See all Grant & Fellowship Recipients

Ballethnic Dance Company Inc

Southern Cultural Treasures

Ballethnic Dance Company Inc

Recipient Information


East Point, Georgia

Year of Award


Grant or Fellowship

Southern Cultural Treasures

Grant Amount



Ballethnic Dance Company is a classically trained, culturally diverse ballet company that receives critical acclaim for its choreographic canon. Founded in 1990 by Nena Gilreath and Waverly T. Lucas II, both former dancers with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Atlanta Ballet, the mission of Ballethnic Dance is to be a global catalyst for social change. Ballethnic has distinguished itself by the unique and authentic praxis of blending ballet with African dance concepts and placing the movements sur la pointe. Comprised of Ballethnic Dance Company (BDC) and the Academy of Dance (BAD), Ballethnic Dance is one of the most prolific creators of critically acclaimed ballets in the southeast region. As Atlanta’s first and only African American founded, professional ballet company Ballethnic’s ultimate goal is to see a fundamental change in the number of culturally diverse dancers in major ballet companies worldwide.

Ballethnic Dance Company is perhaps best known for two signature ballets: The Leopard Tale, an original, full-length story ballet that depicts the leopard's survival on the West African savannah featuring live African drumming and Urban Nutcracker, our iconic ballet which is an adaptation of the Tchaikovsky ballet. Urban Nutcracker, set in the Atlanta Sweet Auburn Ave neighborhood in the 1940s, has been referred to as an Atlanta holiday tradition for nearly three decades. Our repertoire includes Jazzy Sleeping Beauty, Epiphany...A Moment of Gospel, Ballet and Jazz, Soul Food, Soul Survivors, Visage D' Afrique, Shades of Ebony and Lucas’ newest ballet Opposites Attract and Distract all of which bear testament to our vision. Ballethnic Dance is particularly proud of Flyin' West...The Ballet based on the Pearl Cleage play, a piece that required years of historical research to insure authenticity. Ballethnic Dance was invited to tour this ballet in Nicodemus, Kansas under sponsorship from the Western Alliance National Park Association.

Ballethnic produces major ballets, weekly classes, summer dance camp and the Cultural Cul de Sac Series, a free outdoor arts festival presented at the Ballethnic campus in East Point. Ballethnic students have received scholarships from Alvin Ailey, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Orlando Ballet. Ballethnic Dance Company is a proud member of the International Association of Blacks in Dance.


Leadership - Nena Gilreath and Waverly T. Lucas, II

Nena Gilreath and Waverly T. Lucas, IINena Gilreath is a ballerina, an entrepreneur, and an artistic director; she has spent her career immersed in dance. After graduating with a BFA from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Gilreath danced with the Ruth Mitchell Dance Theatre, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Atlanta Ballet. She toured internationally with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Seeing the need for greater racial diversity in ballet, Gilreath and her husband, choreographer Waverly T. Lucas II, co-founded Ballethnic Dance Company and Academy of Dance in 1990 to provide superior instruction and performance opportunities to underrepresented communities. Gilreath and Lucas have become award-winning artists and entrepreneurs for their work with Ballethnic. They travelled to Senegal to study dance and drum, which they include in the Ballethnic training. Ballethnic has grown into a company and school that produces unique dance experiences for audiences and students by fusing classical ballet, African dance, and other artistic influences. Gilreath created the Beyond the Barre program for leadership and empowerment for young women. Gilreath is also the facilities director at East Athens Educational Dance Center and is an adjunct ballet instructor at UGA.

Waverly T. Lucas, II attended Marygrove College in Detroit, Michigan, where he conceived the concept and name for Ballethnic Dance which he cofounded with his wife Nena Gilreath in 1990. After careers with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Atlanta Ballet, he joined The Heartstrings National Tour. He has created over 50 ballets, including Urban Nutcracker, The Leopard Tale, A Jazzy Sleeping Beauty, Flyin’ West …the Ballet (based on the Pearl Cleage play), and Aida for the Atlanta Opera. Lucas’ choreography projects include the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Concert Series, National Black Arts Festival, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Outreach Program, Dance Africa (at Brooklyn Academy of Music and Chicago Theater), the Danseur Development Project, (a training program for young males). Lucas is the creator of Ballethnicize, an evolving dance/fitness discipline that combines African dance styles with classical ballet. Internationally, Lucas has performed and/or taught in USSR, West Africa, South America and the West Indies. Lucas has performed, taught, and choreographed works for UGA as Artist in Residence. His awards include Princess Grace Scholarship, McPheeter’s Medallion Award, National Choreographers Award, TBS Trumpet Award as Dancer/Choreographer, the Lexus Leaders of the Arts by Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Charles Loridans Award. Lucas earned his M.A. in Ethnochoreology at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

Southern Cultural Treasures is a program of South Arts and made possible with support from the Ford Foundation, the Alice L. Walton Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and The Zeist Foundation.