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Ballethnic Dance Company Continues To Serve Overlooked Communities Through Dance

Karla D. Tyson is one of the company ballerinas who has appeared in several productions of "Urban Nutcracker."
Karla D. Tyson is one of the company ballerinas who has appeared in several productions of "Urban Nutcracker."
Credit Ballethnic Dance Company

It has been 30 years since Ballethnic Dance Company first performed their now-iconic “Urban Nutcracker” in the King Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College. The ballet is an Atlanta holiday tradition, and it’s streaming through Jan. 19. Nena Gilreath and Waverly Lucas founded Ballethnic with their inclusive vision of ballet. They joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with professional dancer Karla D. Tyson.

Lucas and Gilreath opened Ballethnic on January 15, 1990, to provide a space for affordable, professional dance training for overlooked communities.

“What was always that I came from a small hometown where I did not see little girls that look like me that did ballet,” Gilreath said. “So early on, I wanted to dance ballet, and as I got older, I began to feel that it was my God-given call to be that example for others.”

Lucas is the creator of “Ballethnicize,” a dance/fitness discipline that combines African dance styles with classical ballet. “The love of those two polar opposites really attracted me to want to really redefine what ballet could be or what ballet was in my own spirit,” said Lucas.

Since founding the ballet company in East Point, they have sought every opportunity to serve their community and enhance cultural diversity.

“Early on, we knew in order to include and grow our family and to build the type of families we came from, we knew we had to celebrate everybody in the community. We definitely had to celebrate the people who did not have the wherewithal or the money, so anybody that wanted to dance we accepted them into our space,” said Gilreath.

She continued, “We don’t believe in just giving things; we wanted people to understand the nobility of hard work and what that means. So if someone could contribute a quarter, a dollar or the trade-off of work, we wanted everyone to have skin in the game, and we still do that now.”

Their goal for 2021 is to continue to create fun, innovative work for all who are interested in dance. “It is up to us to expose our community and our young people to things that are not there generally, and this is what our art allows us to do,” said Lucas.

Their next project is a collaboration with the Breman Museum in regards to the “A Jazz Memoir: Photography by Herb Snitzer” exhibit. They are creating a dance that will coincide with the art that is on display.

Ballethnic Dance Company’s “Community Programs” can be found here. A schedule for their upcoming dance classes can be found here.