Dancer Aesha Ash had a hard road to become a ballerina. Growing up in a poor, mostly-black neighborhood in Rochester, New York, she realized early that she needed to overcome the bleak perception of black women in her chosen profession and in the media at large. After retiring (on her own terms) from a brief-but-successful career that included parts with the New York City Ballet, the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland, and Alonzo King Lines Balle, Ash returned to Rochester to team up with photographer Arleen Thaler for an effort she calls The Swan Dreams Project. The Project uses imagery to change the demoralized image of black women.
“The Swan Dreams Project’s goal is to convey the message that beauty and talent are not constrained by race or socio-economic status. I want our youth to know that they are not limited by their environment, only by their dreams.”
Of course, the meteoric rise of ABT principal dancer Misty Copeland has gone a long way toward dispelling stereotypes about black dancers among the ballet community, but there’s still many battles ahead. And Aesha Ash will be on the front lines, fighting for young girls who dream of dancing like she did.
All images property of Arleen Thaler Photography/Swan Dreams Project.