Carnegie Mellon University

Ayisha Morgan-Lee, Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Artistic Director, Hill Dance Academy Theatre

Expanding Representation in the Arts

Ayisha Morgan-Lee (CFA 2007; HNZ 2007) infuses dance with Black culture as founder, chief executive officer and artistic director of Hill Dance Academy Theatre (HDAT).

For almost two decades, she’s empowered students to interpret their traditions, history and culture through professional dance training.

“The Black aesthetic is the experience of us as a people that we are able to bring to the concert stage through movement,” Ayisha says. “It allows us to tell a story, not only through movement, but also through music.”

Located in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District neighborhood, HDAT is recognized by the Heinz Endowments as a Pittsburgh Cultural Treasure for its contributions, accomplishments and commitment to ensuring the presence of Black arts and culture in the city and region.

At the academy, faculty and visiting master choreographers set dances for students that authentically represent and give voice to the Black experience from enslavement to the diaspora and contributions of Africans and Blacks in the Americas.

It’s an engaging way to teach what Ayisha learned on her own dancer’s journey, beginning at age 3 through her professional dance career, before founding HDAT.

“As much as I'd love for all of my students to become professional concert dancers, that's not always going to happen,” Ayisha says. “I do my best to instill them with a love for themselves, a love for their culture and a love for dance and movement. The discipline, hard work, dedication and determination they learn at HDAT will benefit them the rest of their lives.”

Story by Elizabeth Speed