The “Oprah Effect”: we’ve all heard about it, but to experience it is quite a different story. Your life can change on a dime. And it did for Dwana Smallwood, one of the premier dancers for Alvin Ailey.
What started as invite from Oprah turned into more than a $500,000 donation to a dancer’s dream. “Oh my goodness, what a journey from Green Avenue down the street to right now. It’s been an extraordinary journey,” said Smallwood.
It’s a journey that took Smallwood from the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant to performing around the world as one of the premiere dancers for Alvin Ailey’s elite dance company for 12 years. She is considered one of the best modern dancers since Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her power and her grace are electrifying. “Even though Alvin Ailey is one of the biggest companies in the world, and that was the only place I wanted to dance, and I kept thinking is that my life’s purpose to perform,” Smallwood said.
And that could be enough for some but not for Dwana. So when life came knocking at her door once again, she did as she always did. She danced her way to the next opportunity this time appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. But that performance morphed into so much more. “I said please, please, please would you go to my school in South Africa and teach my girls what you know,” Oprah Winfrey said.
And she did. Her passion took on a new form as a teacher. But what was supposed to be a one week stay at the school, turned into a four-year odyssey. “First I was begging for a week. Then I was begging for a year,” Winfrey said.
The lessons extended far beyond dance, even for Dwana. “It unleashed this person that knew that I could reach young people. I could figure out what’s going on with a young woman and I could help her figure out the brilliance within her,” Smallwood said.
“What she did at my school, she came in to teach dance but she taught them about life, she taught them all of the social emotional skills that we know it takes to really be successful, and not only survive but to thrive in the world,” Winfrey said.
With her mission accomplished in South Africa, home was calling her back. “I truly love Brooklyn and I love Bed-Stuy,” Smallwood said.