How Ashanté Green Found Her Dream Job

"It's my dream job," says Ashanté Green. Photo courtesy of Dance Institute of Washington

When Ashanté Green got the offer to teach at The Dance Institute of Washington in 2014, it was like coming home. “It's my dream job," she says. As a 7-year-old growing up in Maryland, Green was spotted at a local community center by DIW's beloved founder Fabian Barnes. He invited her to join the school, which offers classes, performance opportunities and mentorship to local youth, many of whom are at risk. Green stayed for seven years before going on to attend a performing arts high school. “I had a wonderful experience at DIW," she says. “I wouldn't be the dancer I am today if I hadn't trained under Fabian Barnes." (Barnes passed away unexpectedly in 2016.)

Green teaches ballet and modern, but it's in her contemporary jazz classes for students ages 10–18 that she can really play. She uses improvisation exercises to build her recreational students' confidence as performers and develop their musicality. “You don't have time to think and plan. You just have to do and feel," she says. “It helps get them out of their shells." Word prompts are one of her go-to tools for creative exploration. She calls out adjectives, like “low," “dark" or “happy," and the students have to respond with movement. Once they get the hang of that, Green adds another layer of difficulty: time. “I might say 'Move in slow motion' or 'Let's speed it up,' and they have to do so while still keeping the original words in their bodies," she says.

Although she focuses on artistry, Green reminds students that strong technique is non-negotiable. “For me, it's quality over quantity," she says. “I don't care if you do 10 pirouettes if your foot is sickled. Give me a clean pirouette with the foot neatly placed."

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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