Ashley Thorndike, is the founder and director of the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project. She is recently completed her dissertation, a study of studio-based learning in college dance and will earn the first PhD in Dance Studies from Ohio State University in June 2010. An artist, scholar, and activist, Ashley has developed N&N in response to three major concerns facing contemporary dance today: 1) college dance students desire opportunities to connect dance with community, 2) middle school youth are underexposed to the artistic and physical practices of dance, and 3) professional dance artists lack the resources to deeply investigate process. In N+N, Ashley combines her expertise in mentoring and youth development and her life as a dance artist. She holds a BFA from the University of Utah Department of Modern Dance and an MEd in student affairs practice in higher education from the University of Virginia. She has taught as a visiting assistant professor of dance at Oberlin College and was a co-artistic director of Prospect Dance Group. For four years she worked with the Young Women Leaders Program, a large college women/middle school girl group mentoring program at the University of Virginia. Ashley has recently performed at Movement Research in New York and Green Street Studios in Boston, in Annie Kloppenberg’s Indelible Marks and at the Theatre Building in Chicago with Beserra Dance Theatre’s Jenkins Farm Project. Most recently, her workin collaboration with composer Peter V. Swendsen—coldness & lightness—was performed at Oberlin Collge and the Goose Route Dance Festival.
1. Can you tell me who you are and share some information about your dance background?
I’m a performer, choreographer, and dance educator. I began dancing at age 16 and immediately knew it was my life path. I earned a BFA from the University of Utah then I moved to New York to continue my dance training. After a year, I moved down to Charlottesville, VA—a little artistic haven. There I completed a master’s degree in counselor education and founded a small dance company, Prospect Dance Group. After graduating I spent two years switching back and forth between teaching, performing, and making work as a resident artist at the McGuffey Art Center and running the day to day operations of the Young Women Leaders Program, a mentoring program for college women and middle school girls at the University of Virginia. I decided to combine dance and service-learning but knew I needed to delve intensively into study, so I pursued the PhD in Dance Studies at Ohio State University.
2. What is the Now & Next Mentoring Project and how did you become involved with it?
I founded N+N in Fall 2009, but I had the idea way back in the summer of 1997 when I was a summer study student at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. I loved the intensity of my dance practice, but also felt that common sense of wanting to give back. After 12 years of letting the idea percolate and learning about non-profit management and service-learning, now seemed like the time.
3. Can you explain how college dancers fit into this program?
The college dancers get to have two roles. They will begin the day as dance students with a somatic class followed by a 3-hour technique and creative process class. After a lunch break, the college women will take on a leadership role, serving as mentors and teachers for the adolescent girls. During the afternoon, the college women will develop their dance teaching skills, provide one-on-one mentoring, and learn important group facilitation techniques. On some evenings, the college dancers will attend mentoring sessions with the professional dance artists on making a life as a dancer. The program also allows time for personal reflection, hiking, and enjoying the local community.
4. How does this project involve dance artists?
Dancer artists need space and time! After teaching the morning technique and creative process class, the artists will have rehearsal space and time to work on current projects. The focus is process, rather than product, allowing artists time to play with new ideas and concepts.
5. What will the project do for adolescent girls?
Adolescence is an important period, especially for girls who can lose confidence and self-worth during this time. In the afternoon workshops, adolescent girls will build confidence by focusing on what their bodies can do, rather than simply how they look, by engaging in both creative dance making and movement based life skills. The will also have time to get to know a college women dancer and learn more about dance appreciation.
6. Can you explain a bit about service learning?
Service-learning has become an important new direction in university education. The philosophy is that students need to connect their classroom learning experiences to real-life experience through reflective practices. Unlike community service, or volunteerism (an important activity in its own right), service-learning is a more structured approach to working with a community and developing as a leader and learner from that work. For instance, in N+N the college women will have multiple opportunities to develop as dancers and dance educator, and to reflect on their growth as artists and leaders.
7. How can people get involved with this project?
College age dancers (or recent college graduates) can apply to attend the program at our website–same goes for middle school girls. The application period for college dancers and middle school girls is open through the spring. Dance artist selection occurs in the early fall. Schools interested in hosting a project should contact me in the late summer.
8. What are you in need of to develop this project–how can people help?
As with most new organizations, what we need most is capital. At present we are fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a 501(c)3 based in New York City, so we can accept donations through them. Here’s the official language:
Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of Now & Next may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
You can donate online at Fractured Atlas.
We use these donations to provide scholarships for college women and middle school girls, pay the artists, and buy supplies. We are grateful for donations large and small.
We are particularly excited about innovative fundraising. For instance, Katie Anderson, a senior dance major at Oberlin College just hosted a benefit concert for Now & Next.
Beyond financial donations, folks can help spread the word about the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project by joining our Facebook group or fan page and letting dancers and dance departments know about the program. Join our mailing list at www.nownextdance.com!
9. What else can you tell readers about Now & Next Mentoring Project?
Dance is important and we need to cultivate strong leaders in unstable times. By combining dance training and leadership development, Now & Next is an innovative program that addresses the many needs within the dance community by bringing together the strengths of these three communities.
10. What are the next steps for this project? Anything new on the horizon?
We are looking forward to our first workshop this summer in Boone, NC and have begun talks with more schools for potential 2011 programs. We are also working on an online community to facilitate connections during the year. Our longer term plans include developing a program that also serves adolescent boys; producing an annual showcase featuring N+N artists; and developing a curriculum that dance departments can use to develop their own yearlong movement-based mentoring projects.