Hill Dance Academy Theatre empowers students to pursue careers in Black dance

The Hill Dance Academy Theatre, an organization with a mission to provide professional-level training in Black dance traditions, history, culture, and aesthetics, is performing its Summer Showcase this Saturday from 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. The event will be a great opportunity to learn more about the academy, which Founder, CEO, and Artistic Director Ayisha Morgan-Lee says teaches students more than just dance.

“Just like our students here, my parents put me in dance so that I could have self-expression and I would be able to have leadership skills and be able to hold a conversation on my own,” says Morgan-Lee, who founded HDAT when she was only 21 years old. “So same thing with us here. We teach the students more than just dance: confidence, leadership, team building, all those things that make them well-rounded people.”

A group of young Black dancers inside a dance studio. Each one has their arms extended and one leg raised, with their feet resting against their knees
Hill Dance Academy Theatre // Photo by Patrick Fisher

The Hill Dance Academy Theatre, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2025, provides students with the ability to learn all different styles of dance, including African, ballet, hip hop, modern, tap, theater, and more. Morgan-Lee, who was named YWCA Greater Pittsburgh’s 2022 Creativity and Innovation Equity Award winner, thinks it’s important for Black children to witness, in person, dancers who look like them.

Three Black dancers stand in front of balance beams
Hill Dance Academy Theatre // Photo by Patrick Fisher

“I think it’s very important for them to be able to see other dancers who look like them and see that this is a viable career,” Morgan-Lee says. “It’s also an opportunity for us to celebrate the rich history that we have in the dance world. There have been so many contributions by Black dancers with different choreography, with telling the story with costuming, so it’s very important that they know they are a part of the larger picture.”

Students aged 3-18 can train at the academy and are placed into various levels when they turn seven. For those older than 18, HDAT also offers an adult program for what Morgan-Lee says is targeted to “anyone who wants to dance.”

Three young Black dancers stand on individual mats while holding their hands on their hips and extending one leg. In front of them is an adult Black dancer who is facing them as she also stands on an individual mat and holds her hands on her hips and extends her leg
Hill Dance Academy Theatre // Photo by Patrick Fisher

The dance teachers use their skills to teach students the Hill Dance Academy’s mission daily, which involves “training students to prepare them for a professional career on the stage and teaching them – and keeping alive – the history of Black dance,” according to Morgan-Lee.

“So when students walk through the door,” she adds, “they learn all they can about different styles of concert dance, and about their history.”

"It’s very important for them to be able to see other dancers who look like them and see that this is a viable career."

They also can do so in a beautiful new facility. In 2021, HDAT purchased the former St. Benedict the Moor School in the Hill District, a 29,000-square-foot campus that now houses their dance academy, event space, residency space, meeting spaces, and a working space for artists on the first floor. The Morgan-Lee Arts Center is “open to our community members,” according to HDAT Director of Operations Jennifer Phillips on WQED's Voice of the Arts podcast.

HDAT's Summer Intensive Dance Showcase and Open House will be held on Sat., Aug. 5 at The Morgan-Lee Arts Center at 2900 Bedford Avenue from 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. In addition to viewing dance performances, those in attendance can enjoy a community cookout, door prizes, and raffles; plus, they’ll have the opportunity to hear directly from faculty, students and parents about the academy’s many programs.

For more information on this weekend’s event, to sign up for dance lessons, or to inquire about renting space in the Arts Center, visit