The History of Remarkable Dance Instruction in Grayson, GA
Find out more about Billie Jean Franklin by reading the information below. Billie went on to eventually open a dance company and offer professional dance instruction in Grayson, GA. Before offering your time or donations to our nonprofit organization, read all about our founder.
About Billie Jean Franklin
A young girl by the name of Billie Jean Layne (March 15, 1945- June 6, 2010) was born in WV. At a young age, she moved to Columbus, OH. Being raised there, Columbus became known as her hometown. She began dancing and dreaming of owning her own dance school one day and eventually turning her school into a performing arts school.
As the years went by, Billie continued to take dance classes. By the 1960s and early 70s, she was known as a professor and choreographer. She choreographed dances at OSU School of Dance and was a dancer and choreographer for the African West Indian Dance Troupe. Billie danced with the Alvin Ailey School of Dance in New York City. She also choreographed and danced for the Uhuru African Dance Troupe in Columbus, becoming known as a historian, instructor, and advocate because she taught the meaning of "Kwanza."
During these years, Billie was also married and had formed her own family. She gave birth to four children, Willena Franklin, Christy Franklin, Angela Franklin, and Wilfred Franklin Jr. In 1975, Billie's husband, Wilfred Franklin, moved his family to Simpsonville, SC. Willena had already begun dancing in Columbus at the age of three, and now it was time for Billie's younger daughters to follow in their mother's footsteps and learn about African Heritage and Dance. It is here, in SC, where Billie started to see her dreams manifest. She offered dance classes at a community center, naming her first project African Dance Studio Phyllis Wheatley Community. She funded trips for the children to visit the King Center in Atlanta, GA. By the 80s, she worked with different communities like City Heights of Greenville, implementing educational and social programs, as well as building afterschool and summer programs for low-income households throughout Greenville. Billie started Kwanza awareness and the Malcolm X Festival that is still recognized and celebrated today.
In 1988, Billie Franklin founded and directed, Imani Dance Company. She opened her doors to the public, teaching African dance in Mauldin, SC. Not only was she directing her dance school, but she also continued doing community programs through her dance company, helping and advocating for the needs of people in many different cities throughout SC. Billie worked on HIV/AIDS programs in South America as well. She even worked on obesity programs in community schools and centers. Her dance school, which included her daughters, performed at numerous festivals, like the Goombay Festival in Asheville, NC. Billie's dance school was successful for about five years, and then she decided to close the doors, due to funding.
She started just to teach a select group of girls. Her three daughters and about four other girls would become known as the Imani Dancers. By the 1990s, Billie had become closer to her dreams. She took the Imani Dancers on the road, performing at festivals, weddings, centers, and schools. She traveled to different states and gained the recognition of many for her dance group. Billie then found funding for the Imani Dancers to audition for the Olympics held in Atlanta. It was successful, and her dance group performed in the opening and closing ceremony of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA. The Imani Dancers also performed in the Peg Leg Bates Ceremony in Fountain Inn, SC. Additionally, Billie continued Kwanza celebrations and started Kwanza Claus in the South. Around 2000, Billie already had ten grandchildren, (Antonio, Ceisha, Quantrez, Latoya, Tykia, Denzel, Lee, Jokyra, Tia, and Rakeem), and the grand-girls had begun dancing and learning the teachings of Billie.
In 2003, she moved to Atlanta where her daughters, Christy and Angela, resided. She began getting involved in the community centers and schools there. Billie implemented the same programs in GA as she had done in SC. These programs brought self-awareness and self- pride to children and families as well as self-discipline and self-worth. In 2005, Billie was featured in Tyler Perry's movie, "Diary of a Mad Black Women." She got the opportunity to work alongside some of the greatest actors and actresses such as Cicely Tyson. During this time, The Imani Dancers started being directed by Willena who took guidance from her mother.
Meanwhile, Billie was working in different communities. The Imani Dancers were continuing to perform in different states, taking the next generation, Billie's grandchildren, to each performance where they too would dance. This continued for seven years.
In January of 2010, Willena decided to rebirth The Imani Dance School and opened it to the public. With her mother's assistance, Willena opened the doors to Imani School of Dance in Mauldin, SC. Her sisters were there to help and support as much as they could. On February 2, 2010, the family was changed forever. Billie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is non-treatable. By June 6, 2010, Billie had passed away, only five months from the dance school opening back up to the public. The family pressed on without their leader.
In August of 2010, Angela and Christy opened a performing arts school in Duluth, GA, naming it Billie Franklin School of the Arts. They implemented acting, modeling, and music lessons along with jazz, praise, hip-hop, African, and modern dance classes. The art school produced music videos including one with Kyra called "Get YOUR SWAG ON," which was written by Christy. Another music video with Denzel featuring Kyra called "BELLY WALK," which was written by Christy and Angela. In both videos, Billie's grandchildren, Tykia, and Ceisha were backup dancers. The dancers of the art school, under the leadership of Christy and Angela and with help from their sisters and Billie's grandchildren, performed in festivals in Atlanta and Duluth. They have performed in weddings and the Duluth parade and at community centers, churches, festivals. Moreover, they have traveled to NY to perform in festivals. They have also donated clothes and food through numerous fundraising events they have held.
Willena kept the school in SC running with the help of her sisters and daughter, Tykia, over the next four years. The school was suffering, but with Willena's direction, it has repeated the same teachings, and cultural dances passed down from Billie. The Imani School of Dance has performed in the Goombay Festival, the International Festival, Fall for Greenville Festival, Harvest Festival, Azalean Festival, the Juneteenth Festival, and many more. Its dancers have traveled to numerous cities to perform. They have also performed for Kappa Night and in the Praise Celebration at Bethlehem Baptist. Also, they have received a plaque for Best Music in the Simpsonville Parade, (which consists of live drummers) and won first place in the 98.1 radio talent show. Each dance school, although in different states, continued Billie Franklin's Legacy.
In 2018, BFIF was founded. This foundation will help build strong communities in funding dreams for children who may not be able to afford the pursuit of their dreams. We hope to bring pancreatic cancer awareness to communities through lectures and seminars. The Foundation will help fund these same teachings passed down generation to generation in honor of Billie Franklin. Today, there are three generations under the teachings of Billie Franklin, her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Billie's dream came true. She has a performing arts school and a dance school that is very successful and well respected. Additionally, her teachings go throughout the communities of SC, NC, and GA. Recitals are put on yearly in her honor. BFIF will also help expand our dreams for a better future for our children. By funding workshops and events one step at a time, we can build a better future for families.
Many of Billie's accomplishments have not been mentioned in this biography, but it gives a glimpse of a girl who had a vision, then a dream, and made it possible to be shared with thousands around the world. Billie Franklin can never be replaced, but it is remarkable that such a legacy was left to her family to pass down from generation to generation. Imani is our life, which means faith, and BFIF wants to bring more hope and faith to each of you. Call or email us today to learn more about Billie Jean Franklin.