Choreographer, dancer, and teacher Lorraine Graves was born Lorraine Elizabeth Graves on October 5, 1957, in Norfolk, Virginia, to Tommy E. Graves Jr., founder and CEO of Graves Funeral Home, and Mildred Odom Graves, a public school teacher.
Lorraine had one brother, Tommy E. Graves III. They were reared in segregated Huntersville, Virginia. At an early age, her mother noticed her interest in dance theater, and by 8, she was enrolled in the Academy of the Norfolk Ballet (NCB), thus becoming the first African American to be accepted in Hampton Roads’ most prestigious ensemble. However, during her teen years with the company, she experienced racism when the Board of NCB opposed Graves performing with the white girls in her first recital. However, Gene Hammett, NCB director, protested the bigotry, and Graves danced.
Graves graduated with academic honors from Lake Taylor Senior High School in Huntersville. Afterward, the 5 feet 10 inches ballerina continued to train on full scholarships to the preeminent School of American Ballet at the American Ballet Center (ABT) at Lincoln Center, New York City.
In 1978 Graves received a Bachelor of Science in Classical Ballet with high honors from Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington after three years of study. She then joined Arthur Mitchell‘s Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH) in New York, and within a year, she became the company’s principal dancer. In 1979, Graves had a principal role in the Ballet The Four Temperaments, with DTH at City Center, New York City. In 1980, Graves, now 23, began serving as Ballet Mistress at the DTH where she mounted classical works of legendary choreographers including selected master compositions of George Balanchine, conducted rehearsals, and periodically taught the ensemble.
Graves also danced Equus: The Ballet, choreographed by Domy Reiter-Soffer, and Balanchine’s Serenade in 1982, set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C for Strings and performed at City Center. That same year, Graves danced the Princess of Unreal Beauty in Stravinsky’s Firebird at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center. In 1984, she was seen premiering in Creole Giselle, a romantic ballet in two acts set in Louisiana during the 1840s at the London Coliseum in England. Two years later, in 1986, at the Palazzo dello Sport in Florence, Italy, she performed in Footprints Dressed in Red, choreographed by Garth Fagan. Returning to the US in 1988, Graves had a principal role in Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor at the New York International Festival of the Arts.
After an 18-year dance career with DTH, Graves returned to Norfolk and served as Secretary and Treasurer at Graves Funeral Services. However, she remained connected to dance. In 2012, at the 11th International Ballet Festival “Dance Open” in St. Petersburg, Russia, Graves conducted Master Classes at the Oktyabrsky Concert Hall.
Lorraine Graves, a trailblazer who had made guest appearances with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the North Carolina School of the Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concert Series, died on March 21, 2024 in Norfolk. She was 66.
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Brian Reese, “Norfolk’s Lorraine Graves, a trailblazing dancer and beloved teacher, dies at 66,”; Leonard E. Colvin, “Norfolk’s Ballerina Belonged To The World,”; “Lorraine Graves,”
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