African-American dancers take center stage at UNCSA

African-American dancers take center stage at UNCSA
December 17
00:00 2015
Above: UNC SA photo
Aerys Merrill, a UNCSA college sophomore who portrays the Snow Queen, and Garret McNally, a UNCSA high school junior who portrays Snow King, perform during a recent performance. Both take the roles on Dec. 19.


By Tori P. Haynesworth

For The Chronicle

The UNC School of Arts is underway with its production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” this week.  This year there are two African-American performers that will take the stage as Snow King and Queen.

Aerys Merrill, UNCSA college sophomore, and Garret McNally, UNCSA high school junior, will both take the roles on Dec. 19.

“We’re so proud of what they’re doing,” said artistic director Jared Redick. “They work hard every day, and they really focus on the process of what they’re doing, and because of that, they’re extraordinary.”

Aerys Merrill, native of Richmond, Va., recalls a family tradition of always going to see the Christmas classic, which motivated her to become a dancer.

“The different choreography in every Nutcracker is nice. It’s fun to learn different things,” said Merrill.  “It’s also fun to do different parts, and even if you have the same part, you can come at it a different way.”

Garret McNally of Charleston, S.C., mentioned that Michael Jackson was the motivation for him to become a dancer, reminiscing about him when he was younger, dancing by the television when Jackson performed.

“Going on stage and dancing to my best capabilities as the characters I perform as, and go out into the lobby to see the people’s faces afterwards. It’s amazing to see how you can affect people the way you move, and it’s just so much fun to do and I love doing it,” said McNally.

This isn’t the first time that an African-American has been cast in these roles. A ballerina danced as the Snow Queen years ago.

The two performers had a special message for any young and inspired African-Americans who want to pursue professional dancing.

“Keep going at it, because we’re now having more African-Americans that are becoming principal dancers and really famous dancers. Look up to them because they’re really great inspirations,” said Merrill.

“Go for it, don’t let anybody shoot you down. Do your best, you will be seen and you will be loved. You should never give up on your dreams,” said McNally.

“The Nutcracker,” performed by the UNCSA students, is going on until Dec. 20 at the Stevens Center, located at 405 W. Fourth St. For ticket purchase and more information, visit


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