The Washington Ballet's Ashley Murphy isn't afraid to step outside her comfort zone.
Why did you make the move from Dance Theatre of Harlem to The Washington Ballet?
I had been at DTH for 13 years, and I wanted to see what else was out there. I felt like it was time for me to experience other choreography and a bigger company setting.
Has the change helped you grow as a dancer?
Definitely. At DTH, they knew me and trusted me with a lot of principal roles. Here, I had to work my way back up. I'm more of a performer onstage than in the studio, so it was hard for me to show them what I could do. But the people around me were so encouraging, which helped my confidence. As my first year went on, things got better.
Do you prefer dancing existing ballets or having new work created on you?
Both. Dancing ballets that have already been created, especially the classics, teaches you discipline and the structure of what ballet is. And it's rewarding to dance roles that were performed by people you look up to. Having things created on you is amazing, as well, because you feel like you've added something to ballet's history.
You've said there's a need for more black teachers, directors and ballet masters. Do you see yourself in any of these roles someday?
I love teaching, but being a ballet master is not for me. I want to go to physical therapy school and work with dancers that way.
Are you going to start PT school while you're dancing?
I haven't decided yet. I'm working on my bachelor's degree first through the Saint Mary's College of California LEAP program, and taking it one step at a time.
What do you consider the most important aspect of your dancing?
Connecting with the audience. No matter what you're performing, whether it's Balanchine or Sleeping Beauty or a contemporary piece—even if you only touch one person. Otherwise we're not doing our jobs to the fullest.
Do you have any advice for dancers?
Don't mistake challenge for defeat. Every day is not going to be easy, but once you're onstage you don't think about those things. There's just the joy that comes with sharing your art.
What do you like to do on your days off?
I love doing my nails. I do nail art. People make fun of me—they're like, “You do your nails every day!" And I'm like, “Yup, pretty much."