As director of the Charlotte Ballet Academy, Ayisha McMillian Cravotta spends much of her professional time opening doors for others.
At a recent symposium in Miami, she joined with other dance educators in discussing ways to dismantle systems that become barriers to dancers of color.
Cravotta, who grew up in Illinois, has overcome her own barriers.
Since leaving home at age 15 to study on full scholarship at the Houston Ballet Academy, she has toured and performed in London, Hong Kong, Toronto and at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
After retiring as a professional dancer in 2007, Cravotta joined Charlotte Ballet’s marketing department and became principal of the ballet’s academy in 2011.
On Saturday, she will participate in a ballet masterclass with her long-time friend and former instructor, Lauren Anderson.
Ahead of the event, Cravotta talked with QCity Metro about her ballet experience and the importance of representation in the field.
Her answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the ballet field?
The awareness and self-education that’s happening amongst ballet companies. I think it will be a very essential and powerful tool in recognizing bias. I believe there’s greater conversation and greater recognition that it’s not exactly by accident that there are dancers of color all over ballet.
What are you doing now as academy director that you wish someone had done for you?
Facilitating conversations for dance educators and students. Recently, Charlotte Ballet sent me to be part of the Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet symposium in Miami, where I connected with other educators from around the country. We talked about supporting one another and dismantling systems that are barriers to Black dancers and dancers of color.
I feel a great deal of responsibility within the industry to be part of the work and to be there. Sometimes, I feel very fortunate because I can use my voice in rarefied spaces. The more time I’ve had in the industry, the more I get to have a conversation about my perspective. It’s important to ensure that the pathway is cleared and open for others.
Is discrimination still as prevalent in the ballet field?
It’s hard to know how frequently or infrequently it happens. Do I imagine that it still happens? I do. Do I hope there are more resources for any person who faces that? I certainly hope so.
What did you learn about dance as a teacher that you did not know as a student?
I appreciate the things that those who went before me did for me a little bit more. I think I understand in a clearer sense what some of my school directors and teachers were grappling with. You have to consider many things for all of the children. You must consider finances and funding and how to support each student in their training.
What drew you to Charlotte Ballet?
One was the reputation for innovative and exciting repertoire. The dancers in the company got to perform classical works and contemporary works.
In my first season, there was this amazing range of work that I got to do. It was also a good place to work with good people. When you come from an environment with supportive people, it helps you to move forward, and I found that right away here.
If You Go
When: Saturday, September 17
Time: 1 p.m. – 2:30 PM
Where: Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance