By Alejandra Carrillo
Longtime Broadway performer and professional actress Wanda-Lee Evans brings hertalents to East Los Angeles College in the performance “African Cultural Influences in Latin America” on Monday.
Evans began dancing at a young age. She was born in Florida, but moved to Boyle Heights, California during her elementary school years.
She says she grew up in the ghetto with five siblings and parents who encouraged their children to do what they gravitated toward. Evans said when she lived in Florida, she only knew people as black or white, so moving to California broadened her knowledge among ethnic groups.
“I started off in a state that at that time was racially segregated. My eight year old mind saw ‘I’m going to school with white kids’,” said Evans. The transition from Florida to California opened many opportunities for her, such as being able to attend college.
Evans said if she had not moved to California, she would have not been as successful as she is now due to living circumstances over there.
Evans graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in dance.
“I had no idea you can become a professional dancer. I went there (UCLA) because I got accepted and because I knew I wanted to go to college,” Evans said.
Evans joined the Gloria Newnan Dance Company where she was a dancer. “Music came from the inside of me. My mother put me in dance school because if I heard music, I would dance,” Evans said.
“Some people have the desire to dance. Some people have the need to dance. I have the need,” she continued. Eartha Kitt, Evans’ dance instructor at the age of 12,became her mentor, inspiration and motivation.
Kitt was a singer and actress whose latest television work included voicing characters for “The Wonder Pets,” “The Emperor’s New School” and “American Dad.”
“I first started auditioning for shows when I was at the dance company,” Evans said. Evans’ first big break was when she auditioned for a dance position for Obie Award-winning Broadway called “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf”. She auditioned to be a dancer but was given a role as an actress and started auditioning with Bill Duke. “He helped me learn that I have to study hard to become a good actor,” Evans said.
Although Evans prefers theatre or live acting rather than film, she has done a significant amount of work in the film industry. She appeared in films such as “City of Angels,” “Brother” and “Bless the Child” along with television series like “Cold Case,” “Heartland” and “My Worst Enemy.” “My favorite acting is theatre. I love live theatre and I like the feel of the audience,” Evans said.“I think my biggest accomplishment in life is taking my passion and working with it,” she continued.
She began teaching her first class in 1974 and has been teaching at ELAC since.
She now teaches Jazz and Modern dance and a separate dance production class.