SHREVEPORT, La. -- Jamarsa Peters was minding his own business working as a teller at Shreveport Federal Credit Union when he got a call from the choreographer who led the dance company at his alma mater, Grambling State University.
Legendary actor, producer and director Denzel Washington was in town shooting his movie, "The Great Debaters," a film based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College, a historically black college, who formed a debate team which beat Harvard in 1935 during the national championships. The film is scheduled to be released in 2008 and is being produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions.
Washington was in need of dancers to film a scene that would take place during Wiley's homecoming festivities. The choreographer for Grambling's Orchesis Dance Company called Peters and asked if he was interested. Peters, a former dancer with the troupe and a member of Grambling's cheerleading squad, immediately said yes.
After weeks of grueling rehearsals that began in April, Peters, along with roughly 30 other dancers spent three days on the set in late May filming their dance routines in full 1930s costume pieces that included three-piece suits. Washington was impressed with the choreography offering a few tweaks here and there, Peters said.
"He gave us the vision and really motivated us," Peters recalled. "He suggested little changes that were [tied to] how males and females interacted in the 1930s such as the males asking for permission to dance."
While on set, Peters got the chance to meet actress Kimberly Elise and hear Oscar-winning actor and director Forrest Whitaker. He said he has a newfound respect for the extras that appear in movies.
"Even though they may just have a scene where they walk across the street, they're literally there all day," said Peters, who along with the other dancers, were on set 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. straight at a church retreat 20 minutes from Shreveport.
Peters, a former intern through the African-American Credit Union Coalition's internship program and recipient of the Pete Crear scholarship, interned at Shreveport FCU in July 2006 and transitioned to a part-time role up until graduating from Grambling in December 2006 with a degree in computer information systems. He is currently working full-time at the credit union and is weighing his career options including working for a Fortune 500 company. His affinity for the credit union industry has grown stronger, he says.
"It's a real nice, family-based community," Peters said on working at Shreveport FCU. "We really get involved in helping the members. There's a lot of unity."
He describes his boss, Helen Godfrey-Smith, as a woman of wisdom.
"She's like another mother. She shares a lot of wisdom."
Meanwhile, Peters isn't planning to pack his bags and head off to New York or California to pursue acting or dancing as a career.
"I just have a love for dance," Peters said, adding, "this was a great opportunity to use that love and passion" on his role in the movie.