

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Shelly Davidov