SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — One of Savannah’s talented young performers made local history last month.

Andre McGregor, a 17-year-old Savannah Arts Academy senior, graced the stage as the first African American dancer to play the role of Nutcracker in the Savannah Ballet Theatre’s rendition of the famous ballet.

Perspiring and catching his breath, the dedicated dancer took a brief break from rehearsals at Savannah’s Kelly and Co., where he’s danced for two years, to chat with News 3.

The Savannah native says his experience on “The Nutcracker” was a great one.

“I got asked to do the role by the director, and she said that she would be delighted to have me,” Andre told News 3. 

“I was like, ‘I’d be delighted to do it!'” he said. “I had a lot of fun, it’s a wonderful ballet.” 

Andre’s been expressing himself through the art of dance since the tender age of 4, his mother says.

“He started at Rebecca Padgett School of Performing Arts, and he was not doing ballet, he was just doing step,” Marsha McGregor told News 3.

He told his mom that being on stage made him feel “alive.”

She said she knew, even at that age, that her son possessed a natural ability to move his body. 

Marsha was impressed at how Andre could memorize choreography quickly, even after seeing it one time. 

“I thought that was some type of innate talent that I’m definitely not blessed with, because I could not memorize the steps to Zumba,” Marsha laughed. “I knew that was something special about him.”

“The energy and adrenaline you have on stage is awesome”

Following his time at Rebecca Padgett, young Andre continued to show promise after being accepted into the Esther F. Garrison School for the Arts’ middle school dance program following an audition. 

It was at Garrison, where he danced from the sixth to eighth grades, that he discovered his love of ballet. 

“Being on stage performing with all the lights and everybody clapping, it was like, ‘I did it!’, and I felt good about it,” Andre said. 

“The energy and the adrenaline that you have on stage is just awesome,” he added. “You never feel anything like that outside of the stage.”

At first, Andre was much more into tap, hip-hop and jazz styles of dance. 

After he danced as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s prince during his first “Nutcracker” performance, he was sold on ballet. 

“I just loved it so much and thought it was so cool,” Andre said.

“I wanted to be like the guys who jumped really high,” he smiled.

Making his dream a reality 

Nowadays, Andre’s not only jumping to great heights — he’s soaring to them.

With performances like the Nutcracker, “The Wizard of Oz’s” cowardly lion, and the Grinch under his belts, he’s ready to take on The Juilliard School in New York City. 

That’s where Andre is set to audition in March as he prepares for his dance career after high school. 

He graduates from Savannah Arts Academy in May 2020, finishing a year early after having completed his ninth-grade coursework during his last year at Garrison.

“This has been a dream of his since he was 9 years old, to go to Juilliard, so we have written a plan down — we’ve been preparing for this,” Marsha said.

She added that her son completed a summer intensive dance program with the famous performing arts school two summers ago when he trained hard daily for three weeks in the Big Apple.

Marsha is confident that Andre has put in the work to gain acceptance into his dream school — even if it means letting her son branch out on his own, far from home.

“It’s a little bit scary, but I think the thing that comforted me was when I [joined him in New York] for six weeks [for a Russian ballet academy], he was the one guiding me around!” Marsha said.

Andre says someday, he’d love to perform in “Sleeping Beauty” as Aurora’s prince. 

“He just has a great entrance in the ballet, he has a great adagio,” Andre said. 

“That would just be really great if I could do something like that in a big ballet company, you know?”

While he’s dreaming big, he took some time to offer advice to others working hard to make a dance career a reality. 

“Just keep going,” Andre said. 

“Don’t stop, and don’t let anyone stop you,” he said. “You can’t let the dream stop just because things get hard or someone’s telling you you can’t do it.”

“You just gotta keep pushing forward,” he added, “Until you achieve what you want — your goal.”