Fade up from black. Camera opens focusing on three ladies, sassy in posture and dressed in form-fitting black leotards, in front of a simple backdrop. The filter is a cinematic black and white – classy and classic. The music cues in, choreography begins and a voice melodically shouts out an up-tempo, ‘All My Single Ladies’ that line is repeated a few times and into verse one.
The diva in the middle is Beyoncé, a.k.a. Mrs. Carter, one of the baddest in show business and consumer labeled royalty – props to her #beyhive. To her left is dancer Ebony Williams, and to her right is Ashley Everett, seven-year backup dancer for Beyoncé and current dance captain.
As the single and video for “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” escalated causing the first “video parody craze”, so did Ashley’s popularity. Fans of the video, wanted to know “who are the girls dancing with Beyoncé?” Soon, she became a part of music history.
It’s summertime Chi and humidity has become an antagonist, but Ashley is Cali chill. Her face sporting flawless make-up- from back-to-back interviews and a photoshoot with the talented Gianna Dorsey Photography, all taking place just hours before hitting the stage. Her big, red hair frames her face exotically complementing her curve hugging black and white aztec quarter-length dress. It’s already been a long day, but dedication to spreading her light through the art of dance, at this moment, takes president over catching some needed shut eye. We’re appreciative.
Ashley’s debut with Queen Bey came during the ‘B’Day era, circa 2006. You may recall the Neptunes produced track, “Green light”. Looking back at the video, which also marked Ashley’s introduction to music videos, you’d be assured that her journey was already set on Go!
“It was totally a shock to me when I started working with Beyoncé and doing videos,” she exclaims while we chatted at the W Hotel Chicago Lakeshore. Currently on the Mrs. Carter World Tour, she was in town for one night only gearing up for yet another anticipated concert performance at Chicago’s United Center on July 17th.
She’s simply and creatively living her dream.
It was love at first chassé.
Passion is one beast of a motivational force. And it’s evident in the overall nature of Ashley. When you’re working from a passionate space with a full belly of determination, it makes the journey even more fulfilling when you’re knocking down your goals and creating new ones.
Dance is visual storytelling. Whether freestyle or technical, the ability one has to use the body as a rhythmic instrument is beautiful and challenging. Those even with natural talent, still have to work hard to become the height of their best.
As an entertainer, Ashley’s hope is to inspire through her art. Her beliefs reside strongly in hard work and fully pushing yourself when it comes to your talents. She encourages versatility and accredits her successful progression in the professional dance industry to her ability to apply technical techniques to any form of dance.
“I look at it like, if you only know one thing, that’s what you’ll be limited too. I just think the more versatile you are, the more opportunity you open yourself to. Artists are always like, “Ashley can you do a tilt?’ Because they know I’m technical.”
” Even people who aren’t trained, when you dance in heels you have to have a good line,” elongating her body to place weight on her left hip demonstrating a ‘line’, she continues, “and know how to sit on your hip right. It’s just important and it makes you better in all aspects.”
Her fearlessness and determination to be the best with her gift is also heavily accredited to her parents. Much of her success is made possible due to their encouragement and support. It was at three-years-old when her mother, a former aspiring artist, signed her up for ballet classes in North California, their hometown.
“My parents saw something in me,” says Ashley. “So did my teachers at home and other people and they told my parents, ‘you need to do something with her.'”
“I was a serious little student, like ‘I’m going to be the best dancer’. I never stopped since then. In my dance studio, we did everything so when I got older I started doing jazz, tap, and hip-hop.”
After years of training at Chico Creek Dance Centre, performing in recitals as well as competitively, Ashley had successfully met and mastered every challenge. It was time for more.
Every move ignited passion. While most teens are awaiting their first car for their “Sweet Sixteen”, Ashley’s parents convinced her to hit the pavement in New York.
Her eyes light up and voice becomes animated with a smile, “My parents convinced me that I should move to New York to pursue my dreams! I was in a small town and one of the best dancers at my dance studio and basically needed to be pushed more.”
Well, hello New York! Bright-eyed and hungry, Ashley and her mom made the move. Soon after, she became a member of the infamous Alvin Ailey Dance Studio.
“It was a perfect move because I was like, at the top of my dance studio in Chico and then at Alvin Ailey, I had to really work my way up,” she enthuses. “I was around company members and amazing dancers and it just pushed me even harder to become better everyday.”
It was the middle of her senior year, when her life would elevate to a level many fantasize about. She auditioned for Beyonce. “It was probably one of the first times I’ve ever danced in heels,” she laughs. “I was just like, well, just try it!” That confidence and her skilled talent has led Ashley around the globe into the hearts of fans and the homes of millions.
Ashley speaks humbly, “My family is the reason I am where I am. They moved me to New York; I could not have done that by myself. I was 16, I didn’t pay for myself, they did that for me so it’s amazing they’ve always supported me and I’m just so blessed to have a family like that. I love them so much for it and feel like one day, when I’m rich, I’m going to buy them a house!”
… Well, fame costs and right here is where you start paying. With sweat.” -Debbie Allen
So, I ask, are you ready to sweat?
Recalling her entrance into this world of touring with Beyonce as a dancer and then advancing to captain, award shows, TV performances and working with various artists in the music industry from the likes of Ciara, Robin Thicke, Ne-yo, and Jennifer Lopez, just to name a few, the red-haired beauty blushes, “I was 17, [new to New York], and knew nothing about the “commercial” industry and how to be ‘hot’ on camera. “I was so wide-eyed, taking it all in and learning as much as I could.”
She adds, “I think one thing that people forget is that this is an act. You have to understand how to be commercial and how to turn it “on” for the camera – smize and do all this extra stuff. I didn’t know anything about that.”
It’s so easy to see celebrities, artists, dancers, actors and the like, on TV and being enriched with opportunity and, with that star-like gleam in your eyes say, ‘I want to do that!’ without taking into consideration the true art and essence of the actual work.
The glam is broadcast and promoted while the grind and grudge remain unspoken. Yes, Ashley’s life is one that many dream of, but know that none of it happened overnight. With success come sacrifices and various levels to building your plateau.
“The dance studio was my number one home, then home, and then school,” Ashley informs. “Everything else was like ah, the movies, shopping … can’t go this weekend. I was so dedicated to it and I worked so hard and took so many classes in one day. Some days I would be at dance from 3pm until 10 at night. So I just worked really hard and I was passionate about it.”
Allow your passion to be your driving force and study, study, study your craft. Dance has been Ashley’s existence since she was three. And when the challenges became bigger and work, harder, she dived in and soaked up as much as she could in the presence of professionals that she admired telling herself along the way, “I could be like them!”
Attitude and personality are pivotal in leadership. Though, she is in a leadership role as Beyonce’s lead dancer, she’s definitely not one to cozy up on a power trip. “I don’t look at it like I’m above anyone. I just want to help people as much as I can and try to be inspiring. I’m still learning myself and I don’t think I know everything, EVER!”
She adds, “If the girls ever need to vent or have a question, I’m like you can ask me and I’ll tell you the honest truth.”
Ashley’s aura is passionate and fun. Her spirit exudes beauty and her light touches people all over the world. One’s journey is ever evolving and though she has exceeded much of her own expectations, just as choreographer, Frank Gatson Jr. shares his wisdom with her, Ashley aspires to “give back to the next generation and just share my light.”
Wrapping up our conversation, Ashley dropped another gem, “Everyone is naturally talented at something and if you just train and study enough, you learn to make it better and you’ll be great.”
For those hearts and dreamers who aspire to be a name among the stars, take note and remember on that journey, do the work. Then, the shine will come effortlessly.