The Big Muddy Dance Company's annual Marquis Award 
honoring outstanding dance educators in the St. Louis community

Perseverance in Dance: Creativity in the face of adversity

The 2021 Marquis Award honors a dance educator in the greater St. Louis area who has demonstrated perseverance in dance through creativity in the face of adversity. Students, parents, and fellow teachers are encouraged to nominate dance teachers whose determination and creativity persists in even the most challenging times. The 2021 Marquis Award honoree will be recognized during The Big Muddy's performance "Collide" in January 2021. 

Alicia “Sunshine” Gbaho B. S. in Mass Communication, Minor in Dance, and is certified
through NASM (Nutrition Coach), AFFAA (Group Fitness) and ABT Curriculum (Ballet), is the
Director/Founder of Beyond Measure, LLC. Alicia Sunshine began her dance career at the Katherine Dunham dance center in East St. Louis, IL where she was born and raised! She later evolved professionally & technically with her training at Illinois State University. This allowed her to work with many notable choreographers in dance theater, commercialism and competitive dance. It was there, Sunshine was grounded in an array of dance techniques: Ballet, Jazz, Modern, Hip Hop, West African, Caribbean…
Sunshine recognized Gods’ purpose for her life when she was a little girl: touching lives
through the arts. Performing all over at local and national venues has allowed her to move
forward with that purpose. Notable artist and companies include but are not limited to…
Theater: Noir dance ensemble, Illinois State Dance Theater, Black Rep, Afriky Lolo
(Assistant Artistic Director), The Slaughter Project, Banyan Dance Theater, JPEK Creative
Works, Nu-World Contemporary Danse Theater, Gifted Productions.
Commercial: Lupe Fiasco (Grammy Nominated Hip Hop Artist), John B, Andrea Kelly
Chamillionare, Anthony Anderson, The Legendary Showtime at the Apollo, Universal Soul
Circus, R&B Sensation Jznalle, SOSy, STL TV, Fox 2 News, Universal Soul Circus, FitKyt, Utopia Entertainment

Local: Dancing in the Streets, Festival of Nations, National Dance Week, Stl Samba
Choreography: Black Nativity, Terry Hutchins, Branson in St. Louis, Motown Revue,
Dancing in the Streets, Festival of Nations, National Dance Week, Dutchtown South
Community Organization, FITKYT, Beyond Measure Dance Theater, The AfroKuumba
Dancers, Dance the Vote, The Uppity Theater Company, Springboards, LypSync Gala
Fundraising Choreographer and Winner 2019.
Studios: Dance Plus, Judging Diversity in Dance (youth Achievers Foundation, COCA,

School Districts: Hazelwood, Cahokia, SLPS, Chesterfield…
Higher Ed: SIUE, Lindenwood, Better Family Life, Black Dance USA
Workshops: Butterfly Chats, Culture Inclusivity Alliance IT NA Workforce 360, Black
History Celebration - Wells Fargo, St. Luke’s Day of Dance 4 years)
Sunshine has also been seen in such productions as When Colored Girls Considered
Suicide, The Mask, The Goddess Zaouli; Sundiata: The King of Mali by Afriky Lolo. She has
also played in Real Life and A Deeper Shade of Blue by Joel P.E. King, Hip Oz by Anthony
Redd Williams- COCA). Choreographer to Black Nativity of the Black Rep. Universal Soul
Circus., Motown Revue, I’ve Never Heard
International: Danse, Abidjan - Africa, Munich - Germany.
Alicia Sunshine continues to perform & spread her passion of dance & fitness through the
gift of inspiration, education and performance. Her businesses, Beyond Measure, LLC is a 3 tier

  • Beyond Measure Dance Theater (Professional Dance Company),
  • Afroetics (Afro Dance & Fitness Fusion)
  • The Afro Kuumba Dancers (Youth & Pre Professional Training Program).
Founded in 2007 in St. Louis, MO , artistic director & choreographer, Alicia “Sunshine” Depry-
Gbaho, built a dance company that would entail intermingled choreography rooted in the

African Cultures, illuminating the dynamics of its powerfully influential and iconic
dances. Beyond Measure Dance Theater has been called “a preeminent Afro-Fusion Dance
Company!” Its  members receiving accolades for their technique, artistry & musicality.
Traditional & creative music are vital to Beyond Measure as well as  community engagement.
 Since 2009, Beyond Measure Dance Theater has an annual production, community
involvement and international. Continuing to live up to their reputation of being a powerful & dynamic performance company, BMDT provides educational opportunities in dance for all ages and abilities. The  art of fusion is the language of this company expressed  through song, folk tales, dance, visual art and poetry.
. "If you want to know more about who my daughter is, it's in her Dance."
Catherine D. Williams
Past Marquis Awardees:

2020:  Innovation in Dance Education
childhood dance, dance in higher education, and dance for seniors

In Childhood Dance:
Raymond Parks

In Higher Education:
Cecil Slaughter

In Dance for Seniors:
Vanessa Woods

2019:  Longevity of Passion and Inspiration in Dance
Mary Jean Cowell
Keith Tyrone Williams
Alexandra Zaharias
Raymond Johnson Parks is renowned for his expertise in the fine art of dance. Many artists use a plethora of mediums in their works but he is best known for his undying love for the competitive realm of dance.

He began his love for educating people with him receiving his formal education from Lincoln University in 1968. His reception of his BS in Education was only a catalyst for him to begin furthering his education resulting in getting his Master’s in Education specializing in guidance and counseling in 1970. He finalized his formal education from Lindenwood College for dance.

Ray’s track record is fairly extensive when it comes to his dance experience. He has studied under people and programs such as Michael Simms, Gus Giardino, and Frank Hatchet as well as schools such as Lincoln University, Stephens College, Lindenwood University, and other dance institutions throughout the country. He has taught Master classes for private dance schools, colleges and dance agencies, choreographed numerous Hip Hop/ commercials and industrial videos, and a diversity of musicals and Broadway productions. For over 30 years, Ray has choreographed for people such as Parkway South’s Pom Pom Squad, Talent Plus, the NFL Partnership 1989 and 1991 exhibition games, St. Louis Steamers Soccer Team “Steam Heat”, for the St. Louis Indoor Soccer team “Twisters”, for the St. Louis Cardinals football team “Big Red Line”, the St. Louis Blues Hockey “Blue Angels”, St. Louis Stampede Indoor Football League, as well as Director & Choreographer for Ch 11’s TEAM 11 performance group.

Beginning as English, Math, and Science teacher for the Missouri state penitentiary to his present work as Artistic Director and Dance Department Head in the prominent St. Louis Public Schools Magnet School ‘Central Visual and Performing Arts High School’, his true love for the art and his many students have made him a leading force in everything he has accomplished inside and outside of the school. Ray has been recognized with the “Certificate of Honor” by the Saint Louis Public Schools, the Special Administrative Board for the National Achievement in the Arts Fellowship Award, “Teacher of the Year” for the St Louis Public Schools, only one of two for the state of Missouri to appear in a TV commercial for the Missouri Lottery, winner of the St Louis Public School Pettus Award, & selected for the St Louis Rams Foundation Award.

Raymond Parks is truly an inspiration and a blessing to everyone he teaches and has taught. He’s continuously been a main staple in the St. Louis dance community and the community within itself. 
Cecil Slaughter is a professor of the practice and the director of undergraduate studies in dance at Washington University.  He is a choreographer, dancer, and sometimes actor.  He received his dance training as a student at Jeraldyne's School of the Dance, and as an apprentice with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Dayton, OH. While attending Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, OH, he served as founder and director of the Wilberforce University Dance Ensemble.
He was the founding artistic director of his company The Slaughter Project for from 2004 – 2015. He is currently the founding artistic director of the WUDance Collective, the Performing Arts Department’s resident student dance company that performs throughout the St. Louis region.

His career as a professional dancer includes fourteen years with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company where he was a featured artist in many of the company's works by choreographers such as Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle, Ulysses Dove, Talley Beatty, Doug Varone, James Truitte, and a host of others. During his time with DCDC, Mr. Slaughter performed extensively throughout the United States and his international tours include South Korea, Russia, France, and Germany. The company has also been featured annually at such prestigious dance events such as Jacob's Pillow and the American Dance Festival. Cecil was a featured artist in many of the company's works. They include the "Junkie" in Eleo Pomare's Blues for the Jungle, Alvin Ailey’s Streams, Ulysses Dove's Urban Folk Dance, "lil Lou" in Donald McKayle's District Storyville, and a soloist in McKayle's Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.

Cecil has worked with several professional dance and theatre companies including the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in collaboration with the Grammy Award winning a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. The University of Iowa, University of Dayton, Dance Theater of Dayton, Opus II, Ballet West Virginia, and Gateway Dance Theater. He has also choreographed on several local companies that includes That Uppity Theater Company, Upstream Theatre, St. Louis Black Rep, Consuming Kinetics Dance Company, and MADCO.  He has choreographed several productions for Washington University’s Performing Arts Department including Spring Awakening, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Hamlet and Metamorphoses.  As an actor his theatre credits include Darker Face of the Earth, The Bow Wow Club, Caseload, The Merchant of Venice, Applause Applause, and Blues for Mr. Charlie.
Slaughter has had several works recognized for choreographic achievement. These include two works that were selected to be performed at the American College Dance Festival Association's national dance showcase, Spirituals 1998 and GRID 2007. Two nominations for Outstanding Choreographer, the 1998 ACDFA/Dance Magazine Award, and the 2014 St. Louis Theater Circle Award for his work with the St. Louis Black Rep on their 2013 production of The Wiz. In 2004 he was one of fourteen local choreographers commissioned by Dance St. Louis to create a work for Contemporary Moves, a dance concert commemorating the centennial celebration of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
He has served consecutive terms as a Kevin Kline Theater Awards Judge, as well as a grants panelist for the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Missouri Dance Organization.
Vanessa Woods is the owner and founder of Vitality Ballet and a former professional dancer with 25 years of performance experience. Originally from New Jersey, Vanessa moved to Missouri to dance with the St. Louis Ballet in 2010 performing soloist and principal roles. She has danced with ballet companies around the country including Colorado Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center. Vanessa was on faculty with the Saint Louis Ballet School, and has taught at numerous ballet schools locally and around the U.S. She trained at the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase, Princeton Ballet, Miami City Ballet School and STEPS on Broadway in New York City. In an effort to make the physical and cognitive benefits of dance accessible to older adults who could benefit the most from mobility and balance exercises coordinated to music, Vanessa founded Vitality Ballet in 2012 under the guidance of her mom (an Occupational Therapist and ballet fan). Today, Vitality Ballet has been taught at over 90 senior living communities around the region giving older adults the chance to experience dance, both seated or standing, as a unique way to stay fit and healthy. Vanessa is also an alumna of Washington University in St. Louis, a board member of the Missouri Dance Organization (MDO) and a certified group fitness instructor who loves attending arts events throughout St. Louis.
Mary-Jean Cowell is a performer, producer, choreographer, and teacher of dance. Mary-Jean Cowell performed with the Katherine Litz Company and in her own work, produced at Clark Center and Dance Theatre Workshop. Since then, she has choreographed more than 50 works which have been presented in New York, Hawaii, Tokyo, and more recently in St. Louis and other midwest venues. In Tokyo, Cowell taught and choreographed for the Kobo Abe Repertory Company.
One of her research interests is Michio Ito, a Japanese born dancer who contributed to the development of modern dance in the United States. Her articles on Ito have appeared in the Dance Research Journal and Dance Chronicle and online at the Dance Heritage and Michio Ito websites. Her most recent presentations on Ito's work and life were a November 2017 lecture that she was invited to give at Waseda U. (Tokyo)—“The Ongoing Significance of Michio Ito and His Work in the Contemporary Dance Landscape”—and a January 2018 Ito workshop that she presented (with Bonnie Oda Homsey). 
Cowell served twelve years as a board member of the national American College Dance Association, the last six as Regional Director for Central Region.  She is a past board member of the Society of Dance History Scholars and the Missouri Dance Education Organization (now Missouri Dance Organization).
Cowell’s awards include an exchange fellowship to the University of Strasbourg, a Council of Students of Arts and Sciences Award for Outstanding Teaching and Dedication to Students, a Japan Foundation grant, and a Missouri Creative Artist Project grant. Cowell came from Tokyo to Washington University in St. Louis in 1976 as an Artist-in-Residence, and later transferred to tenure track. She has secured two National College Choreography Initiative grants to bring dance artists David Dorfman and Alonzo King to teach master classes and set choreography on WU students. She was project director for these NCCI grants and Festival Coordinator for the 2005 Central Region American College Dance Festival hosted by the WU Dance Program.
Keith Tyrone Williams, a proud native of East St. Louis, Illinois, who has performed, directed and choreographed throughout the United States and extensively in Europe. As Artistic director, Keith directed, choreographed, and produced “The Ties That Bind”, a riveting theatrical  work performed by his company, Innervison Dance Theatre.   He has been awarded the prestigious Kevin Kline Award both for performance and choreography.

He most recently received the honor of Arts Educator of the Year (2018) from Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.  Keith is also a distinguished recipient of the NAACP Award for his contributions to the cultural arts and Arts -In –Education, Eminent Educator Award/PHi Delta Kappa, African American Heritage Award/Links inc.,  and a 2014 St. Louis Regional Arts Commission Fellow.  As an arts educator, Keith was recently featured in “I Am East St. Louis” Magazine honoring natives who defy the negative stereotypes associated with the city.   His Broadway, national, and international credits include Once On This Island, Legs Diamond, Five Guys Named Moe (LA Ovation and NAACP nomination,) The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber (British Royal Command Performance), Bubbling Brown Sugar, Starlight Express, On The Town,  and Katherine Dunham Gala at Carnegie Hall. Keith is very proud to be among the few people certified by Katherine Dunham to teach the world renowned Dunham Technique.  Keith holds a BS (Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville), Master of Arts in Directing, and completing his MFA/Directing with an emphasis in Arts Management (Lindenwood University).
Alexandra Zaharias is founder of the Alexandra School of Ballet, established in 1949, and is Artistic Director of Alexandra Ballet Company. She received her early training in St. Louis from Isabella Rainford, and continued her studies at the School of American Ballet in New York City under the legendary George Balanchine. She attended the National Academy of Ballet, under the direction of Thalia Mara, served as National Dance Chairman for the National Society of Arts and Letters in 2000 and was past president of the St. Louis chapter from 1992-1994; was Co-Director of the Midwestern Music and Art Camp, University of Kansas from 1965 to 1969, and taught ballet at Fontbonne College in Clayton, Missouri. She was Dance Consultant for the St. Louis Board of Education Commission, St. Louis, and served as dance panelist for the Missouri Arts Council, directed four seasons of The Nutcracker, and choreographed KinderKonzerts and Young People’s Concerts for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Miss Zaharias received the Hellenic American Achievement Award in 1991, and in 1999, was honored to accept the Arts & Education Council’s Excellence in the Arts Award. In 2009, was named St. Andrews Ageless Remarkable St. Louisan, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Regional Dance America MidStates in 2014. Founding the Alexandra Ballet Company in 1984, she continues productions that include classical ballet as well as contemporary works. Alumni have gone on to careers with major dance companies around the world.