Balletthnic Dance Company Recognized as a Cultural Treasure of the South
South Atlanta’s young black dancers are ready to perform, and the Ballethnic Dance Company gives them the stage.
Founded 32 years ago, Balethnic was the first professional ballet company founded by and for black dancers from the South. He has now been selected to receive $300,000 in grants under the Southern Cultural Treasures Initiative.
The program selected 17 organizations from 240 applicants across the Southeast. South Arts partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to launch the program with the goal of supporting diversity in the arts by donating money to “Black, Indigenous, and Arts and Culture Organizations of Color (BIPOC).”
Ballethnic was co-founded by two professional dancers, Nena Gilreath and Waverly T. Lucas. They noticed dancers leaving the South for New York, Los Angeles or Chicago to become professionals. Gilreath said the Atlanta area needed a company dedicated to professional classical ballet where professionals could have a place to dance.
Ballethnic filled this gap and provided opportunities for black dancers. Lucas said they were working to distinguish themselves even among other black-led dance companies.
“We don’t necessarily equate the white classical ballet standard,” Lucas said. “What we’re doing: We’ve decided to really chart our own path, tell our own stories and really commit to them.”
Their productions include many African influences, such as The Urban Nutcrackera version of the traditional Nutcracker story set in 1940s Atlanta telling the story of Auburn Avenue.
Gilreath said starting her own dance company was always about providing options for people who had been overlooked.
“In the majority of ballet companies, often if you’re black or some other color, you’re relegated to the ethnic parts of a ballet,” she said. the other dancers, but in our ballets, you have the possibility of being in front.
As the summer lineup draws to a close and they look forward to the fall with new funding, they are focused on the sustainability of Ballethnic for decades to come.
“This grant will allow us to get out further into the community and go further nationally to continue the work we are doing on a larger scale, and it will help us secure our legacy to be able to pass on the organization. to the next generation,” Gilreath said.
Other Georgia grant recipients include Atlanta’s True Colors Theater Company, Savannah-based Deep Center Inc., and Macon’s Otis Redding Foundation.