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Ayisha McMillan Cravotta

Ballerina Ayisha Nell McMillan Cravotta was born on February 21, 1978 in Golden Valley, Minnesota. In 1981, McMillan moved with her family to Oak Park, Illinois. McMillan began dance at the age of two at the Academy of Movement and Music and soon dreamed of becoming a ballerina. At the age of eleven, McMillan joined MOMENTA, the resident dance company of the Academy of Movement and Music. From 1989 to 1993, she danced with the Bryant Ballet, based in Chicago, where Homer Hans Bryant, former principal dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem, became her mentor. With the Bryant Ballet, McMillan flourished in the multicultural environment where classical ballet and African dance forms were explored side by side.

At a young age, McMillan made extraordinary sacrifices for her craft. During the summer months, beginning in 1989, she attended the Boston Ballet School in Massachusetts where she was mentored by ballet great, Elaine Bauer. In addition, McMillan was selected for private instruction by Asaf and Mikhail Messerer of the Bolshoi Ballet. Later, Asaf Messerer lived in McMillan’s Oak Park home while he taught McMillan. She also received pre-professional intensive training in classical ballet and early American modern dance. She traveled between Oak Park, Boston and Houston, Texas and trained with the Houston Ballet during summer break.

In 1990, at age twelve, McMillan danced in the Soviet-American ballet production of Coppelia. She also attended the Soviet-American Ballet School. At thirteen, she attended the Von Heideke Ballet School. In 1992, when McMillan was fourteen years old, she won a full scholarship to the Houston Ballet Academy. After high school, McMillan attended Rice University, where she graduated as an anthropology and art history major while dancing professionally with the Houston Ballet.

In 2002, McMillan left Texas and joined the North Carolina Dance Theater where she danced in A Midsummer Night’s Dream among other productions. In 2004, she became the first African American dancer to play the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. McMillan retired from the stage in 2007 at the age of 29.
McMillan was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 19, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.178

Sex

Female

Interview Date

6/19/2007

Last Name

McMillan Cravotta

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Academy of Movement and Music

Grace Lutheran School

Fenwick High School

Lamar High School

Rice University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Ayisha

Birth City, State, Country

Golden Valley

HM ID

MCM03

Favorite Season

Fall

Sponsor

Patricia Keenan and Robert McMillan

State

Minnesota

Favorite Vacation Destination

Chicago, Illinois

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Interview Description
Birth Date

2/21/1978

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charlotte

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chocolate Brownies

Short Description

Dancer Ayisha McMillan Cravotta (1978 - ) is a ballerina who became the first African American dancer to play the role of Clara in The Nutcracker.

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ayisha McMillan Cravotta's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her maternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her mother's godmother, blues singer Edith Wilson

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her paternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta continues to describe her family history

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls how her parents met and their education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her parents move from Chicago, Illinois to Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her early childhood years in Golden Valley, Minnesota

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her family's history in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and The Links

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta remembers her family's move from Minnesota to Oak Park, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her elementary school years at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls her tantrums before ballet classes as a girl

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her experience in MOMENTA

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta remembers Tanya Wideman and Sarita Smith Childs, black role models in her ballet classes

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her ballet training and private lessons with Homer Hans Bryant

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta chronicles her ballet training as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls one of her favorite performances as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her training in various dance forms

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her experience at the Boston Ballet School where she studied under Elaine Bauer

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls her experiences with international ballet students

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes receiving ballet instruction from Asaf Messerer

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her training from Mikhail Messerer and dancing in the Soviet American Ballet School's production of "Coppelia"

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta remembers balancing her school work with ballet training

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about why she wanted to become an architect

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her parents' divorce

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls her first date while a student at the Houston Ballet Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about issues of body image

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about pre-professional ballet training with Homer Hans Bryant in the Bryant Ballet

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about racial dynamics in the ballet world and ballerinas she admired

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls her interactions with idols, Nina Ananiashvili and Virginia Johnson

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her college application strategy and her decision to attend Rice University in Houston, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls her first professional ballet performance, body image issues, and mentor Lauren Anderson

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes an experience of racial discrimination, and the microaggressions faced by black ballet dancers

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about meeting Debbie Allen

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about the North Carolina Dance Theatre

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her historical debut as Clara in "The Nutcracker" at North Carolina Dance Theatre

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her experience at Rice University in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her historic role as Clara in "The Nutcracker"

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about dancing Tinker Bell, one of her favorite roles

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes dancing the role of Clara as a woman of color and racist aesthetics in the ballet world

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about why she did not join a black ballet company

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her relationship with HistoryMaker Earl Calloway who appointed her as Grand Marshal of the 2005 Bud Billiken Parade

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her hip injury and why she decided to retire from professional dancing

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her last performance

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes the minimal changes in dance during her decade-long career

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes inspirational ballerinas and why she pursued a career in ballet

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes the impact of her training by Asaf Messerer of the Bolshoi Ballet

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about her first mentor, Dorothy Samachson, and her mother's second marriage

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta describes her transition into marketing for the North Carolina Dance Theatre

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta expresses her desire to see more black women welcomed into the ballet world

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ayisha McMillan Cravotta narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$2

DAStory

4$4

DATitle
Ayisha McMillan Cravotta talks about dancing Tinker Bell, one of her favorite roles
Ayisha McMillan Cravotta recalls her tantrums before ballet classes as a girl
Transcript
And--$$So that was a big highlight in your career?$$Oh, it was, it was great.$$Other highlights--was that the biggest, or were there other highlights here in North Carolina and Charlotte?$$To here in, in Charlotte, I would have to--I think, hands down, dancing the role of Tinker Bell and having it created on me in, in "Peter Pan" in Jean-Pierre [Bonnefoux]'s "Peter Pan" was--it was like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae (laughter). It was fantastic because I--the--all of the performance, all of the performance energy that I had been, that I, that I found in myself, you know, when I was really little doing the jazz le pazz, I could put all of that into this role. I could put, I could create this character to be the way that I wanted her to be. And she was very--this Tinker Bell that, that I did--got to be really cheeky. She was jealous, she's very jealous of Wendy, and she was no shrinking violet (laughter). She played tricks on Wendy. She was trying to get her put out, but in a very--but she had attitude, too (laughter). I could put as much attitude into it. I could really shape it to be what I wanted to be, and then I could just take it and run. I could really--and it was wonderful dancing to great wonderful--I had a lot of very intricate petit allegro or very small steps to do, you know, small quick steps to do here and there. And then at other times, I would just get to leap and jump, and then wham with my, with my hands on my hips and, and thrown a little attitude wherever I, wherever I wanted to throw it--attitude, you know, oozing out of my ear. It was just so much fun.$Tell me about the Academy [of Movement and Music, Oak Park, Illinois]. How old were you, and what was that experience like? Did you love ballet from the start?$$I loved ballet from the start. If I'm to be honest about it, I loved it from the start. There was a time when I was maybe eight, or seven. Well, there is a time before that, too, when I, when I rebelled against the ballet. I wanted to go to gymnastics. I went to Leaps and Bounds in Oak Park. And I, I did gymnastics until I realized--yeah, this is not for me (laughter). I just remember feeling like what--they're jumping off of high beams and things and that's just--I would rather just jump. So, I, I went back to ballet and I had--I loved it. I, however, when I was eight, and maybe a lot of kids go through this when you're establishing your independence. But I would throw a tantrum before it was time to go to ballet class every single, every single time, and this was at least twice a week. I would, I would get into a little huffy, diva fit which, of course, was not popular with my mother [Connie Van Brunt]. It was not going to be okay. And I would say, mom, I don't know why you're making me go to ballet. I'm not going to be a ballerina when I grow up. I'm going to be an architect. So, I, I don't want to go to ballet. I don't know why you're making me go. My mother would say, Ayisha, you're going to be an architect who has grace and poise. Get in the car (laughter). I would get in the car (laughter) and I would go to ballet. And here's the crazy part--I would go there, and I would love it. And I, or at least, I remember registering the thought, and being in class, and standing at the bar, and having a thought actually register to me--I like this more than anybody else in here (laughter). I mean, just really feeling like, oh, I'm really serious about this. I, I really, really like this. And that's how much I would really love it. But for some reason, you know, that was Tuesday. But, you know, on Thursday, it was a whole new, ugh, why do I have to go? So, and my mother's intention was never for me to be a ballerina. My mother just wanted me to be a, a well-rounded middle-class black child who would grow up to be a well-rounded, happy, good woman. That's all she ever wanted. And that I became a ballerina was, was really my choice, and, and I loved it. I got to, I got to dance a lot of very sophisticated things, a lot of very sophisticated works at an early age.