"I’ve always danced. I dance because it feels good."
Photo Credit: Willow Street Pictures
God Gave Me the Wiggles
Spoken By: Ashanique Monlyn
Written By: Rachel Hayes
When Ashanique, known to most as Asha, moved to Reading from Yonkers, New York, she was only sixteen. Reading School District was a culture shock for Asha. The high school was enormous, as it is the only high school in the area, and the amount of people in attendance was overwhelming, but through joining the school’s dance team, Asha found her way. Like many, Asha moved to Reading for the lower cost of living. Her brother lived with her father’s ex-girlfriend, and the move allowed her to be closer to him. Plus, she was having problems with her father and decided that a little distance would do her good. Ten years later, at twenty-six years old, Reading has given Asha two sons whom she loves fiercely and a passion for dancing that has never faded.
As it does with artists, Asha found her creativity with dance at a young age. Living in New York, free after-school programs provided her with the foundations of dance that have influenced her as she has grown. At YTI, Youth Theatre Interactions, a non-profit arts program for children in Westchester County, New York, Asha learned Haitian dancing, step, hip-hop, and ballet. As she grew up, she participated in a number of performing groups, learning various styles of dance as a cheerleader and as a member of a marching band dance team.
Once in Reading, Asha was quick to join Reading High’s dance team. “I know when I came into it, I caught onto the dances really quick. So, I remember when I auditioned, and I remember Jaymes, being in front, teaching the dance, me and my friend caught on quick.” Jaymes and Asha became fast friends, and together, with a few other dancers, created a dance group, Dramatic Influence.
A few years later, Ms. Davis, the coach of Reading High’s dance team, formed an alumni group. It was during rehearsals where Asha met Theresa, Liyanah, and Caliph. She had already met Stephanie a few years prior. Around this time, some of the dancers on the alumni team, including Asha, were contacted by directors of This Is Reading. The group auditioned, and having already become close on the alumni team, became even closer through the rehearsals and production of This Is Reading. Asha notes that dancing is complicated in groups when asked if dancing brings people closer together. “Sometimes. It does bring people closer. You’d be surprised how many little... I don’t know what to call it, but you know, a lot of going back and forth sometimes. But it does bring people closer together because music is a way to express yourself. You know, it’s a groove, and a lot of times people want to groove, too. So, it brings people to you.” As she speaks about that groove, that impulse to dance, she smiles.
For her sons, who are three and five years old, dancing is a part of their daily routine. “Every morning I come in from work, I wake them up, bangin’ on the wall.” Asha begins drumming a beat on the table. “I’m makin’ up songs to wake them up and we’re just dancing around the house.” Her sons have seen most of her performances. They like it a lot when she dances in slow motion and they try to mimic her moves. While Asha’s children enjoy watching her dance, having to take care and provide for two little ones make pursuing a career in a dance a challenge for her. These days, with two children and a third-shift job, dancing has become a secondary role in Asha’s life.
Asha admits that she doesn’t like to ask people for help. “At the end of the day, don’t nobody help me take care of mine. I gotta do what’s best for me and mine before I can really focus on what I wanna do for myself, and that sucks, but there’s nothing I can really do about it. That’s what happens when you have kids.” Her kids are her number one priority, and she aches and strives to give them the life, support, and love that she feels her childhood lacked: I just think about it like if my kids want to do something, like if my kids want to act, I’m going to be behind them one hundred percent. If that’s what they want to do, let’s go. But I gotta get to the right place in my life in order to give them that opportunity. What I say to people is that it’s a little bit harder because growing up for me... I feel like if my life... If people would have took the initiative to care more about me, my life could have turned out a lot differently, like... just took the time to raise me. I think about how I was raised, and how I was in school and stuff like that, and it’s just most of the times I got attention, it was ‘cause I was bein’ bad.
Asha’s relationship with her family is complicated, much like her relationship with dance, but growing up, dance provided Asha with the positive attention and outlet she didn’t have at home. Dance has been put on the backburner for Asha, and though she still dances daily, she realizes that to give her children the life they deserve, her dreams might have to come later. Such priorities often puts her at odds with her friends who she feels do not quite understand what it means to be a mother. “Sometimes they just don’t understand, and I become negative when they tell me ‘You can do it!’ It’s easy to say because you don’t have any kids. Having two kids... it’s a lot. It’s a lot, and it’s stressful and it becomes even more stressful when you’re a single parent and you really don’t have that help.”
Asha believes it would be helpful if Reading had more programs like New York did for children, free programs that nurtured the children where they could go and get homework help, make arts and crafts, and take dance classes. But after ten years here, and little support from the community, Asha is pessimistic about Reading’s true desire to change for the better. This feeling was intensified after performing in This Is Reading. Overall, she describes the experience dancing in the show as positive, but she believes the impact of the show is fleeting. You know that after the show, a lot of people were like, “Oh my God, I love this!” And a lot of people came back to see it again and again, all three weeks. And that was awesome, ‘cause it was a show about Reading and what it is and what it was, and how it’s changed. But I can’t say that just because people saw the show that means they’re gonna change, you know? Or try to be more in the community. I’m pretty sure a lot of people just went back to their regular lives. Even though they said, “Oh, you guys were good. We need to...” they probably just went back to their regular lives.”
She doesn’t doubt that the show impacted people. In fact, she thinks that at the time, This Is Reading was just what the community needed. What Asha doubts is that the show moved people to make any real change themselves, and that the area’s artists have a long way to go in terms of community support. “I feel like people are supportive when it comes to certain things. But when you start asking for that help, people kind of turn the side eye and ignore it. People don’t really support and that’s the problem. IF you want something to grow and build, you gotta really support people. It’s not like we ask for much.”
Despite her feelings about the lasting effects of the show, This Is Reading reaffirmed Asha’s love for dancing, a relationship which can only be described as complicated. But This Is Reading was something completely different than anything she had ever done before. It was harder, more professional, and more work than she had expected, but she loved every single moment of it. “I was so sad when it ended, I cried. I cried because the other dancers from Philly, they got to go back to doin’ what they usually do, which was that, and then we went back to justifying to figure it out. Once again.”
Luckily for Asha, dancing is a way for her to figure things out, even if a career in dancing is what she’s trying to figure out in the first place. To dance, to create a dance, and to express herself through movement is as natural as breathing for Asha. “God gave me the wiggles and I have to release them. I’ve always danced. I just dance because it feels good. A lot of times, when I’m going through whatever I’m going through, I sit with my headphones in my ears and try to make up dances and I just go from there. It just, [there has] always been something in me that wants to dance. So, I just wish I could get further with it.”
Nowadays, she dances the most when no one else is around. Usually, this is when she can sneak away from her children for a few minutes and plug in her earphones. Her dances come to her in slideshows, and the music is played on repeat as the visuals in her head transform into movement. Like any artist, Asha gets frustrated with the creative process because sometimes how she sees it in her mind is harder to recreate in real life than she would like it to be. “It doesn’t come to me the way I want to, but it gets there, and eventually I’ll get the dance out. Just takes a little bit.”
Time, though, for Asha is a luxury, who feels like her window of opportunity is closing,and her chance to accomplish her dreams is vanishing due to her inability to get out of Reading. Asha talks of Draya Michele, a socialite and model who was originally from the area, and how she had to leave in order to find success. Like Asha, Draya had a child, but she also had a support system, whereas Asha is alone. “All I can do is try to keep my head up, keep on pushin’, and, hopefully, one of these days, it’ll pay off, but I gotta start somewhere.”
If one thing is for sure, it’s that Asha will keep pushing. Though her kids make the road to her dream all the more difficult, they are also her main source of inspiration. She even jokes that, if necessary, she will bring them along with her to casting calls. You see, her dream is to be an entertainer. She wants to star in a movie, be on a billboard, or in a commercial. Basically, she wants to be known, and she wants to create. And though her life is difficult, and time seems to be going by faster and faster, Asha never ceases her search for stardom.