Dallas Native, Booker T. Graduate Makes Sundance Film Festival Debut

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From Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas to Juilliard, and now a feature film, one Dallas native has a message for young people with big dreams.

In the same way she moves on stage, Amber Pickens moves through life with purpose; always expecting preparation to collide with opportunity. Pickens, at 28-years-old, will make her choreography directing debut at the Sundance Film Festival for the film “Passing” starring Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson. The film is based in 1920s Harlem.

Pickens was tapped for the job due largely to her training and knowledge in the style of dance known as Lindy Hop.

“I don’t even have the words for how excited I am about it,” said Pickens. “It talks about the experience of two fair-skinned women who could pass as white, and one actually decides to pass as white. And it talks about how both of them have this sense of yearning and identity.”

Harlem is home for now, but Pickens’ roots are in North Texas. Before training at The Juilliard School in New York, Pickens honed her talents at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas.

“Booker T. was just so beautiful and such a special time because we were surrounded by so many different artists, and it’s a safe space to be able to explore, to figure out who you are, what you want to do,” she said.

She said her upbringing and education not only prepared her as a performer but also for the responsibility of being a leader.

“I think it’s so powerful to see more women on the production side of entertainment,” said Pickens. “If it’s choreographing, if it’s dancing, if it’s acting, it’s all for a greater cause. It’s building the community, for creating positive images in media and entertainment.”

Not only is it Pickens’ film debut, but her publishing debut as well. She created the coloring book 'Blooming in Motion' – highlighting African-American legends in the performing arts. The illustrations honor 20 dance legends by paying tribute to the sacrifice and discipline displayed throughout their journeys.

“It’s like they were speaking to me when I was sketching out all of it. It was such a great journey,” she said.

Pickens credits her success to faith, family and many greats who came before her. She’s got a message for those who will come in the years following her.

“We want to hold our heads up and high when we’re walking through this world,” she said. “Really go for what you want. Don’t even ask for it, go for it.”

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