Ashley Murphy in Giselle at The Washington Ballet. Photo by Theo Kossenas

Spotlight: Someone Once Told Ashley Murphy to Stay Where She's Comfortable. She Did the Opposite.

Ashley Murphy was the leading lady of Dance Theatre of Harlem for many of her 13 years there. But in 2016, she took a leap of faith, leaving her coveted place as reigning ballerina for a spot in The Washington Ballet.

"I wasn't really growing anymore—they didn't need to pay attention to me because they knew I would work on things on my own. I felt like I'd become everybody's mom," she told writer Gia Kourlas. "I need to be in a setting where I'm more equal with other people."

Two years later, she's found a home in D.C.—and has no regrets about her decision. We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:


What do you think is the most common misconception about dancers?

That we don't eat! Dancers definitely eat healthier than the average person, but we also have our "cheat" days where we eat pizza and ice cream! I am also from Louisiana and in the South we love our food.

What other career would you like to try?

My goal is to become a physical therapist so that I can help other dancers feel and dance their very best.

What was the last dance performance you saw?

Nederlands Dans Theater and they were absolutely amazing!

What's the most-played song on your phone?

"Broken But I'm Healed" by Byron Cage. This gospel song is so inspirational to me.

Do you have a pre-performance ritual?

I take a power nap, drink a Red Bull and take three Advil.

What's your favorite book?

Where the Red Fern Grows. It's been my fave since I was a kid!

Where can you be found two hours after a performance ends?

Usually in my bed!

Where did you last vacation?

Cancun, Mexico

What app do you spend the most time on?

Pinterest. I love finding new ideas!

Who is the person you most want to dance with—living or dead?

Gelsey Kirkland. Nothing more to be said, right?

What's the first item on your bucket list?

Sky diving, if I ever get the courage.

What's your go-to crosstraining routine?

TRX Bootcamp, WERQ and PlyoFit! They all are a good kick in the rear.

What's the worst advice you've ever received?

Stay where you are comfortable.

If you could relive one performance, what would it be?

I performed at the White House for President Obama. It was such an honor!

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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