Ashley Tate came from a family bonded by dance. Her mother danced, her sister danced, and the dancing bug spread to Tate, who began dancing at the age of three. “I don't really know myself or my life without dance in it in some capacity,” Tate says. Dance was woven into the fabric of her family, and that love for dance followed and guided her along the path to who she is today.
Tate went to Texas Christian University to get an undergraduate degree in computer science, deciding to dance only as a hobby. “I really wasn't thinking about it. I just loved it and kept it in my life,” Tate explains.
Dancing eventually led her to audition for cheerleading with the National Football League (NFL), and she cheered professionally, including serving two years as the cheerleading captain for the Rams during the football team’s period in St. Louis, her hometown. She also choreographed for NFL and NCAA (basketball) halftime shows. Along the way, Tate had made up her mind to continue pursuing dance.
“And I said to myself, you know, dance is your passion. Dance is what wakes you up in the morning. That's what you love. That's how you communicate, that's where you feel the safest and bravest. So why not just ride this wave and see where it takes you? And here I am.”
Tate went on to teach for a K-12 Dance Academy, Grand Center Arts Academy, in 2009. By 2014, she was appointed chair of the academy’s dance department. Combining her love of dance with her natural leadership skills allowed her to find her own rhythm in teaching.
“I fell in love with being able to marry the leading and directing with the pedagogical side and the lesson planning, I loved all of that. And plus, I'm a dance nerd, so I loved incorporating history with movement." She would eventually follow this new path to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where she obtained her MFA in Dance in 2018.
Even before finding her calling as a teacher, Tate had created her own dance company, Ashleyliane Dance Company (ADC), in 2007. She was only in her early 20’s at the time, but her drive led her to create a space to share dance with others who loved the art as much as she did.
“I'm just going to create everything that feels good to me and I'm not going to try to fit it into a box, and I'm going to hope that audiences find something that they can connect with. That was my young way of thinking.”
ADC continued to grow and evolve alongside Tate, and the mission of the company has spurred into something new and beautiful for those who enter the studio. With age came the knowledge Tate needed to express what she wanted to do with her company, and that manifested creating socially engaged pieces for the community around her. She became co-producer of Dance the Vote, a non-partisan grassroots arts-based voter registration initiative in St. Louis. In April 2023, she was a key participant in the nationally recognized No Tears Project, a multidisciplinary festival founded by Oxford American Magazine in 2017 to honor CIvil Rights history. (Read more about the project and her contributions here.)
Tate explores all different styles of dance, from jazz to hip-hop, to express her ideas through the body in a way that touches and inspires those who see it.
Ashley Tate, far right, teaching a hip-hop dance class at UNC Charlotte.
“What does it mean? How does it feel? How do we use movement as the vehicle for change? I'm always trying to provide as many different ways in for the audience, so that they find their way into dance.”
Sixteen years after its founding, ADC continues to grow and evolve as it makes the move from Missouri to North Carolina. Just as her company has changed, so has Tate herself. Tate has grown into a strong and passionate professor here at the university, guiding her students to find their own love of dance, the same way dance has guided her throughout her life.
“I want them to feel brave enough to try new things at the end of the day. It takes courage to come into a space and be asked to move. There's nothing to work with but your body and your and yourself.”
Tate works with her students to move past their anxieties with movement and expressing themselves, and find the love of dance as an artform and a cultural and historical force that has shaped our world for the better.
“You know, deep down, I knew this was the mission. It wasn't something that I decided – I didn't wake up one day and say this is it. I just followed the wave of how my life was moving, and I love – at the end of the day, I love that light bulb.”
By Rayden Leeder