Three Atlanta dance leaders to be honored June 13 at 2023 Dance/USA Conference

Nena Gilreath and her husband Waverly Lucas, co-founders of Ballethnic Dance Company, at The Legacy Theater At Phase Family Center in Alpharetta in December 2020. (Hyosub Shin /



Nena Gilreath and her husband Waverly Lucas, co-founders of Ballethnic Dance Company, at The Legacy Theater At Phase Family Center in Alpharetta in December 2020. (Hyosub Shin /

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

Three Atlanta dance leaders — Douglas Scott, artistic/executive director of Full Radius Dance, and Nena Gilreath and Waverly T. Lucas II, co-founders and co-directors of Ballethnic Dance Company — will be honored on June 13 at the 2023 Dance/USA Conference in Atlanta.

Scott has received several awards including a Governor’s Award for the Arts & Humanities in 2014.

Credit: Bubba Carr

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Credit: Bubba Carr

Dance/USA is a national service organization that champions an inclusive and equitable dance field and was established in 1982. This year marks the first time the annual conference has come to Atlanta. It will take place June 13-16 at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

Scott, Gilreath and Lucas will each receive the Dance/USA Champion Award. Gilreath and Lucas will accept theirs on behalf of Ballethnic, the company they founded in 1990.

Two other leaders will also be recognized: Virginia Johnson, outgoing director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Judy Tyrus, a former principal with Dance Theatre of Harlem, now CEO of ChromaDiverse, a nonprofit dedicated to creating diversity in the performing arts.

Scott is best known for his work with movement artists who have physical disabilities.

In 1990, he founded a modern dance company Dance Force, for able-bodied dancers.

Three years later, through a partnership with VSA Arts of Georgia, Shepherd Center and Special Audiences, he began teaching dance to persons with physical disabilities. It changed the course of his career.

He renamed the company Full Radius Dance, and developed a modern dance technique that is inclusive for people of all physical abilities. The company performs annually in Atlanta and tours nationally and internationally.

“My dance journey has been full of ups and downs,” Scott wrote in an email, “but I’ve stayed the course. I’m grateful for the recognition I’m receiving for my passion for dance in Atlanta and for my commitment to redefining the boundaries of dance.”

Scott also founded the Modern Atlanta Dance (MAD) Festival, which each year presents a weekend of performances showcasing some of Atlanta’s finest contemporary dance ensembles. This year’s festival will take place June 15 and 16 at Emory’s Performing Arts Studio. The June 15 performance will be for Dance/USA conference attendees only.

Ballethnic was only the second classical ballet company in the United States, after Dance Theatre of Harlem, created by and for Black dancers.

In a 2015 story about the company, ArtsATL’s Cynthia Bond Perry wrote: “The couple’s vision was unique: a multicultural ballet company that embraced African, modern and jazz dance forms to create their own voice and style, grounded in the classical ballet tradition, but with the pump and swag of its culturally diverse Southern home.”

Ballethnic is best known for its signature ballets “The Leopard Tale” and “Urban Nutcracker.” In August 2021, Lucas created the dance film “Jazzing: Memoirs in Jazz,” a collaboration between Ballethnic, The Breman Museum and the late photojournalist Herb Snitzer. On August 25-27, the ballet will be performed live for the first time at the Alliance Theatre.

Ballethnic’s mission has always been to provide opportunities for Black and brown dancers to have elite training and dance with a professional company, Gilreath says.

“We’re very thankful,” she says of the award. “Any recognition by your peers is important, because they understand what a labor of love this is.”

In 2006, Nena Gilreath and Waverly Lucas were recognized as Lexus Leaders of the Arts by Georgia Public Broadcasting. Now they're being honored by Dance/USA.(Photo by Aric Thompson)

Credit: Dream Photography Group LLC

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Credit: Dream Photography Group LLC

Gilreath and Lucas chose to focus on making Ballethnic a stable presence within the community, working “under the radar,” but several recent opportunities have put them on the national and international map.

According to Lucas: “Receiving the award based on our longevity and perseverance validates our belief in the power of hard work.” The recognition of their values — integrity, excellence and community — he says, fortifies their commitment to the company.


Dance/USA Conference

June 13-16. $200-$650. Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 265 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta.

The Modern Atlanta Dance (MAD) Festival

8 p.m. June 15-16. June 15 for conference attendees only. $20 for June 16 performance. Emory Performing Arts Studio, 1804 N Decatur Road, Atlanta.


Gillian Anne Renault has been an ArtsATL contributor since 2012 and Senior Editor for Art+Design and Dance since 2021. She has covered dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and Ballet News, and on radio stations such as KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, California. Many years ago, she was awarded an NEA Fellowship to attend American Dance Festival’s Dance Criticism program.

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Credit: ArtsATL

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Credit: ArtsATL


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