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Here's how this black ballerina is empowering communities and changing perceptions of ballet

Aesha Ash always wanted to be a ballerina. As a black girl, she didn't have many role models. She hopes to change that for the next generation of black ballerinas.

Here's how this black ballerina is empowering communities and changing perceptions of ballet
Image Source: The Swan Dreams Project / Facebook

Growing up, Aesha Ash didn't have many girls or women like her to look up to in dance. Ever since she can remember, she's always wanted to be a ballerina. However, as a resident of an inner-city neighborhood in Rochester, New York, ballet wasn't always perceived as an art form within her reach. Despite this, she decided to persevere. At the age of 13, she was accepted into the legendary School of American Ballet. Then, five years later, at age 18, she began performing with the New York City Ballet. Now, she's giving back to her community in ways never seen before, Indy100 reports.

 



 

Though Aesha is no longer performing professionally as she has officially retired as a ballerina, she is using her talents for good. In an effort to help other young black girls recognize their full potential and inspire them to follow their dreams, she established The Swan Dreams Project. This social initiative aims to promote the art form of ballet in underserved communities, change stereotypes about black women, and motivate young girls. Through the initiative, recalling how uninspiring photos of black women were when she was growing up, Aesha decided to take a stroll around Rochester and take photos of herself in her tutu.

 



 

She once said in an interview, "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side and let the world know we're multidimensional. I remember growing up and in the bodega, you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes. I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light." As a student at the School of American Ballet, she would often look at photos of Andrea Long, a black ballet dancer just like her. She recognized then how important imagery was as a way to inspire and motivate others. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted," she said. "I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

 



 

Originally, she wanted to post the photos she took of herself as bus stop advertisements around Rochester. However, after she realized how expensive those adverts could be, she chose to pivot her plan and sell prints of her photos instead. Any revenue she receives goes towards other organizations that similarly promote ballet in ethnically diverse and impoverished areas. In addition to this, of course, she visits the neighborhoods in person and dances around and interacts with residents to inspire them. Ultimately, she hopes to change the perception of what ballet is and who is allowed to be a ballerina. According to Aesha, nothing should hold you back from achieving your dreams.

 



 

"Through the use of imagery and my career as a ballet dancer, I want 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," she explains on her website. "I wish for this message to infuse the ballet world and project to the entire world. While exposing more African-American communities to the ballet, I also hope to promote greater involvement and increase patronage to this beautiful art form." That's true black girl magic! If you'd like to support her work, you can visit her website to learn more.

 



 

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