This Rochester, NY Ballerina Is Inspiring Young Girls In The Best Way Ever

by Olivia Butler

January 17, 2018

Photo by Thaler Photography Courtesy of Instagram

Aesha Ash grew up in inner-city Rochester, NY. She went from being just one of the neighborhood kids to a being dancer for the New York City Ballet.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart’s Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the ballerina retired from dancing and reshifted her focus to teaching and inspiring young girls of color. According to Dance Magazine, she’s determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. “I want to show it’s okay to embrace our softer side and let the world know we’re multidimensional,” says Ash.

In 2011, Ash launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. Ash told Dance Magazine, “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.”

Photo credit: Renee Scott #theswandreamsproject

A post shared by Aesha Ash (@theswandreamsproject) on

She knew the power imagery can have. She still remembers being a student at the School of American Ballet and seeing a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long.

More importantly, she remembers how it made her feel.

“That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I’d see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too.”

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter’s public school next month. “I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, ‘Are you the ballet teacher?’ She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room,” Ash says. “You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence.”

If you’re interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly to swandreamsproject.org. Check out all the images from her visit to the streets of Rochester below.

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