Dance/USA 2023 Honorees

Dance/USA celebrated the 2023 Honorees at the Dance/USA 2023 Conference, June 13-16, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dance/USA Honor Award

Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem, received the Dance/USA 2023 Honor Award.
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Virginia Johnson is looking directly at the camera, smiling slightly, in front of a gray background. She is wearing silver earrings and a dark top open at the neck. The top features vivid purple African print-inspired circular and geometric designs and an upturned collar. Photo by Theik Smith.

Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, was a founding member and principal dancer with the company for twenty-seven years. Born in Washington, DC, she graduated from the Academy of the Washington School of Ballet and briefly attended the School of the Arts at New York University as a University Scholar before joining DTH in 1969.

Universally recognized as one of the great ballerinas of her generation she is perhaps best known for her performances in the ballets Giselle, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Fall River Legend. During her years with the company, she performed most of the repertoire, with principal roles in Concerto Barocco, Allegro Brillante, Agon, A Streetcar Named Desire, Fall River Legend, Swan Lake, Giselle, Voluntaries, and Les Biches, among others, several of which were recorded for broadcast on PBS, network television and cable.

Her choreographic credits include the television film Ancient Voices of Children, and works for Goucher College, Dancers Responding to AIDS, the Second Annual Harlem Festival of the Arts, Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center, and Marymount Manhattan College, where she was an adjunct professor.

While still performing, her interest in journalism led her to Fordham University. After retiring from performing, she received an Independent Artist Grant from The Field that opened doors to arts producing. She attended the School of Visual Arts where she studied drawing, film making and television production before the opportunity to create POINTE magazine presented itself. She was founding editor-in-chief from 2000-2009.

Her honors include a Young Achiever Award from the National Council of Women, Outstanding Young Woman of America, and the Dance Magazine Award, a Pen and Brush Achievement Award, the Washington Performing Arts Society’s 2008-2009 Pola Nirenska Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Martha Hill Fund Mid-Career Award and honorary doctorates from Cornish College of the Arts, Swarthmore College and Juilliard. She is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and The Society, Inc. In February 2016 she was honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White house for her contribution to the field of dance. In 2018 she held the Brackett Visiting Artist Chair at the University of Oklahoma and is the recipient of the Mary Day Award from the Washington Ballet and the 2019 CORPS de Ballet International Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020 she was presented with a medal of honor from the Actor’s Fund. She serves on the Advisory Board of The Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU, and Dance NYC and serves on the Board of Works & Process.

Dance/USA 'Ernie' Award

Judy Tyrus, CEO, ChromaDiverse, received the Dance/USA 2023 ‘Ernie’ Award.
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Judy Tyrus is a woman of Japanese and African American heritage. She has chin length curly brown hair and dark brown eyes. She is wearing a navy-blue dress with a long silver necklace and is smiling directly at the camera. Photo by Steven Branstetter

Judy Tyrus, as dancer, archivist, curator, parent, author and now CEO of a 501c3 nonprofit company, has made a major impact on the dance world.

In 1969, at age nine, her mother enrolled her in a ballet class taught by Ronn Guidi. When Guidi launched the Oakland Ballet School and Company, Judy continued to train with him every day after school. There were few African American and Asian dancers in the major classical ballet companies so when she learned about Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), she was convinced it was where she wanted to be.

When she was sixteen, DTH came to the Geary Theatre in San Francisco. Convincing her parents to drive her “over the bridge,” she boldly knocked on the stage door and asked to audition. Impressed by her brassy desire to get in the door, Arthur Mitchell, DTH founder and artistic director, invited her in to take company class. After a week of classes, Mitchell offered her an apprenticeship in New York. That was the moment that would change her life forever.

For twenty-two years, she appeared as a principal dancer on stages that spanned six continents. As the first DTH dancer to receive maternity benefits, she returned to the stage after each birth of her two children and demonstrated that pregnancy should not end a female dancer’s career. 

After retiring from dancing, Arthur Mitchell asked her to curate a forty-year retrospective exhibit that would tour the country and provide the foundation for the inaugural exhibit about Dance Theatre of Harlem featured at the Smithsonian African American History Museum in Washington D.C.

With assistance from organizations like Dance/USA and the Dance Heritage Coalition, Judy gained the skills to organize and manage archives. She saw the impact DTH had on bringing diversity to the world of classical ballet and realized that its groundbreaking story had never been told.

With DTH pianist and music historian Paul Novosel, she wrote Dance Theatre of Harlem: A History, A Movement, A Celebration. Published in 2021, it was nominated for a NAACP Image Award as an Outstanding Literary Work in nonfiction.

Completing the book was a seven-year journey of research in an archive that was cumbersome to access. She thought there had to be a better way to protect and preserve history, so legacy is never lost. Not just for DTH but for all dance companies. 

In 2019, Judy founded ChromaDiverse with the mission to promote diversity in the performing arts. Tyrus’s goal was to develop a digital asset management system and led the development of an Artificial Intelligent application to expedite the gathering of historic data with a price tag all dance companies could afford. Her work earned her the Diversity and Distinguished Service Awards from the Society of American Archivists in 2021 & 2022.

ChromaDiverse’s “Digital Vault” offers secure preservation with easy-to-use search capabilities, making marketing, fundraising, community engagement and training more efficient.

Now, in a full circle moment for Tyrus, ChromaDiverse is preserving the historic record of the Oakland Ballet Company (OBC). With the same laser focus that began her career, she is committed to her new role of protecting the artistic legacy of dancers worldwide.  

Dance/USA Champion Award

Nena Gilreath and Waverly T. Lucas, II, Co-Founding Directors, Ballethnic Dance Company, received the Dance/USA 2023 Champion Award. 

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Nena Gilreath and Waverly Lucas are posed together looking at the camera and smiling. Nena is wearing a red turtleneck long sleeve top and drop earrings. She is standing closely behind Waverly with her hands resting on his right shoulder. Waverly is seated with his arms crossed, wearing a red short sleeve collared shirt featuring the Ballethnic Dance Company logo. Aric Thompson 

Nena Gilreath is a ballerina, an entrepreneur, and an artistic director; she has spent her career immersed in dance. After graduating with a B.F.A. 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 their 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 and Program Supervisor at East Athens Educational Dance Center and is a guest Ballet Instructor at UGA. She has created partnerships and teaching institutes that utilize dance as a tool to build communities. Her mentorship and has created an artistic regional dance and arts and leadership pipeline. She is proud of Ballethnic’s recent accomplishments including coproducing their signature Ballet The Leopard Tale with The Alliance Theatre on the Coca Cola stage and selected as one of three Black professional Ballet companies to perform in the Reframing the Narrative Ballet Performances at the Kennedy Center.

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 more than 50 ballets, including full length Urban Nutcracker, The Leopard Tale, 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 dance-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. A few of 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. During the pandemic Lucas earned his M.A. in Ethnochoreology at the The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick Ireland. He utilized his research skills to create one of his newest ballet Jazzin’ a Memoir in Jazz commissioned by the Breman Museum to celebrate the iconic photos of the late Herbert Snitzer, renowned photojournalist. He is deeply committed to creating awareness to the healing properties of community gardening and conducting healing drum circles for everyone. 

Dance/USA Champion Award

Douglas Scott, Artistic/Executive Director, Full Radius Dance, received the Dance/USA 2023 Champion Award.
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Douglas is an older, non-disabled white man with brown hair and closely cropped grey beard. He smiles at the camera, wearing glasses and a red shirt. Photo by Bubba Carr.

Earning a B.F.A. in Performing Arts at Western Kentucky University, Douglas Scott moved to Atlanta after graduation to spend several seasons with the Ruth Mitchell Dance Company where he performed works by Ruth Mitchell, Ron Cunningham, Monica Levy, and Sal Aiello. In 1991, Douglas founded Dance Force, Inc. and co-founded E=Motion, with Ardath Prendergast, in 1995. In 1998, the companies merged to form Full Radius Dance.

Douglas is also the founder of the Modern Atlanta Dance (MAD) Festival which showcases the best modern and contemporary dance companies and artists in the southeast. The festival has been produced annually since 1995 to critical and popular acclaim.
In 2014, Douglas was honored with a Governor’s Award for the Arts & Humanities. Presented by the Office of the Governor in partnership with Georgia Council for the Arts and the Georgia Humanities Council, the Governor’s Awards pay tribute to the most distinguished citizens and organizations that have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to work in the arts and humanities in Georgia. The award stated that “ . . . Douglas Scott has been a respected leader in modern dance. As the founder of Full Radius Dance Company, he has expanded the definition and reach of modern dance by creating opportunities for dancers with and without disabilities (integrated dance), not only in the local Atlanta community, but throughout the State of Georgia, the United States, and internationally. His dedication to the art form can be seen in not only his own work, but in the Modern Atlanta Dance Festival which he began, that has annually created the opportunity for modern dance companies and individual artists to present their work.”
Under his leadership, Full Radius Dance has maintained a highly rigorous and active performance schedule in the Greater Atlanta area, as well as regionally, nationally, and internationally.  Company highlights include international touring to Korea (as the first U.S. company at the Korean International Accessible Dance Festival) and at the Una Mirada Diferente Festival in Madrid, Spain, also as the first U.S. company presented. Other notable events include the 2017 concert “Silver” at 7 Stages Theatre which was subsequently performed at the Harlem School of the Arts in NYC as part of the “Disability. Dance. Artistry. Initiative” administered by Dance/NYC.  The company’s 2018 concert, “Tapestry”, was heralded by ArtsAtl as a “masterwork” and was recorded by The Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for inclusion in their permanent collection. In May of 2022, the company appeared at the inaugural Forward Festival of the Arts at New York’s Queens Theatre. Most recently, Full Radius Dance was presented at Miami’s Forward Motion Festival and was hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi for a week-long residency.
The company is committed to redefining the boundaries of dance through performance, education, and advocacy, and constantly seeks opportunities to promote its core values for body positivity. Full Radius Dance believes that your body is perfect, has undiscovered movement, and can experience dance.

Nominations for the Dance/USA Awards are accepted from the entire dance ecosystem and recognize outstanding achievements and contributions to the dance community. Final selections are voted on by the Dance/USA Board of Trustees. Learn about the the Dance/USA Awards.

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