On the Side: Ebony Williams

The Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet dancer branches out with commercial work.
Published in the April/May 2012 issue.

Photo by Eduardo Patino

"Doing commercial jobs feels like recess." —Ebony Williams

Ballet fans know Ebony Williams as one of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s most striking dancers, with beautiful feet and legs that add ballerina polish to the company’s diverse repertoire. But to the rest of the world, Williams is best known as one of the backup dancers who helped make Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” music video a sensation. In fact, Williams has become a go-to girl on the commercial scene: She recently appeared in Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video, and has also worked with Jennifer Hudson, Rihanna and Fergie.

Though Williams has bona fide ballet credentials—she trained at Boston Ballet School and The Boston Conservatory—she sees her commercial gigs as a return to her roots. “When I was a kid, I started out learning all the street styles with my friends, and that was how people first noticed that I should probably be in dance school,” she says. “While I was training in ballet I had to put all that on the back burner for a while so that I could become a technician. Now that I have the technique, it’s fun to come back to the type of dance I started out doing.”

Williams sees her forays into commercial work as opportunities to grow. “Every dancer should try to experience dance in every way they can,” she says. “Frankly, I get itchy and antsy if I’m not doing something on the side! There’s always more to learn.”