Aesha Ash is obsessed with movement. After training at the School of American Ballet and dancing with New York City Ballet, she traveled the world with Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Alonzo King's LINES Ballet and Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company. Ash spent that time watching, absorbing and growing. Continuing to be curious about what can be expressed and achieved through movement, she quietly began teaching, guesting at SAB's Workshop for Young Dancers in California beginning in 2016 and becoming the school's visiting faculty chair from 2018–20; in addition, she earned two Pilates certifications and, through her Swan Dreams Project, created a summer camp in her native Rochester, New York, in partnership with the city.
Ash also has plenty of experience dismantling the boxes that others have attempted to place her in. The latest such instance came in August, when it was announced that she would be joining SAB as the school's first Black female full-time faculty member. Although this news became public in the shadow of worldwide outrage and protests surrounding racial injustice and police brutality, her appointment was first announced to SAB faculty, staff and students in February. Dance Teacher spoke with Ash, a self-described "forever student," about her new position and what she hopes to offer the students of SAB.
Congratulations on your appointment to full-time faculty at SAB! What does your hiring mean to you?<p>It's an incredible, full-circle moment for me. There's the weight of what this appointment means, because being hired as a full-time faculty member at SAB is, in and of itself, an honor. Adding to that is the weight of this historic moment that SAB has never had a Black female full-time teacher.<br></p><p>I feel this tremendous responsibility because it is a first. I think anyone who has experienced these sorts of firsts feels that weight on their shoulders. I'm honored and grateful for all the kindness and fanfare, but I have a job to do, and I'm really focused on wanting to give the students the best of me and to be the best teacher that I can for them.</p>
You've worked with Maurice Béjart, Alonzo King and Christopher Wheeldon, and have two Pilates certifications. How will these perspectives inform how you teach Balanchine technique?<p>I think my first "aha" moment was when I started working with Chris. After leaving Béjart and going to LINES (where I mostly danced in flat shoes), I went back to "ballet ballet" with Chris. I started to feel what all that knowledge felt like in my body. There was thinking about circles and expansiveness, not trying to hide yourself, and being creative from Alonzo. There were things that I learned watching the dancers in Béjart—for example, a woman from Paris Opéra who was so supple and grounded. You need that grounded earthiness to come up and be quick.</p>
Aesha Ash teaching at School of American Ballet
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy SAB<p>Through my Pilates certifications I gained an understanding of that deeper connection with your core. You need to give in to the earth to ground in order to have that freedom and space within the joints, and a core connection to be able to achieve the speed needed for Balanchine.</p><p>I had to take my hand off that barre and lie flat on my back, and I had to sit in the studio watching other dancers from other backgrounds. It helps me to take a moment to chew on it, feel it and explore in a different way.</p>