As Black History Month comes to a close, we celebrate and pay tribute to some of the many inspirational figures who have made a lasting impact on members of our Charlotte Ballet community.


Charlotte Ballet Academy Director and former company dancer

When asked about who has inspired her throughout her career, Ayisha McMillan Cravotta cited ballerina Janet Collins, the first black artist to perform on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1951. Ayisha recalled “I first learned about Ms. Collins when I was about 11 years old, and my mother brought me and my sister to an exhibit based on the book, I Dream a World. I was a very serious ballet student by that age, and I was mesmerized by Ms. Collins’ photo and her stories about persevering despite the racism she repeatedly faced in ballet. In one instance, she auditioned for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at about age 15, and she recounted what the audition director Leonide Massine told her. He said she was a very talented dancer, but that in order for him to accept her to the company, she would have to be painted white to perform. Massine said to her, “You wouldn’t like that, would you?” Collins replied “No, I would not,” and she did not accept the position.”

Photo 1 of Cravotta by Ira Lerner | Photo 2 of Collins courtesy of Wikipedia


5th season company dancer, Delta Sigma Theta Outstanding Achievement in the Arts Award recipient

 When I was 16 years old, I took my mother to see Alvin Ailey for Mother’s Day, and by the end of the performance I found myself on my feet in tears. The beauty of seeing so many dancers in person that looked like me really made feel like I could achieve my dream of becoming a dancer. That is when I discovered DTH and Arthur Mitchell. Other dancers that I continue to admire and draw inspiration from are Kiyon Gaines, Eric Underwood, Albert Evans, Lauren Anderson, Brooklyn Mack, Calvin Royal III, Myrna Kamara, and Kabby Mitchell (Just to name a few). 

When I get to look across the stage and see my fellow Black dancers in Charlotte Ballet it gives me a sense of joy and empowerment. Being able to see how far we have come as an industry but also see our gorgeous skin radiating underneath the stage lights, can only be described as magical.” —Alston 

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


5th season company dancer, Delta Sigma Theta Outstanding Achievement in the Arts Award recipient

“I think it’s awe-inspiring to be able to use the human body to create art and convey a message.” She especially likes the idea of inspiring young girls of color: “I love receiving little letters and messages during Nutcracker from some of the young dancers at the academy. It warms my heart and shows me that in some sort of way I’m fulfilling my destiny.” —A quote from Barkley in a Huffpost article 

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


4th season company dancer

 “(He) is a very expressive dancer who has the ability to be both powerful and sensitive at the same time” —Hope Muir, Artistic Director 

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


2nd season Charlotte Ballet II dancer

Diversifying the ballet community has been a slow process, Jaenson said. But she feels eager to represent her race and country. Now, when people ask if there are any black ballerinas, she’ll tell them they’re looking at one.” —Kristi Sturgill via Charlotte Observer 

Photo by Vikki Sloviter.


2nd season Charlotte Ballet II dancer

“He’s versatile and mature at a very young age. His work ethic and the way he communicates for a man as young as he is, is extraordinary.” —Hope Muir, Artistic Director 

Photo by James Wiley.


2nd season Charlotte Ballet II dancer

“As the dance world steadily progresses, I have found deep inspiration in the new, young, black choreographers that have taken the world by storm.  My biggest inspiration is Choreographer Rena Butler from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.  Seeing a choreographer that uses her work to push boundaries and give an honest portrait of society, while also looking like me, gives me such hope for the future of my people in the world of dance.” —Trezevant 

Photo by Rick Belden.


“She was a proud African American woman, Teacher, Historian, Anthropologist, Organizer/Activist in the Civil Rights era and Field Secretary of NAACP.  She taught me an immense amount of Black and African history which made me proud of my heritage.” Lynn Hawkins, Charlotte Ballet employee