“I have always loved to dance. I started at the age of 3 dancing with my mother and her African dance troupe “The Yahoroo Dancers” in Columbus, Ohio. My mother, Billie Jean Franklin, founded Imani African Dancers in 1988. Under her direction, Imani performed at The River Place Festival (which is now known as Fall For Greenville), and at the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA (along with other various festivals, weddings and numerous church events). My mother passed away in June 2010; she lost her battle to Pancreatic Cancer. I reopened the Imani School of Dance, to carry on my mother’s legacy.
“Imani School of Dance offers a wide variety of dance: African, Ballet, Praise and Majorette. Imani means “faith” in Swahili and that is what we stand on. I not only teach dance to these children, I also mentor them, stressing the importance of education, self-respect and self-motivation. I currently have a group of 27 students — including some boys! We even provide transportation for some of our underprivileged children — it takes a village, right? — as to not deprive any child of being a part of a positive force.
“Imani School of Dance has received the Best Music Award in the Simpsonville Parade, and placed in the top three in various competitions all over. We have performed 2 years in a row at the MLK Gala, performed for the Kappa Knights, and participated in the Mauldin Parade every year that we have been opened.
“I graduated from Hillcrest High School in 1985. I attended Greenville Technical College, receiving an Associate’s Degree in Business Management. I’ve done various workshops in the Upstate. I am employed at Medicol, Inc. where I have been for 17 years.
“I am also a mother of three. My daughter Tykia plays a huge role in the school, helping to carry on her grandmother’s legacy.”
Willena was nominated by several people, citing reasons such as:
The love she has for her dancers (her “babies” as she would say), the energy she puts into them, and the passion she has to continue to make her dance studio a successful business; one that teaches young girls the importance of how to love who you are and achieve anything you put your mind to.
Willena Pressley, Owner/Director of Imani School of Dance has been a pillar in the community of Greenville County for years. With her dance studio, located in Mauldin, SC, she provides a positive atmosphere for our girls to express their creativity through the art of different dance styles. She offers Praise, African, Ballet, Tap, and Majorette dance. Her school of dance performed for the Martin Luther King Jr. Gala. Being a dancer herself, she started dancing with her mother Billie F. Franklin back in 1990s, she also performed in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
She’s trying to keep her mom’s legacy going with the Imani African Dance School. This past year, I’ve watched her work her butt off to keep this company going.
She has been a part of the community as the owner and director of Imani School of Dance for the last 9 years, teaching our young girls different styles of dance from African and Praise to Majorette to now Ballet. She has a great love of the girls and dance.
Willena has been a role model for many people throughout the years. She is the director of Imani School of Dance and has helped many girls build confidence and good character through dance. She is also willing to give her last to help anyone out. The school itself also has a lot of history in the Upstate. Imani School of Dance was also a part of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I believe it’s time for them to gets some recognition for all the hard work and dedication they have exuded over the years.
She is the director of Imani School of Dance. This is the only African dance school in the Upstate. Willie goes above and beyond to work with children from ages 2 to 24. She is not just a director. She is a teacher, mentor, mother, encourage, and a motivator.
Please join us in congratulating this 2019 Upstate Black History Maker!