Get to know the dancers! The next voice in our interview series is Ashley Mayeux. After a professional journey that took her from Aida to Alvin Ailey, Ashley joined LINES Ballet in 2018. Read on to learn about what she’s learned about herself along the way.
Ashley, what is dance?
A euphoric creative state of being in which the body moves through space to music or none at all. It can convey an emotion, idea, or concept.
Why did you choose dance?
I can’t really say that I “chose” dance. I’ve always felt like dance chose me. My mom always encouraged me to find one activity and stick to it for at least a year, I could never decide what it was that I wanted to do. After running some errands, mom and I passed by a dance studio in a strip mall near my house. Stephanie’s Dance Studio One! She asked me, “should we check it out?” I said yes, excitedly. We inquired, and I took my first dance class that week – I think it was either jazz or ballet or both. The love was instantaneous and mutual. For the first time I felt overwhelmed with passion. It just clicked and I knew I was in fact a “dancer.” I was six years old.
In that first year did you recognize qualities developing in you, or did that occur later, and what were those qualities?
I realized that I valued structure significantly and discipline was something I excelled at. I also could replicate any movement I saw without knowing any terminology and without any hesitation or fear. I wish I still had that fearlessness.
Where did that fearlessness go, and why did hesitation and fear enter?
As my love for dance began to grow, I became more and more knowledgeable, the “rights and wrongs” of technique if you will. As I began to realize that I may not have been classically trained my love and growing knowledge turned to fear of judgment and it somehow overcame the pure enjoyment of what dance used to be. I grew serious about my art and my enjoyment turned into perfectionism. I always heard the saying “your technique will free you” instead of my technique freeing me, it in a way it shackled me. My hope is to finally let go and to be free once again.
How were you supposed to be classically trained when this was your first venture into taking classes? Did someone express some judgment towards you?
This was long after I had started – high school, maybe – when I realized the world was way bigger than Stephanie’s Dance Studio One. When I got into the performing arts high school in Houston and my first summer intensive at Ailey. I realized I wanted to do ballet seriously and that I was further behind than I realized for my age. I passed judgment on myself for being behind but it put me on a fast track. My dreams became more clear once I realized specifically what it was that I wanted to focus on.
Did you achieve your dreams?
I believe dreams have many levels. I believe I have achieved a lot through my career, but there is always more. Once I can learn to become dance, to become an idea, free from judgment of self or others I can feel adequate in my profession. But, I have many dreams – I dream and hope that my career and personal life will align. I dream that there will be a way I can possibly give life, be a partner, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an artist, a teacher and acquire financial freedom while keeping peace in my heart. I hope to balance them all with grace. This is my dream, in its entirety. I hope to achieve them all.
I’ve seen you beautifully embody ideas. Have you not felt it? Do you think that judgment can keep you from feeling it when it’s actually happening?
I definitely know when I’ve tapped into the freedom of embodiment. My goal is to train my mind and body to be so strong and so connected that I can move in and out of that state by choice, not by chance. Judgement definitely holds me back, but also the fear of uncertainty of unknowing even when my hearts begs me to go to that place my mind hold me back. I want to feel lost and found at the same time.
What is your experience when you are teaching?
I experience a responsibility to inspire, and to give correct information. Teaching helps me to be clear in my mind. I can always tell when I haven’t been clear based on how students produce. It’s direct feedback that is invaluable to me. It’s almost a sacred exchange between student and teacher that’s very hard to express. The beauty of being hard on a student because you love them and believe in them is hard to balance, but knowing that you can choose words to specifically to help a student to hear you is something I love to practice. To actually visually see your advice take place in their understanding is priceless and so gratifying.
What particular lessons have you learned from yourself or others regarding color? Being a woman?
It’s going to sounds so cliché, but I feel the most important lesson that I’ve learned as a black woman in dance is that representation matters. I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me growing up, that’s why my experience at the Ailey summer intensive was a turning point in my training. I took everything way more seriously once I saw the possibilities. Even just taking class with so many different backgrounds and ethnicities, and minorities significantly changed the way I danced, it changed the way I took class.
I know every time I step on the stage or take photo that I am representation of young black dancers that see themselves in me. This is so important, and it honestly keeps me going. It’s a constant reminder to them that they can be where I am, or anywhere they choose to be. To know that my purpose can serve in such a way is humbling.
Is there something you would like to share or say, and is there any invaluable advice you would like to impart?
I tried so hard to fit into a world that was never really “meant” for me, it played a major role in my journey into identity. Now in my journey, at 31 I’m still figuring out who Ashley is. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to learn about yourself, in fact I’ll never stop inquiring about Ashley and her values and seeking the truths of the universe. I am where I am meant to be. I say all that to say, I want to influence young dancers to soak up as much information as possible but don’t let in be in place of the thing that makes you; you. Dig deep and be brave.
Why wasn’t it meant for you? Why isn’t it yours? Looks like yours to me.
It was completely meant for me. I believe I was destined for dance. But not without the strides of people like Arthur Mitchell and the Raven Wilkinsons, the Alvin Aileys, and even the Alonzo Kings made to allow me that dream. I mean it wasn’t meant for me in the way that “Freedom” wasn’t designed for all people. But we dream and accomplish and become in spite of our oppressions.
If you could only have the choice of three things to eat every day what would they be?
This is such a hard question to answer. I think I narrowed it down to rice, eggs, and avocados.
BIO: Ashley Mayeux was born in Houston, Texas. She began her dance training at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts and graduated cum laude with a BFA from SUNY Purchase. Mayeux continued her studies at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and went on to perform in the tour of the Broadway musical Aida. She has been featured in publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Essence Magazine, and Pointe Magazine. Mayeux danced with Complexions Contemporary Ballet from 2012 to 2016, before becoming a company member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre from 2016 to 2018. She joined LINES Ballet in 2018.
Photos: © RJ Muna
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