As Therrell Smith greeted family and friends during her 100th birthday party Nov. 5 at the University of the District of Columbia, she said she was thankful to be so blessed.
Identified as a D.C. dance legend by the International Association of Blacks in Dance, Smith, who has spent most of her life in D.C., has enjoyed spreading cheer to others through dance. She said she has been dancing since she was 8-years-old.
“I am very blessed to see the age 100 and to still be able to do the things that I’ve been doing,” she told the AFRO, in reference to her mobility.“It brings me joy to know that I’ve touched so many lives. This is what my life is all about, my goal is to continue. This is what keeps me going.”
As a teen, Smith attended Dunbar High School in Northeast D.C. where she choreographed several of the school’s plays and operettas. After graduating high school, Smith studied at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., where she spent summers working as a dance teacher at a summer camp in Wisconsin. After graduation, she continued to work with young people as a camp counselor and drama teacher at a camp in Massachusetts. During her younger years, she was selected to study in Paris under the famous Mathilde Kschessinska, prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Russian Ballet.
“There is no finer person than I can think of to be a better role model. She is just an excellent person,” her niece Shelley Brown told the AFRO.
In the District, Smith founded the Therrell Smith School of Dance in 1948. Through the school she has taught dance at the LeDroit Park Nursery School, on Rhode Island Avenue in Northwest D.C. and at the school’s current site on Bunker Hill Rd in Northeast D.C. Smith attends Unity Church in Northwest D.C.
“I didn’t think about dancing as a livelihood, but it was a good choice”, Smith told the AFRO.
Smith, who was born and raised in D.C., has been a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority for 78 years.
“She is a warm, loving, and a humble person. She is very giving and willing to serve which is demonstrated through the community,” Jackie Harris, who is Smith’s sorority sister and has known her for many years, told the AFRO.