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."

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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