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Life & Work with Charlotte Williamson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Charlotte Williamson. 

Hi Charlotte, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
In 2001, I went to the University of Fl to pursue a degree in dance. I wanted to be a Rockette & dance on Broadway. After participating in the program for 2 years, I felt as though something was missing in my training so I started my own student dance group, called Extreme Dance Company (delightfully it still exists today). This didn’t please the dance faculty at UF since I was doing this instead of participating in their projects. That Fall, I presented my group choreography for the faculty & they hated it. They told me that I wasn’t an artist and that I should stop creating. I was better suited for recital directing. 

Obviously, that was a huge blow to my confidence but determined to prove them wrong, I kept creating, eventually changing schools and attending UGA. 1 year later, my choreography was selected to represent UGA at the American College Dance Festival, where it was received rave reviews by Wendy Perron of Dance Magazine, Steve Rooks of the Ailey Company, & Ann Reinking, Fosse protégé, and was selected to perform at the Gala that evening. To make it sweeter, the UF faculty heard it all. 

Following that experience, I was convinced that I no longer wanted to perform in NYC & instead, I wanted to start my own professional dance company & create more. I graduated & started SIDEWAYS contemporary dance in 2006, teaching dance to children on the side. Soon, I fell in love with those children & wanted to give them more opportunities as well. I started Atlanta Dance Central in Roswell, GA in 2009 & have taught over 1000 children how to dance. 

In 2007, I started the Foster-Schmidt Dance Academy for Down syndrome as a weekend workshop to provide movement training for students with Down syndrome. When ADC was born, FSDA transformed into a weekly class, eventually becoming our current Physio Jazz program, with 3 levels and a dance company. The Foster-Schmidt Dance Company for Down Syndrome (FSDC) partners with SIDEWAYS to present performances in Atlanta & have traveled together to NYC & Walt Disneyworld Resort. 

Now I focus a lot of my energy on mentoring artists to help them understand the business side of dance & create careers from the arts. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Besides what I mentioned before, everything has some sort of challenge 🙂 

With ADC, I had this vision that I would open the doors and the kids would come pouring in. I had budgeted to serve 250 kids and the first year had 70. My family had taken a huge risk to help me open & it was a scary time, but we survived. 

Maintaining a small business in the midst of a pandemic is no easy feat either. Our team made the decision to go virtual 1 hour before the schools closed (after they re-opened for 1 day). It was a terribly scary moment because we didn’t know if this would be the end of our business but we were following what was right. My team at ADC launched their first class 2 hours after our decision & we’ve maintained a safe & COVID-free studio since then. 

With little to no theaters renting to us, SIDEWAYS created a dance film to try to keep the dancers & our audience engaged. We are energized for our live performance at the Hotel at Avalon – a brand new design of our holiday performance that is 13 years running. It’s a huge project but we are excited to help stimulate the economy by bringing more visitors to the businesses at the Avalon. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
 I am both an artist and a business professional AND I think that sets me apart from others. I can do both well & I am working hard to share my business mindset with artists. 

As an artist, I create stories. I challenge my dancers to perform with authenticity and honesty in order to portray the emotions & intentions behind the characters. My work is easily viewed by non-artists & enjoyed even by people who don’t care for dance. I aim to “normalize” dance so that “regular citizens” can feel as comfortable watching dance as they are listening to music. 

I’m most proud of a piece SIDEWAYS performed in 2019, inspired by the story of Max Gruver, who was killed by hazing. We partnered with his family & I was able to view his journals, pictures, and Max Gruver Foundation presentations in order to create a really powerful story. Rae Ann Gruver (Max’s mom) was surprised (shocked?) at how powerful the dance presentation was & how much we connected directly into her feelings & those she thought Max would have had. 

I’m also proud that I was able to sustain careers for my ADC employees during a pandemic. It was my time as a leader to step up for them & also keep our community connected. 

How can people work with you, collaborate with you, or support you?
SIDEWAYS holds annual auditions for dancers, but if you are not interested in performing, then you can be an audience member. Our holiday performance will be held November 20 & 21 & the Hotel at Avalon & our repertory concert will be held in Alpharetta in February. Since we are a 501c (3), all donations are tax-deductible so if you’d like to sponsor a dancer or FSDC, we’d truly appreciate the gift. 

We are also looking for volunteers to help develop SIDEWAYS further and work at our events. 

If anyone is interested in receiving business coaching, I can be found on Facebook – Charlotte Foster Williamson – or they can email me directly. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Michael Boatright
Chris Coates-Mitchell
Focus 33 Photography
Mary Ann Staib

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