DRUMMER FEATURE MARCH 1, 2015
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Travel, teaching, writing . . .
Drid went dancing through the decades
At 86 years old, Drid Williams has perhaps done it all and deserves to relax and enjoy a slower pace. But after traveling to points all over the globe, teaching dance at universities and writing several books, she doesn’t feel like slowing down.
“I don’t want to not be doing things. I don’t want to sit down and just say, ‘Well, it’s over with,’” she said at her modest home in Rockford.
You could say Drid has gone against the grain throughout her life. When she was born in Oregon, the cute, little tap dancing, curly-haired movie star, Shirley Temple, was extremely popular, and mothers all over the country were naming their baby girls Shirley. The same goes for Drid, but in just a few years of growing up, she didn’t care to be one of many Shirleys.
“We had six Shirleys in one classroom at school,” she recalled with a tiny bit of disgust apparent in her demeanor.
When she was 17, she changed her name. She chose one with a Celtic origin. Drid was the name of an obstinate Welsh queen, she explained with a somewhat mischievous twinkle in her eye.
While growing up in a beautiful valley on the edge of the Rocky Mountains in Baker City, Ore., she tended to identify more with her father than her mother. Her dad only had an eighth grade education, but that did not hold him back. He was a construction foreman, and before the Great Depression, he owned and operated a coal supply and heating fuel business. Drid wished she could go along with him when he worked on projects in faraway places. He worked for a while with a mining company in Nevada. He was involved with the construction of the Shasta Dam in Northern California. Around the time World War II was beginning, he worked as a steamfitter at a Navy base on Adak Island, Alaska, where there was concern about a possible Japanese attack.
Drid remembers her dad reading to her and her sister, Doris. He encouraged the girls to get an education.
“Because of him, I got my degrees,” Drid commented. (Her degrees include doctorates from Oxford University.)
Wanted to dance
Her mom had been to business school and was an excellent secretary with the railroad. Drid remembered her mom, a fundamentalist Baptist, “was horrified” when her daughter expressed interest in dance.
“She even took me to the doctor (to find out why Drid was always hopping, skipping and dancing),” Drid recalled.
Recognizing the child’s obvious enjoyment of movement, the doctor wrote a prescription for two ballet classes a week.
Drid remembers working as a soda jerk at a local drug store during her high school years to afford dance classes. By then, the family had moved to Portland, a seaport city with plenty of war-related jobs.
She learned both ballet and contemporary dance. Soon she branched out from learning how to dance to teaching dance, and she started her own dance company that conducted small tours and performed in high school auditoriums. The company was basically a group of seven friends. Drid named them The Circle Dancers. She liked the idea of a circle as a whole and complete figure.
Teaching was fulfilling
In the late 1950s, Drid had a studio and was teaching classes regularly in Portland.
“Teaching has always been my big forte,” she said.
Indeed, her primary activity today is serving as a tutor.
Her dance students did very well over the years, she said. Four of her students were accepted into the Sadler’s Wells school in England (which leads to the Royal Ballet). Several of her students secured professional jobs with touring companies, with TV productions and in teaching with dance departments.
Drid taught dance for almost 20 years in New York. Friends had encouraged her to go to New York (because it’s the center of the stage performance world), and so she did, she said.
From New York, Drid ventured to the University of Wisconsin, where she was a lecturer from 1966 to 1969, and then she went to Ghana.
A friend, a drummer known as Montego Joe, suggested going to Africa.
“You’ll love African dance forms,” he said.
Drid ended up teaching at the University of Ghana from 1971 to 1973.
To Oxford and more
She admired the work of E.E. Evans-Pritchard, a social anthropology professor at the University of Oxford.
“I wrote to him and sent him an article I had written,” Drid recalled. “I told him how much I liked what he had written.”
Drid was very much interested in theories of body language and the meanings of dance, which is a vast and complex subject.
Evans-Pritchard wrote back and encouraged Drid to come to Oxford and study social anthropology.
“You don’t argue with E.E. Evans-Pritchard. When he says you should come, you come,” Drid commented.
Later she returned to the USA and served at New York University from 1979 to 1984.
She had always wanted to see Australia. Looking into the availability of positions, she was accepted at Sydney University and worked there from 1986 to 1990. Highlights included scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
Drid mentioned she wrote an article for an encyclopedia on aboriginal dancing.
From there, she went to Moi University in Kenya from 1990 to 1994.
Writing along the way
Drid was an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota from 1995 to 2000. She then experienced China as she worked at United International College at Zhuhai from 2007 to 2009.
Through it all, she wrote numerous articles. She also wrote a set of books. The first was “Ten Lectures on Theories of the Dance,” 1991. The second edition was published as “Anthropology and the Dance; Ten Lectures,” 2004.
“Anthropology and Human Movement: The Study of Dances” was followed by “Anthropology and Human Movement: Searching for Origins.”
An autobiography, “Beyond Survival,” was published in 1998 and tells about creativity, inner strength and a persistent effort to reach for adventure, knowledge and fulfillment.
“Teaching Dancing with Ideokinetic Principles” was published in 2011.
Naďve about China
Drid’s most recent book, “The Dog Has Five Legs,” tells about her experiences in China, where she was frustrated by demands for conformity and political indoctrination. After working all over the world in places where people can speak freely, she said she was naďve and unprepared for restrictions imposed on the people of China.
She lived in a beautiful city, but that was on the surface. The more she learned about China, the more she appreciated what she had taken for granted in the USA.
Drid was recently featured in Women of Distinction magazine, which is published by the National Association of Distinguished Professionals.
Back with her sister
Talking about her travels and her many exciting experiences, she said she was compelled to take as much in as she could.
“I always tried to be as aware as I could and get as much as I could out of it,” she commented.
Looking back at everything, she has difficulty picking out the best and most memorable moments.
“So much was taken in, it is hard to say what’s best. It was all great,” she said.
About five years ago, she moved to Rockford, where she has reunited with her sister, Doris. The two live a short distance from each other.
Drid expressed a desire to continue traveling, but it is now prudent to stay in one place.
“For the first time in my life I can’t do what I have always done before,” she said.
But she can do something that has been a source of great fulfillment. She can still teach, and she is currently tutoring three students. She has the time and the willingness to work with more students (from the fifth grade up), she said.
The Franciscan Sisters at St. Francis Academy in Oregon helped her acquire her reading and writing skills, which she now enjoys passing on to students. She can help both younger students and older students, and she can also help with college term papers, she said.
Her advice to everyone, after a lifetime of travel and learning, is, “If you want to do something, do it.”
Take it from someone who doesn’t want to slow down after 86 years of exploring and learning. Go against the grain. Reach for what gets you going.
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