Texas dance teacher accused of molesting male students

Photo credit: Dallas County Jail
Photo credit: Dallas County Jail

A Southern Dallas, Texas dance teacher has been arrested after accusations that he used his fatherly influence over his students to sexually assault them.

Vann Gilbert, 53, was arrested after a 90-minute standoff with police Tuesday afternoon. The SWAT team was called after he refused to leave his home, but he eventually surrendered. Gilbert was taken to Dallas County Jail and booked on two counts of indecency with a child.

The charges stem from authorities speaking with three men who claim that the teacher touched them inappropriately while they were involved with his dance studio around 20 years ago. One of the accusers was 14 at the time, while the other two were considered adults, WFAA reported.

The investigation began last August when Gilbert’s relative, who said she lived with him in the 1990s, emailed the Dallas Police Department about the allegations. Gilbert claims on his website to have opened the Mahogany Dance Theatre of Texas studio in 1978 and once had singer Erykah Badu as a student. While he had both male and female students, the relative allegedly he only allowed the males to live with him at his house.

“The witness stated the suspect wanted a strong male presence in the community and wanted to build a 100-man army with his dance studio,” court documents said.

Photo credit: WFAA screenshot
Photo credit: WFAA screenshot

The relative said she once saw Gilbert with one of the boys wearing only his boxers. She stated he used “religion and his own fatherly influence to manipulate and control the boys.”

When the relative contacted the former students, she said they told her Gilbert used to rub their naked bodies with oil and have oral sex with them. She told police she came forward with the claims because she believed some of the boys were underage.

Authorities have so far been in contact with three of the former students. One of them said he was 14 when he met Gilbert in 1997 and began dancing in his program at the Martin Luther King Library.

“The complainant stated the suspect would pick a boy to spend extra time with, and that boy would become his favorite,” court records read. “The complainant stated whoever the boy was would sleep with the suspect in his room and would get ‘special massages’ with anointing oil.”

The accuser said he was chosen to be Gilbert’s favorite at one point, and the teacher had stripped him naked and rubbed the oil on his body — including his genitals — on at least 15 to 20 different occasions. The accuser said Gilbert used his “influence as a father figure and mentor” to take advantage of the boys. He told authorities he has suffered with drug abuse since the sexual abuse occurred.

Another suspected victim said he met Gilbert at 17 years old and was recruited into the dance program from church. He moved in with the teacher and the rest of the boys when he was in his 20s. He told authorities he had six sexual encounters with Gilbert.

The third man met the instructor at 21 years old. His story was similar to the other men. He said he recalled being sexually assaulted via oil massages.

Gilbert had appeared on the local news in the past discussing his Amazing Grace program, which helped the youth embody the civil rights struggle through dance.

“It’s a great form of expression,” he said in an interview with “Good Morning Texas” about seven years ago. “It allows them, most of the time, to discover a part of themselves that they didn’t know was there … It’s in us innately. That’s a God-given thing to express.”

Gilbert’s bail is set at $200,000. He is facing at least 40 years in prison, if convicted.

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