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How Former New York City Ballet Dancer Aesha Ash Is Encouraging a New Generation of Black Ballerinas

Having danced with New York City Ballet, Béjart Ballet and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Aesha Ash undoubtedly inspired more than a few future ballerinas during her 13-year professional career. But now that she's retired, she's found a way to reach even more young girls, particularly those who live in inner-city neighborhoods, after founding The Swan Dreams Project.

Creating the project in 2011, Ash recently told SELF that she originally intended to rent public ad spaces to showcase images of herself in her tutus in her hometown of Rochester, New York. While the cost of taking out ads around the city forced Ash to share her pictures in a different way, the reasoning behind her efforts has remained the same ever since.

"I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," Ash told Dance Magazine. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light." Through a mix of black and white and color photos, Ash has used free social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to do just that.

"I want to help change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women by showing the world that beauty is not reserved for any particular race or socio-economic background," Ash writes on her site.

To help further spread her message of inclusivity, Ash has taught free dance classes to the children at her daughter's public school, as well as for Girls Inc., a nonprofit group that serves to mentor girls ages 6 to 18. Additionally, all donations to The Swan Dreams Project and funds raised through the sale of Ash's pictures and t-shirts are donated to dance schools and organizations working to diversify the ballet world.

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