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This Black Ballerina Is Promoting Representation in the Community: “I Had No-One Around That Look Like Me”

This Black Ballerina Is Promoting Representation in the Community: “I Had No-One Around That Look Like Me”

Representation matters for young black girls. It’s not often that we see someone that looks like us television. Black girls have been programmed to believe that you need fair skin, colored eyes, hair long as Rapunzel etc, to feel beautiful. Professional ballerina dancer Aesha Ash is breaking down that stereotype in local neighborhoods. According to Ash, she wants to help change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women by showing the world that beauty is not reserved for any particular race or socio-economic background. Ash is a superhero believe it or not. I’m extremely thankful for women like her. Please check out the exclusive Q&A she conducted with Chatting with Chelse.
1. Most role models such as Misty Copeland is primarily known because of her talent, making history and through the media. Not a lot of young black girls that look up to her can say they had the opportunity of meeting her. Why did you decide to actually walk the streets of your community to promote beauty instead of an online platform?


Initially my desire was to only put the imagery around my community. So it was extremely important for me to be in the community where I was born and raised. I wanted to walk around my community and speak to the youth and adults. I wanted the kids to be able to see me, hug me and ask me questions ( which they did ). Also, I wanted those who never thought to experience ballet or the fine arts to be face-to-face with a ballerina who, not only looked like them, but was from their community. It was powerful to see and hear the reactions during the photo shoot.


2. Did you grow up in a inner city neighborhood? If so, what are some obstacles and struggles that you overcame? If not, what were some things that you saw and wanted to make a difference?


I did grow up in the inner city and from a lower income family. I was blessed that my mom kept us busy. She didn’t give us a chance to get into trouble or become distracted. She didn’t play around when it came to the rules and what was expected of us, and I am so thankful for that! I think one benefit of being from my community, is that you grow up seeing first hand what the consequences are if you choose to go down the wrong path. You also see many overcoming great obstacles and whose perseverance, resilience and strength are nothing short of admirable. I left home, traveled the world and experienced so many different cultures. Shared that with my community. I want to pass on all that I have learned and experienced – and that isn’t just ballet. Also, I want to show our young women and girls ( boys too ) another side of the black women that doesn’t often get showcased. Our softer side is never put on display. I want to take the initiative to show another side of us that I feel needs to be out there.
Aesha Ash in a white tutu and pointe shoes on city block. A woman dances next to her high on the tips of her sneakers.

Courtesy of the Swan Dreams Project

3. Please explain your Swan Dream Project





I use imagery to show that beauty and grace are not defined by ones race or socio-economic background. I use photography and my art of ballet as my vehicle to spread this message. Started in 2011, I thought I would only spread the images in the inner city of Rochester NY where I was born and raised. In the end, the response I received led me to believe that I had to do more. Now the project becomes whatever the community has been asking of me. That has been teaching free classes, talking to schools, giving free poster for classrooms, doing exhibits of my imagery with a Q & A afterwards etc…and I imagine it will continue this way, but the focus will always be on the imagery and dismantling stereotypes.

4. What is your biggest fear?



I had to really think about this question, and the first thing that comes to mind is disappointment. Disappointing myself, but most importantly those who love me and worked so hard to help me fulfill my dream.



5. What has been the most challenging part of your professional dance career?




The feeling of loneliness and learning to accept myself as beautiful. Again, I had no-one around me who looked like me. There were no images at that time pushing a ballerina of color. Then you leave the studio and face a society that pushes the woman of color in an unflattering light. I thought about giving up and returning home where I didn’t need to fight to prove my worth and identity. I often felt lost and confused, since I didn’t fit the stereotypes placed on so many women of color. However, I soon realized that I had the power to define myself. That is what I want my project to teach other young women and girls.



6. What is some advice that you will give to other dance mentors who will like to follow in your footsteps and help young girls in their neighborhood?



Just do it! People just want to see that you genuinely care about them. People want to feel love, appreciated and respected. When you show up for them, I mean really show up, it is well received and the impact you can have on someone can be life changing. We can’t just sit back complaining how we would like to see change,but it takes getting out there to make change happen. A quote I love from Wilma Rudolph says, “never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit.” You are more powerful than you know.
7. That concludes our interview. Is there anything else you will like to conclude?



I am thankful to all those who have reached out and left a supportive comment or note for me via my website or social media pages. It feels so good to know that my community is behind me and supports the work I am trying to do.
About the Author /


Chelse Brown is the founder and editor-in-chief of Chatting With Chelse.

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