“dancing brings out a lot in me, it brings emotion, it brings character, it brings movement, it brings everything.”
Photo Credit: Willow Street Pictures
Spoken by: Jaymes Williams
Written By: Imane Guisse
It is 1999 in Reading, Pennsylvania. Jaymes Williams, his mother and sister have just moved from Philadelphia into what was a quiet, small, and different environment. They really liked it. He got to know the city pretty well with multiple moves in the city of Reading, from 13th and Green to Mulberry street, finally in 2001 to South 15th street. It consistently got better, more friends were made, and the neighborhoods got nicer. This was a community where everyone cared about their neighbor, if it snowed everyone would help shovel the next car out.
As he was growing up school was never really the main focus for Jaymes. Elementary school was uneventful, middle school was similarly without incident. Highschool, however, proved to be different. So much had begun to happen helping him grow to the man he is today. “The High” commonly known as Reading High School was the school that everyone wanted to be at. This was in the period when it was popular, before the reputation of being ‘overcrowded’ and underfunded. Being social was not much of an issue for Jaymes. In 9th grade he hung out with the seniors, not at all because he thought he was cool, but more because of the sibling attachment he had with his 12th grade sister.
Dance wasn’t an interest for Jaymes until high school, previously it was little things like, music videos that had initially captured his interests. Study hall was his first stage, showing off his dance moves, the dance bug got him. Then it got a little more “real”, he continued on to join the school dance team. In the midst of all of this happening, as Jaymes was getting older, he began to see Reading in a different light. It could be that he was getting older and becoming more aware, or it could be that this is when Reading truly started changing and, from his perspective, not for the better.
By sophomore year it became a little rockier for Jaymes. Little did he know that his back and forth bickering with the vice principal would lead him to a greater path. His mom always mentioned sending him to jobcorp, a place free education and vocational training. He wasn’t sure how serious she was, but he was not ricking it all. Soon Jaymes moved to live with his father’s who lived in Upper Darby. There he was closer to Philadelphia, and its vibrant art scene. However, his dad being in the military and consistently absent made home life a little more difficult. After giving it his best, he returned to Reading in March. He had thought that his mother had let go of sending him away to job corps. By the first week of May he was packed up, in the car with his mother and stepfather, driving deeper into the woods headed to Red Rock Job Corps Center in Central Pennsylvania. Red Rock it is located on the highest mountain of Pennsylvania, and it was cold and remote; when it snowed icicles formed from the ceiling down to the floor. Jaymes was not impressed. His first night was filled with emotions of being hurt and alone. Over time, however, his fellow classmates helped him feel supported and cared for.
A little-known secret of Jaymes is that he can sing. That is, he can really sing. Some his first nights at Job Corps were filled with singing in the dorms with other members. Jaymes’ classmates were amazed and excited about his singing talent. They convinced Jaymes to sing for the Red Rock Idol, a center-wide talent show. First place came easy for him, and he felt like he was on cloud 9. Next was regionals. The day of recording Jaymes audition was rough, his throat was just not with it. And of course, to make things a little more difficult he was singing “Always and Forever” a song that had challenging high notes. Three takes, three chances, and the last one made it. After sending in a recorded audition tape there is a committee that selects candidates to continue to the next round hosted in Philadelphia. His recording made Jaymes a contestant for the regional competition of all the northeast. This was the first time his talent was leading him somewhere.
The northeast regional singing competition was in Philadelphia. A lot of singing activity took place informally at the hotel hosting the event. The piano in the center of the hotel lobby was particularly popular among the competition contestants. It was usually surrounded by the various contestants playing the piano, singing, and playing other instruments, and the improvisation was dynamic. This became a large identity moment for Jaymes, where the arts and his sexuality, became central to his sense of self. At this time, he has never seen himself as ‘handsome’ but instead as a bit dorky. And during this competition he was getting more attention from the other boys than he was used to. This opportunity was able to give him a reference of where his talent was.
Jaymes’ grandmother lived in Philly. She took the bus, the train- whatever it took- to see Jaymes perform. At the competition, Jaymes was the first on the roster to sing and when he sang, he really sang. Rightfully, he received a standing ovation. Jaymes came in second and was thrilled to have won a place. Jaymes ended up graduating from the Job Corps.
Today, Jaymes thanks his mother for sending him to Red Rock. He gained a lot of friends, a sense of living on his own, learning responsibility, and dealing with identity issues. Now, Jaymes is able to identify and be comfortable with not one, or two, but several various communities. Ranging from the LGBTQ, to Hispanic and Black, and the arts communities, Jaymes is able to connect with and relate to different groups of people. Moreover, Jaymes is a doer. He has found a vibe, one that helps inspire and create the community around him. He likes to get the party going, get the work started, and bring people together.
A key aspect to Jaymes’ character is that he does not quit. This he attributes to Miss Davis, the Reading High dance team teacher. When he joined the High’s dance team he knew he was a good dancer, and Miss Davis knew it as well. But she wanted to truly test his strength and “break him down” first. She was a little very strict and particularly tough on Jaymes. Their relationship was initially turbulent, but there came a key defining moment where he realized never will he let anyone tear him down to the point that where he would quit. He was never a quitter and that was not going to begin now. That moment solidified the idea that he would never quit anything, he has tried to put this idea in place in every aspect of his life. Whether it comes to relationships, jobs, or people, you never give up. Jaymes and Miss Davis have had a rocky past that he views as full of differences and competition.
During this time period of conflicts with Miss Davis, his mother was extremely supportive and gave him wise advice when he wanted to retaliate: “it’s not even worth it, people are going to be mad at you, because you’re doing something good”. That was another moment that created his character, which had led him to create an independent dance team with Ashinique, a friend from Reading High’s dance team, called Dramatic Influence. Jaymes recognizes that Miss Davis inspired good qualities in him, mainly as a leader and a dancer. She taught him a lot of what he knows today.
Jaymes’ fierce love of dance is rooted in how dance allows for a consuming sense of freedom. If he wants to be rough, soft, masculine, feminine, he can do it. If he wants to be crazy, he can do it. Dance allows him to express himself however he wants. And no one can tell him otherwise, because it’s his art. It is a sense of power, a feeling, “just the feeling of dance is so good.” It’s not something that Jaymes can explain but can show. There is not one dance form that singularly represents Jaymes as a dancer. Depending on the day or the mood he experiences different personalities therefore expressing himself with different dance styles. Most popularly is Vogue, Hip-Hop, or Praise dancing, “dancing brings out a lot in me, it brings emotion, it brings character, it brings movement, it brings movement.”
This physical movement of art brought a new confidence to Jaymes. In fact, he is more confident; when he is performing he is naturally exuding self-assurance and conviction, which leaks into his everyday life. Dance has shaped him to be able to remain focus on tasks. This confidence existed before dance was in his life, but only to an extent. Jaymes was confident in his own comfort zone with personal friends and family, but in nothing such as large crowds. Today he can go anywhere, perform in front of anyone and be confident. This passion sometimes finds its way of getting in the way of his relationships. He sometimes he tends to focus more on dancing than his partner. One other difficulty is bad professional relationships. But overall, he enjoys being known for his work, and the passion that goes along with his dancing.
There are few opportunities for dance in Reading, and Jaymes works hard to pursue as many of these opportunities as possible. He’s not afraid to ask to dance at someone’s event. He’s learned how to deal with rejection or people wanting to take advantage of his talent. Along the way he’s picked up some business acumen- learning how to weigh his options. This experience is what drives him to want to empower his community first before moving to a new environment.
Jaymes believes that growing up in Reading has made him a stronger dancer and a stronger person. And he has just the right community surrounding him and encouraging this pursuit. When his friends and family first saw him dance the response was, “wow, this is something you need to do”. Because of the city’s small size, he has had an easier time building a fan base rather that if he was in New York City. This growth in of fan support in Reading has helped him develop and emotional confidence in his talent, “I want to dance, and I’m here, and I’m going to make this opportunity”.
Jaymes has become really passionate not just about dance but of Reading as a city and the potential it holds. This Is Reading grew on him. While at first he was unsettled by some of the narratives, he later realized the show presented good, healthy, and honest representation of Reading, “It’s slowly getting better…we have our moments where stuff happens, but I think the show actually opened people’s eyes up to what Reading really is…there’s talent here, there’s people here.” There is some honesty that is harder to accept when it comes to the downfall of what was once the ‘great Reading’ however, Jaymes stresses that we can’t be afraid to talk about the differences and challenges of Reading, whether it be racial or financial. “If we’re afraid to talk about it, how are we going to change it?” Regardless of the negatives there are positives evident in the storyline that we need to focus on, the good stuff, “if we can come together and dance, then so can you guys.”
One of the most important changes Jaymes believes we can focus on is the youth. The arts need to be brought back for the children, he says: “you keep hearing ‘oh they’re fighting at the Citadel [the intermediate High School], there’s a riot, there’s gangs, there’s this and that’…all that can be eliminated with the arts.” Jaymes stresses that young people need to be given an outlet, something to channel their energy into that is productive and self-expressive. “Once you let all the anger and frustration go through your art form whether it be a canvas, a poem, dance, or a mic…what is there to be angry about? You already let it go.” Jaymes is well aware of the costs it takes to help these programs but he also understands that one may have to give a little to get a little. This situation is what has inspired Jaymes to give back to his community. Specifically, he is focused on working with underprivileged children, because they are the ones that do not have everything handed to them and are willing to put in the work once given the chance. He teaches dance classes to children Wednesday nights at the Goggle Works. Many of these children are genuinely interested in making their lives better and will make efforts towards it.
Jaymes is always thankful for the people who have helped him along the way. His mother was pivotal in his success. If it were not for her sending him to Red Rock he would never have known various parts of his identity, including how much he can shine in uncomfortable situations. But he also has been influenced by his sister, although she may be unaware of this. He claims that she was always the ‘good’ one and he was the ‘trouble maker’, however this always pushed him to be ‘better’ than her. She influenced him to always strive to be better, and she doesn’t know that. Mr. Johnson, his fifth-grade teacher, and Mr. Darren his tenth grade English teacher were always influential. Both of these men taught him how to see potential in others and show respect to others. They taught him to care for other people, the way he would like to be cared in return. To this day Jaymes uses these lessons for his children in their Wednesday night dance classes.
Dance and possibility go hand in hand for Jaymes. Learning new things, exploring new spaces are part of how he sees his future, “because you’ll never know what you’ll be good at”. He is equally analytical as he is steadfast. Jaymes does not feel ‘stuck in Reading’ the common phrase he says he hears people say too often. He is thinking, about where to go, how he is going to live, and whether what he does next is going to be a good move. Stuck is not the situation for Jaymes; he’s feeling for when the time is right to leave. He is looking forward to his goal of owning not just one, but possibly two dance studios in different locations. This will be an artists’ safe haven. Where adults and children of all ages can go in there and be a part of a judge free zone. “Once you walk through the door you can let everything go and just dance.” However, more than dance will be offered, services such as counseling will exist because sometimes you don’t know what people are going through until you give them the right space and the right person that they’re comfortable with. “Once this gets off the ground, there’s no way it can fail,” Jaymes asserts.
Today, Jaymes Williams is a teacher, a worker, a doer, a leader. He is teaching classes with children every Wednesday. Jaymes explains that there are not just dance classes to be performance-ready but also for the kids to learn the lessons that he, may have had to learn the hard way in life. He offers guidance to those in need. This life he is living today is about the passion and drive for what he believes in- his dance and his community. Still, he hopes his path will lead to a brighter future professionally. “If you want it hard enough, you may hear some no’s, but sooner or later you’ll hear a yes,” and that’s where he is, Jaymes does not believe that the big yes has come just yet. But he is patiently waiting, feeling that, “if you want it bad enough, it will come”.