When Ashanté Green got the offer to teach at The Dance Institute of Washington in 2014, it was like coming home. “It’s my dream job,” she says. As a 7-year-old growing up in Maryland, Green was spotted at a local community center by DIW’s beloved founder Fabian Barnes. He invited her to join the school, which offers classes, performance opportunities and mentorship to local youth, many of whom are at risk. Green stayed for seven years before going on to attend a performing arts high school. “I had a wonderful experience at DIW,” she says. “I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today if I hadn’t trained under Fabian Barnes.” (Barnes passed away unexpectedly in 2016.)
Green teaches ballet and modern, but it’s in her contemporary jazz classes for students ages 10–18 that she can really play. She uses improvisation exercises to build her recreational students’ confidence as performers and develop their musicality. “You don’t have time to think and plan. You just have to do and feel,” she says. “It helps get them out of their shells.” Word prompts are one of her go-to tools for creative exploration. She calls out adjectives, like “low,” “dark” or “happy,” and the students have to respond with movement. Once they get the hang of that, Green adds another layer of difficulty: time. “I might say ‘Move in slow motion’ or ‘Let’s speed it up,’ and they have to do so while still keeping the original words in their bodies,” she says.
Although she focuses on artistry, Green reminds students that strong technique is non-negotiable. “For me, it’s quality over quantity,” she says. “I don’t care if you do 10 pirouettes if your foot is sickled. Give me a clean pirouette with the foot neatly placed.”