Broom Sweeps Across Stages
One might call Maria Broom a Jill-of-all-trades, at least when it comes to the performing arts. The native Baltimorean — who saw her first ballet at the age of 6 and thought to herself, ”This is it” — has made a life, and a living, as a dancer, actress and storyteller.
She is a familiar face from HBO’s renowned Baltimore-based crime series “The Wire,” along with other TV shows. She has also been a television news reporter, a Fulbright scholar, a dance therapist and motivational speaker. And Broom has served as a guest dance instructor at a number of colleges and schools.
Now 62, she continues in many of those pursuits, but sees herself in a new role as well, that of “wisdom-keeper.”
Broom acknowledged that she still gets requests to “come and do what I do,” but also sees that her younger professional colleagues and students want to benefit from what she can pass along on a more fundamental level.
“At this stage of life, people turn to us for a number of reasons…to learn how to be courteous, how to be of service, in short, how to be a good human being….That lies with us now, and it’s our responsibility to teach others,” said the Windsor Mill resident.
Broom, who attended Western High School and Morgan State University, credits her mother with both her artistic talents and her undiminished joie de vivre as she ages. Broom’s mother was a fan of music and ballet, a painter and craftswoman herself, and wrote her first book at the age of 79 and her second at 90.
“Our culture promotes the notion that as we age, we go downhill,” said Broom. “But I’ve seen for myself that as we age, we get better and better.”
Beguiled by ballet
Back to the beginning, though. When Broom saw the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a child, she experienced a visceral response. “Those are my people,” she recalled having thought.
She studied at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory and at UCLA, received a Fulbright Scholarship to the Berlin Dance Academy in Germany, and also studied in Hawaii.
In her 20s, however, Broom got sidetracked — which, instead of derailing her performing career, ultimately enhanced it.
Broom had expected to teach dance at Morgan State after graduating, but when that didn’t work out, she was offered a job as a television reporter for WJZ-TV in Baltimore and later, the ABC affiliate in Miami.
“That was a very big deal,” said Broom, relating how her face could be seen in billboards across Baltimore. After several years in the news, Broom started receiving the “big offers” to move on to the national news broadcasts.
“I had a decision to make, dance or TV,” she said simply. “I chose dancing.”
Dancing to a world beat
With the recognition she had earned as a news reporter, Broom was soon running a successful dance studio in Mondawmin Mall, while she pursued her own performing ambitions.
Her initial goal had been to become an Alvin Ailey dancer. Alvin Ailey was the famed African American dancer and choreographer who had his own New York-based troupe. But once Broom began studying dance again herself in Los Angeles, her goal shifted.
“I realized there that all the movements I instinctively made with my hands, for ex ample, that were not part of classical dance vocabulary, were part of other dance vocabularies such as those from Bali, India, Japan and Java. I wasn’t a modern dancer per se, but rather a world dancer,” said Broom.
And even all these years later, Broom says the movement, costumes and beauty of dance traditions from around the globe continue to intrigue her.
While pursuing her dance career, Broom realized she also had an affinity for the stage and began performing at such Baltimore theaters as Arena Playhouse, Centerstage, Theatre Hopkins, Cockpit-in-Court and others.
One role led to another, and the stage eventually led to film and television roles. These included the movie Clara’s Heart, in which she appeared with Whoopi Goldberg, and several TV series in addition to “The Wire,” including NBC’s hits “West Wing” and “Homicide” and HBO’s “The Corner.”
Broom has spent a good part of her life traveling the globe, pursuing her fascination with other cultures. In addition to performing across the United States, she has appeared in Germany, Uganda and Ghana.
She has been an artist in residence at Fisk University in Nashville and has served as a guest dance instructor at Vanderbilt University, University of Hawaii, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland College Institute of Art and Goucher College. Broom is currently on the faculty of the Baltimore School for the Arts, teaching dance and storytelling.
She finds that the arts scene in Baltimore is blossoming, with young people moving to town, picking up the reins of the city’s artistic organizations and creating new ones of their own.
“People think of Baltimore as a little country town, but there’s a lot going on,” Broom said. “Things are happening. Baltimore is homey enough, but also cultured and sophisticated enough.”
Broom, who is single and has no children (“but I’m everybody’s auntie!”), doesn’t travel as much as she once did. But her professional life is still thriving.
This summer she is teaching at Centerstage’s summer camp. In addition to stints as a guest instructor at numerous dance studios, Broom also offers private voice work and coaching, dance and movement sessions for those recovering from grief or regaining physical strength, and meditation and stillness classes. “It’s quite a full life,” Broom said with a laugh.
As Broom discovered for herself at such a young age, “arts reach the soul,” and she hopes to inspire others as well.
“There is so much you can learn by participating in the arts,” she said. “From the first time I saw those ballet dancers glide and float on stage, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’ve spent my life getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do.”