Hi, my name is Ansley and I have 7 more days until India! This is an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It’s called Next Level. Next Level artists have gone through a very selective process; 25 out of some 150 applicants were chosen based on their educational, performing and artistic excellence.
We are working with young people in underserved communities through Hip Hop music and dance to promote peace and conflict resolution; a continuation of the historic U.S. Department of State’s Jazz Ambassadors program. They traveled the world spreading peace and understanding through music in the 1950s. I am thrilled to be continuing this work. The exchange programs will take place in India, Bangladesh, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Senegal and Zimbabwe. I am on Next Level Team India. While in India we will be creating PSA’s on issues concerning the communities we are working with. Many of these issues such as gender/domestic/sexual violence, pressure concerning academic achievement and bullying are also world issues and issues we deal with right here in the U.S.
Why is this a big deal (well of course aside from the obvious)? Because it is the product of me going out on a limb and believing in myself. I have danced for as long as I can remember. I remember taking a ballet class in first grade. I was saddened when I was taken out. I remember waiting in my room until my mother went to work. When she left I closed the door, I turned off the lights and I freestyled ( Hip Hop improvisation). I freestyled for hours and hours. I would stop and lie on the floor from exhaustion. Then I would get up and take a bath and do it all over again until Mom came home in the morning.
Pardoxically, these were my real beginnings. A dream world where everything was possible. A safe place that existed and was non-existent at the same time.
And right before college, I was taken out of my safe place by two men with ill intentions. Ever since then I was dysfunctional in a militant way. I became very strict and hard on myself and stopped listening to the radio and watching tv. I couldn’t sit on couches or watch games. Eat candy or sweets or anything with sugar? Are you crazy?! If I missed a day in the gym, who knew what would happen. I couldn’t make mistakes. And I was afraid of everything. EVERYTHING. I regularly burst into tears when I lost my wallet, and almost drowned.
I went to college and the self-doubt began. “Man!” I thought to myself, “ I HAVE to learn ballet, or I’ll never be considered a real dancer. I’ll never have a professional dance career.“ So I took countless ballet and modern classes to fix my “weakness.” I was not “classically trained,” and whatever else that means to the community that made it up.
So on my venture for “improvement” I stopped focusing on hip hop. I took every balletic-looking genre on earth, anything to get me away from where I came from. It was my priority. But hip hop was still lingering. It was lingering through volunteer work and women’s centers and teaching children and whatever other noble cause. I guess that made it more valid, right?
Here’s the thing: by not focusing on hip hop, I was not focusing on me. I neglected myself because of what some thought (and still do) and what I thought everyone thought.
Just recently I saw the advertisement: “ Looking for hip hop artist educators.” I said to myself, “This is for me. Wait, this IS me.” So I filled it out. While anxious and worried I wondered, “Will I get it?” Part of myself said “of course you will!” the other half was like, “You’re not the best. And doesn’t this sound like it’s for the best?” Again, there goes that loser self-doubt, marching around my brain and holding my thoughts hostage. I don’t remember when, but at some point I said, “There is just no way you can lose, this is for you. If they don’t choose you then they are crazy.” It was this line of thought, this inkling of belief in myself and my abilities that has lead me here. I can’t wait to tell you the rest when I get to India.