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By Ashley Murphy
Lyrical and warm, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Ashley Murphy has been an audience favorite since the start of her career. After training at Shreveport’s Carol Anglin Dancenter, and also at the Joffrey Ballet School and The Ailey School, the Louisiana native joined DTH’s Dancing Through Barriers Ensemble in 2002. She became a member of the main company the next year, and danced until it went on hiatus. In 2008, when the DTH Ensemble was created, she returned to appear with them and rejoined the main company when it was relaunched. She has since danced leads in pieces by Christopher Huggins, Robert Garland and others.
The year is 1988 and I am 3 years old, sitting on my mother’s lap at the Strand Theatre in Shreveport, Louisiana, eagerly waiting to see what’s behind the big red curtain. I cannot be still. After much anticipation, the house lights finally dim and the curtain slowly begins to rise.
I vividly remember the excitement I felt as that little 3-year-old, wanting to know what lay behind that curtain. Now I do: It’s a sacred, enchanted place where dancers get to re-create themselves night after night. Excavating deep inside their very beings, they pull out the many facets of themselves that might otherwise never be seen in everyday life. And that is why I dance.
I began dance classes later that year. Introverted as a youngster, dance was the outlet that allowed me to express my emotions. As I progressed through my dance training and began to perform, the stage was the place where I could lose myself. People no longer saw the shy Ashley, the soft-spoken one who was always reprimanded for looking at the floor in rehearsals. Instead, they saw the characters I was portraying. Whether it was a fairy, a princess or a villain, I could transform myself into the very being of each.
I am so grateful for the art of dance and those lessons that have made me into the person I am today. Through dance I have found life. Every new step is like taking a breath of fresh air, a way to discover what it is to be alive.
Being a member of Dance Theatre of Harlem allows me to be an inspiration for others. Traveling the world doing what I love is rewarding enough in itself, but it’s not the part of my job that means the most to me. My favorite part of each day is finishing rehearsal and passing the children heading to the DTH School on their way to class. They greet me with such excitement, running up with shining smiles and warm embraces. I can’t put in words how it feels to know that they admire me for what I do. Growing up I had so many great role models—my parents, my grandparents and my pastor. Now I can be that to a host of young dancers who may grow up to be the next generation to watch. There is a saying—“Imitation is the best form of flattery”—so I want to be careful what I give them to imitate. I do my best to stay positive, to share my inner light.
I am so blessed to be where I am today through dance; I only hope to continue to encourage others. One small detail I failed to mention—on that night at the Strand Theatre when the curtain finally rose, the first thing I saw was brown tights and brown pointe shoes, a signature of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Little did I know that years later that shy little girl would be wearing them too!
Photo of Murphy in Robert Garland’s Return. By Rachel Neville, Courtesy DTH.