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Black-owned Performing Arts Center Helps Pave the Way for African American Ballerinas

Hamilton Academy of the Arts provides a safe space for dancers and musicians to express themselves.
Posted at 10:22 PM, Feb 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-06 23:22:59-05

This year, Grace Hamilton-Mayfield celebrates 42 years of business, as the Owner and Director of Hamilton Academy of the Arts.

Hamilton-Mayfield said she had a vision for African American ballerinas, when she opened the business as a college student back in 1981.

"The vision was to create a space for little, African American girls to take ballet, specifically," Hamilton-Mayfield said. "I wanted to expose them to the fine arts, I wanted to do classic ballet along with some of the other art forms, but that was the thing that I loved the most and that was the thing I wanted to teach the most."

In the 80's, Hamilton-Mayfield said there weren't many spaces for minorities to gain exposure to classical ballet and she wanted to change that.

"Initially, I was told that our bodies as African American females were not believed to be built for ballet," Hamilton-Mayfield said. "I wanted to say, okay. Maybe not, but we still can train, we still can learn, we still can do everything...I was determined to make that a staple for us."

By studying the craft and following in the steps of other pioneers like Alvin Ailey and Katherine Dunham, Hamilton-Mayfield said she wanted to give back to the community.

"I started it with 30 kids and here we are 42 years later, and about four-thousand students have come through here, many have gone on to dance professionally and have done other things as well," Hamilton-Mayfield said.

The Hamilton Academy of the Arts (HAA) provides a graded curriculum, exposure to competitions and dance instruction in classical ballet, point, tap, jazz, ballet and hip hop.

Classes are also available for toddlers, teens and young adults.

15-year-old Destiny Kelley said she has been attending HAA for 12 years and enjoys the inclusive environment.

"I like that they don't judge you and there's multiple opportunities like the competition team, we go out and travel, we went to Disney one year," Kelley said.

Kelley also helps teach beginner ballerinas like five-year-old, Karmyn Handy who said she loves to dance.

"It makes me glad," Handy said. "It's fun."

Now, HAA students are preparing for their "Roots the Journey," performances on Feb. 25 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts.