Today, I share with you a story that instills grace, discipline, advocation, and hope! Today’s DH post is about Aesha Ash, retired New York City Ballerina, and current founder of The Swan Dreams Project. It’s nice on a day like today, after such a tragic TV crew shooting, to read up on someone who is famed for making a positive impact in our world. So read up on something positive today. . .
By: Aesha Ash
One of my goals, even before beginning a professional ballet career, has always been to change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women and girls. My desire is to show the world, all while reminding ourselves, that we too can command poise, grace, elegance and beauty-we too can be beautiful swans. As a professional ballet dancer, I used my passion as a vehicle to spread this message as far and wide as possible. Like many others may have experienced, the need for such positive self-imagery amongst young African American women is greatly needed. A need which also transcends ballet. Take the NY Times article where televesion critic Alessandra Stanely mentioned how actress Viola Davis didn’t fit a ‘classically beautiful’ image. Not only the ballet world, but society in general has a difficult time viewing most women of color in a classical light.
Upon retiring, I was saddened that I could no longer try to make a difference in the way women of color are viewed through my active participation with a ballet company. There was this heaviness and void that I carried with me until after my first child, a girl, was born. I began to look back on my career and feel that I had unfinished business. Business that I felt was important to take care of, not only for myself, but for my daughter. I began to think about ways in which I could continue to spread a more positive image and change the perspective of how African-American women are viewed in society and in media. I was quickly reminded of a photo that inspired me throughout my training at the School of American Ballet. It was a photo of then African-American dancer Andrea Long (now Andrea Long -Naidu). At the time Andrea was a dancer with NYCB and the photo was from her years as a student in the school. This image was so inspiring to me, as she was the only dancer of color in the photo. It was a powerful remider that becoming a ballerina was indeed possible. Whenever I felt downcast and alone, I would look at this image and immediately find the strength to carry on. Thinking back on those moments, I realized right then and there that I had to use photography. Thus began my creation of The Swan Dreams Project.
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. I also hope to promote greater involvement and increase patronage to this beautiful art form.
How can you help?
By purchasing an image you are helping to spread not only the message of The Swan Dreams Project, which is one of hope and possibilities, but you are utilizing the power of imagery to inspire. Pulitzer Prize winner, Eddie Adams, whose photograph helped change Americans attitudes towards the Vietnam War once wrote, “still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.” For myself, it was an image of Andrea Long-Naidu on the wall of The School of American Ballet that empowered me as a young aspiring ballerina. Images do indeed have power, and what we don’t see sends as powerful a message as what we do.
I hope these images will stand as a reminder that all things are possible. Beauty and grace are not limited by race or status—they are boundless, limitless.