Hometown: Tacoma, WA
Current city: Washington, DC
College and degree: BFA Modern Dance, University of Utah
Graduate School and degree: MEd Counseling, University of Virginia (age 23); PhD Dance Studies, Ohio State University (age 31)
How you pay the bills: I teach pilates and yoga to private clients and run the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project.
All of the dance hats you wear: Depending on the phase of my life, it has included: dancer, choreographer, dance scholar, teacher, arts administrator, and arts advocate.
Non-dance work you do: I'm the mother of a delightful, inquisitive six-month-old.
Describe the first 10 years post-college: After college I moved to New York where I took class every morning and worked a variety of retail jobs. I began to think a lot about my purpose in life and didn't feel that I was in the right place for me. After a year, I moved to the artistic haven of Charlottesville, Virginia where I completed a master's degree. I discovered yoga and pilates and began dancing and choreographing in earnest. I worked for a fabulous youth mentoring program and was a resident choreographer in an arts building. Looking back, it was a pretty great set-up. After working for a few years, I decided to go to graduate school again, this time in dance. I was the first student to complete a PhD in Dance Studies at Ohio State University. Before completing my dissertation, I worked as a visiting professor at Oberlin College. Just after finishing my PhD I married and moved to Washington, DC and founded the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project.
Describe the Washington, DC dance community: I think DC has a burgeoning dance community. There are several existing institutions that have expanded their programming to include more professional-level classes and there seem to be many opportunities for young choreographers to show their work. In particular, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with Dance Exchange under the direction of Cassie Meador.
Major influences: A mentor in graduate school, the amazing dance scholar and ballet teacher Karen Eliot told me, “You can do a lot of things in your life, but you can't do them all at once.” Many times I've needed to return to this quote and slow down and pare down.
Describe your mentoring project: The Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project facilitates physical, artistic, and leadership development in college dancers, adolescent girls, and dance artists. Using a nesting model of dance mentorship, each week-long summer workshop brings together professional dance artists, college dancers, and local adolescent girls. The dance artists teach technique and repertory to the college students, who in turn, develop their teaching skills by leading a dance mentoring curriculum with the adolescent girls. Our programs are structured around the principles of Action, Support, Curiosity, Challenge, and Resilience with a physical and life-skills component to each of these. We have run four programs since starting in 2010 and our next project will be in June 2013 at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. We plan to expand to 3-4 sites in 2014.
What inspired you to start it? I dreamed up NNDMP in 1997 while a student at the Graham School summer intensive—I was a serious dancer seeking meaning and relevance. I wondered how I could connect the studio to the world around me. In 2003, working for a mentoring program in Charlottesville, I yearned for the rigor of the dance training community. I began fantasizing about winning the lottery, buying land, and building studios to do a “Fresh Air Fund meets American Dance Festival.” In 2009, finishing a PhD in dance and working as a guest professor, I re-conceptualized my dream summer program (minus the lottery and the land!), connected my expertise in mentoring and dance, and decided to pilot it. I have worked with a great faculty of choreographers and dance educators and we've refined the curriculum each year. I love the program and see it inspire students to think critically, passionately, and broadly about the idea of “life as a dancer.”
Is it a non-profit project? The project is structurally a non-profit, although we are still in the process of applying for our 501(c)3 status with the IRS. For the past 3 years we've had a fiscal sponsor but hope to be independent by Fall 2013.
How many hours a week do you work on it? It used to be that I worked on NNDMP at all hours, sneaking in work whenever I could between and among other jobs. I always had a towering "to do" list and, when asked, was never able to estimate how much time I was spending. Because I now have a baby and only a limited amount of childcare, I work on the project exactly 10 hours per week and in those hours I'm amazingly focused and efficient! Someday, I hope we'll have the funding for me to work closer to full time—someday.
On teaching: Most recently, I taught technique at George Washington University as part-time faculty, but my focus has since shifted to NNDMP. I also teach private yoga and pilates lessons to clients and find that work very rewarding.
Are you performing or choreographing right now? Regularly taking classes? I WISH! Right now I allocate my limited childcare hours to work on NNDMP. My last performance was when I was 22-weeks pregnant. It was an amazing experience to perform pregnant, but it was beyond exhausting. I hope to start taking class very soon, and will perform again I'm sure.
Setbacks: I've had all sorts of disappointments—multiple hip surgeries, not getting certain jobs, financial miscalculations—but as simplistic as it sounds, learning to see the positive and grow stronger and more self-aware from each setback has enabled me to be grateful for my full and happy life. It's easy to be jealous, and sometimes we do have to allow ourselves to have those feelings, but it is much more productive to be grateful.
Future career goals: I have days when I want to spread NNDMP camps all over the country and develop curricula so that dance departments can implement mentoring programs throughout the year—and I have days when I just want to run a small non-profit that I'm proud of and reach a few dozen dancers each year. Either way, I see myself developing a large enough organization that we can support a summer faculty of dance educators and can be an innovative voice in dance education.
Advice to young dancers: I say 1) pursue all intriguing opportunities and 2) be frugal. In my 20s I did a great job with the first one and had an amazing array of experiences that I'd never trade. Now, at 34, I do look back and wish I'd socked away a bit more for retirement. So to you, young dancers: even if you feel totally broke right now, look at your budget and find a way to stash a bit of money away each month. Passion plus practicality makes for a great life.
To read Ashley's updated profile from November 2017, please click here.