Erica Lall isn’t just another Texan living in the Big Apple: the professional ballet dancer has been performing with the world-renowned American Ballet Theatre (ABT) for five years. If that sounds like the plot of the early 2000s cult-classic dance film Center Stage, Lall has heard it all before and welcomes the association: “I have to admit, that’s one of my favorite movies,” she tells me over the phone.
Born and raised in Cypress, Lall didn’t have to venture far to cultivate a love for the arts. Though there is no obvious propensity toward dance in her DNA, Lall says that her parents made sure she and her sister, Alissa, were raised in an environment that encouraged artistic expression, especially through movement.
“Both of my parents are Caribbean, so we grew up in a house where reggae and soca music was played all the time,” Lall says. “We had dance parties pretty much every night.”
Initially a studious shadow in the back of her older sister’s dance classes, Lall eventually became a standout dancer in her own classes, excelling in subjects like tap, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, and ballet starting at the age of 4. At her parents’ encouragement, Lall tried out for and was accepted into the Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy in 2006, where she performed in supporting roles in productions of The Nutcracker and Marie.
Within her immersive on-stage experiences, Lall says she felt at home staring out into a sea of captivated faces. “There was a moment when I looked out into the audience, and that’s when I was like, ‘Wow, this is my dream,’” she says. “We were sitting on stage getting to watch these dancers all around us, and you see the audience’s reaction and applause, and it’s such a beautiful feeling. It’s like nothing else in the world.”
Looking back at her time at the academy and in subsequent years as a professional ballet dancer locally, Lall says she cherishes many Houston Ballet dancers and teachers who have inspired and shaped her, including Priscilla Nathan Murphy, Karina González, Derek Dunn, Katlyn Addison, Garrett Smith, and Rupert Edwards III. “I could not have pulled it together without my Houston mentors, and they stay with me wherever I go,” she says.
Watching Lall perform is an enthralling, ethereal experience, but perhaps what most makes her a true dancer-to-watch in the years to come is her commitment to championing diversity and inclusion within the dance world. Like her fellow ABT “sister” and mentor Misty Copeland—with whom Lall is very close—and former Houston Ballet principal dancer Lauren Anderson, Lall is an inspiration to Black women and fellow minorities who aspire to become dancers. She has begun to pay it forward by cofounding a nonprofit that helps young students of the arts attend sought-after performances. “I do believe, especially as a Black ballerina, there is such a steep climb that we can’t make it without mentorship,” she says.
And while there is a shift toward championing diversity and inclusivity within the ballet world with things like brown pointe shoes and flesh-tone tights, Lall believes more work still needs to be done.
“Until directors and choreographers no longer see us being different than their natural preference, we will continue to be naturally in a different track than other dancers,” she says. “Black dancers, especially, are still too often viewed with lower expectations and diminished encouragement for advancement. We must continue to work hard to create a more natural fit and an effortless desire for success for us. American Ballet should look like all of America and all of America’s people.”