Dance Master Elbert Watson Honored as African-American Trailblazer for Leadership in the Arts

Elbert Watson’s whirlwind of activity at Norfolk Academy is enough to exhaust anyone...even those who are just watching him to do it.

Watson, the school’s Dance Master, teaches Lower School dance classes and directs the Dance Team in preparation for two dizzying shows a year, which highlight an array of different dances, from ballet to hip hop. He choreographs the Winter Musical. And he provides stretching and flexibility classes for Norfolk Academy athletic teams, as well as morning classes for faculty.

Yet, with all of that, through more than 30 years at Norfolk Academy, the Norfolk native has still maintained robust involvement in the community.

He has danced several times with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, including twice this year. He has participated in mentorships at Hampton University and Norfolk State. He taught classes to students living in underserved neighborhoods through programs under the Norfolk and Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authorities. He has done fundraisers to support Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy, which serves students in Norfolk public schools, and for the nonprofit For Kids organization. 

For his passionate dedication to elevating the arts in Hampton Roads, Elbert Watson will be recognized this Sunday as an honoree in the African American Trailblazers Honors Program.  Elbert is one of five honorees, described by the program as, ". . . prominent Blacks [who] have contributed to the enhancement of the lives of people in Hampton Roads through various professions."  The 3 p.m. ceremony at Slover Library is free and open to the public.    

“We are all so proud of Elbert and pleased that he is being recognized for the many ways he simply makes this world a better place,” said Headmaster Dennis Manning. “What a great tribute this is to Elbert, to his artistry, and to his humanity.”

Watson will be back at the Slover Library on Saturday, Feb. 10, at 3 p.m., for a performance by the Elbert Watson Dance Company, a troupe of adult dancers, who will perform as a signature event for the Norfolk Public Library's celebration of African-American History Month. The dance company is doing a suite of dances, "Hymn for the Brave and the Fallen," dedicated to African-Americans in the military, now and in the past.

Watson said that he draws inspiration from all around him—paintings, music, headlines, even colors; one of the Upper School dance concerts last year was called “The Color Purple,” which is also the title of a novel by Alice Walker.

“You have to be open in order to keep growing as an artist,” he said. “You can get cloistered in your life and not experience life.”
    • Elbert Watson Trailblazer Video