Asher on Aspen: Back to the Barre and a love letter to ballet |

Asher on Aspen: Back to the Barre and a love letter to ballet

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
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When I was 18, I auditioned for the dance program at Juilliard. It was one of the single most nerve-racking and exhilarating things that I’ve ever had to do. My teachers worked with me for hours on end, repeatedly for weeks to perfect each movement and rehearse each segment of my audition solo. I had never worked on something so hard in my entire life. This audition was one of many during my senior year of high school. Growing up, the plan was always to dance professionally and pursue performing arts in college over academics.

I began training when I was 8 years old and studied ballet intensely through college until I was 22. Throughout middle school and high school, I took ballet classes six days a week at a prestigious studio that focused on ballet. I went on to pursue it in college while simultaneously studying journalism. I had big dreams of becoming a prima ballerina and I never had any intention of becoming a ballet teacher.

That all changed, however, when I moved to Aspen.

The strenuous demands that ballet had on me both physically and emotionally eventually took a toll. Having danced intensely for the better part of my life, I was ready for a break after college. Always having someone watching my every move and expecting me to execute every step perfectly was exhausting. It was also an immense amount of pressure, and I was worn out. So, I moved to Aspen and I quit dancing.

It didn’t bother me for a while, and Aspen proved to be a nice distraction. Until one day, my uncle asked me to pick my cousins up from an all-boys hip-hop class. I wandered into the dance studio and caught myself observing the ballet students in the studio next door. It was here that I felt called to ask the studio owner if she needed more ballet teachers. Luckily, she did and thus began my four-year journey of teaching ballet at Dance Progressions in the Aspen Airport Business Center.

Once I started teaching, I quickly began to realize that I needed ballet back in my life. The sheer joy that teaching ballet brings me is hard to put into words. It fills me up in a way that nothing else quite does. How do you explain the things you love? You can’t, you just do.

Ballet is a funny thing. It takes a very patient individual to respond to its precision and discipline, mastering the relentless repetition of positions and combinations. Understanding and appreciating ballet takes time; moreover, it takes passion. Throughout these past few years of teaching, I have tried my hardest to pass down my love for ballet in the best way I know how.

One unique thing about ballet that I always share with my students is its universal appeal and time-honored history. You can take a ballet class anywhere in the world, and it is guaranteed that each class will start with pliés, followed by tendus, followed by dégagés, and so on. There is something comforting and therapeutic about this routine at the barre. Despite the repetition, there is always something to work on and perfect within each combination.

Seeing the girls light up when something clicks for them is a wonderfully rewarding feeling. Seeing them dance their way through a combination, even though I know they’ve had a tough day at school, is so inspiring. More than anything else, I love watching them express themselves through the movements. Though there is precision and structure in ballet, there are also many opportunities for the students to express themselves and find their unique stage presence.

Ballet has taught me many lessons over the years that have translated into many other areas of my life. Dedication, hard work, attention to detail, patience, balance, strength, confidence, focus, and resilience are just some of the main themes that come to mind. There is something so special about being able to pass these lessons down to the next generation. Ballet is about so much more than the steps. It’s about work ethic and dedication.

The things we are passionate about in this lifetime are no coincidence. These things, whatever they may be, are intrinsically tied to our purpose. My purpose may not have been to be on the stage forever, in the spotlight, as I thought it it was. Maybe, I’m realizing now, it was instead to pass down my love for ballet to the next generation, maybe it’s simply to inspire these young dancers to stick with something, no matter how hard or stressful it might become, to fall in love with something bigger than themselves.