From Bearkat To Big Grrrl: An Alumna’s Path To Dancing With Lizzo
Feb. 28, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd
Dancing was always a hobby for Crystal Williams; a way to blow off steam and express herself through dynamic movement after a tough day at school. Williams has now turned her lifelong hobby into a career after becoming one of pop sensation Lizzo’s Big Grrrl Dancers in 2021.
Getting to this point has been a journey for Williams, full of twists and turns as she learned what she wanted to be and how she could make her goals a reality. She started learning dance in about fifth grade through her church’s praise team, which included some dance/stomp elements.
Since then, she continued to dance through her school’s drill teams and outside of school at dance studios. Eventually, Williams came to Sam Houston State University to study mass communication. At the time she felt she needed to separate her passion for dance from her career goals. She also felt dancing professionally would be incredibly stressful or unlikely as her body type is rarely represented on national stages.
“Being a plus-size woman who just loves to dance, that was something that I was passionate about and something that I did in my spare time,” Williams said. “So being a professional dancer never crossed my mind because, in the dance industry, you don’t see a lot of plus-size dancers.”
While at SHSU, she studied mass communications, a degree that she felt would provide a plethora of opportunities and lead her to a career she could be passionate about. Williams continued to pursue dance through an on-campus group called Fade to Black and was a member of many other organizations, including the NAACP, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the Black Student Alliance and its umbrella project, the Freshman Project.
During her freshman year of college, Williams won the Ms. Black and Gold Pageant hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and went on to participate in the Miss Sam Houston Pageant in her junior year. While she did not win her second pageant, she felt that it was important to participate and show others that look like her that they are beautiful and pageant-worthy, as well.
“When it comes to stuff like that you don’t see women of color, especially plus-size women of color,” Williams said of her experience in the pageant. “If I want to see change, I feel like you should at least try to be the change that you want to see, so hopefully I inspired somebody to try to break doors down. Even though you might not have a good chance of winning, at least putting yourself out there in that way allows people to see that representation.
While in college, the Houston native was also able to participate in Nick Cannon’s Houston production of Wild’n Out and was in the background of one of Megan Thee Stallion’s music videos.
After spending some time on the stage and in front of the camera for her mass communications classes, Williams realized she enjoyed it and wanted to pursue a performance-related career.
These feelings persisted even after she graduated in 2020, at the peak of the pandemic. Finally, a year later an opportunity came knocking when Lizzo started posting casting calls on her social media pages, looking to recruit dancers to join her troupe. While somewhat skeptical of the online submission, she eventually turned in a demo reel with encouragement from friends and family.
“I thought maybe this is a sign. I did my video submission and everything, I put together a little montage video,” Williams said. “My mass comm degree really popped out with that one because it was a nice audition video, I had two different slides going on while I was talking about myself.”
Her video worked and she was eventually cast to be in the Emmy-winning television series, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.” (Spoiler alert!) After participating in the first episode’s filming, Williams was chosen by the pop icon herself to become one of her dancers effective immediately, as opposed to continuing the audition process through the reality show.
Since then, Williams has worked directly under the pop star, dancing alongside her in numerous shows and performances, including Lizzo’s “Special” tour in Europe. Getting to this point was not easy, Williams explained that moving straight to rehearsals with the other dancers pushed her to her limits and had her longing for the home she had left behind after moving to Los Angeles.
“I had never been in a rehearsal that was over three hours long and whenever you’re dancing professionally, rehearsals can be from four to nine hours, depending on what you’re rehearsing, because it’s your job,” Williams said.
Even though the rehearsals and intense 90-minute shows leave her feeling exhausted, Williams is thrilled that she took the leap and set out on this journey.
“It’s really fun to travel to different places in other parts of the world because I was only restricted to seeing Texas. Now I’m traveling more than I ever have and making more money than I ever have,” Williams said. “I’m just happy to experience this because I didn’t know that this was a thing for anybody like me, so it’s definitely a blessing.”
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