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Nelson County grad grows as dancer, choreographer

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Posted: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 7:52 am | Updated: 8:53 am, Thu Feb 6, 2014.

The stage is set and the lights shine down. With a sheer white cloth wrapped around her body, 19-yearold Ashlynn Watson moves effortlessly over a contrasting solid, black stage.

Her dance is modern, beautiful and dramatic, capturing several characteristics of the Sweet Briar College sophomore from Arrington whose first two choreographed works were showcased in the school’s Fall Dance Concert on Nov. 15 and 16.

“I have a passion for music, acting and dancing,” Watson said.

The genesis of her career took place in Farmville, where she lived until moving to Nelson County in 2002. After graduating from SBC, she plans to attend graduate school to be a dance therapist when she’s not performing, and then head to New York or Chicago to move into the professional dance industry, which she described as “extremely” competitive.

“Everyone wants to do it, and everyone thinks they can,” she said.

What sets her apart, she believes, is her dedication and persistence.

“I’ve heard ‘no’ a lot in my life,” she said. “And everyone has always told me, ‘You will get a thousand no’s before you get a yes.’ And I feel like I have the persistence to be able to do that.”

Watson said her mother has been a driving force behind her work in the performing arts.

“Every time I got a ‘no,’ she was like, ‘you’ve just got to go out there and get it again, do it again and eventually someone will say yes,’” she said.

Watson is dual majoring in musical theater and dance and has her sights set on auditioning for an upcoming show at SBC featuring a German opera translated into English. However, the favorite performance of her career was playing Erma in “Anything Goes” her senior year at Nelson County High School.

Watson’s favorite style of dance is musical theater and Mark Magruder, the head of the dance department at SBC, said Watson’s choreography has a “theatrical leaning.”

“Ashlynn’s a good … dancer and she’s coming along quite well as a choreographer,” he said.

The dance program at SBC puts a heavy emphasis on choreography.

“Choreographers make great leaders and great organizers,” Magruder said.

The fall concert featured about 25 student dancers and 10 pieces, eight of which were choreographed by dance majors. Mark Magruder and wife Ella Magruder, who together have been dance professors for almost 29 years, each choreographed a piece as well.

The student choreographers got to participate in the audition process, which took place in mid-September. Watson said she selected the girls in her group piece “for their ability to dance and portray emotion.”

A little more than a week before the concert, students presented their final choreographed pieces for the professors to determine whether they would be included in the show.

Watson said it took about six weeks to prepare her pieces for the concert, which turned out to be everything she imagined “and more.” The process started with generating the ideas behind the choreography.

“I changed my mind about seven different times for each piece,” she said.

Her group dance, “Dust,” told the story of people being taken over by things they can control.

“It’s definitely an acting piece,” Watson said. “I wanted to take that part of me and put it in this concert, because that’s what I’ve been told I am good at putting in my pieces. So I wanted to see if I could give that to other people.”

In the dance, non-human forces pull at two individuals, and while one is able to break away and become stronger, the other succumbs to the pressure. She used the fall concert as a concrete example of her abstract idea.

“This was my first time choreographing for the concert, this was my first time putting on a solo piece for this big of an audience,” Watson said. “And it’s really hard, but making it past it is better than just giving up.”

Even while choreographing her solo piece, she had to learn to adapt in spite of a difficult situation. As she started the process, she knew she wanted to use a large prop, but since she had injured her arm, that took some creativity — which is where the huge piece of cloth came in. From there, “the story sort of developed,” she said.

The theme of her solo dance is individuals have both good and bad points, “but if you let it, happiness can be in your entire life, no matter what’s going on,” she said.

Watson said the solo dance was the harder of the two to choreograph.

“I couldn’t watch myself as I was doing it,” she explained.

The group piece had four dancers, one of which was sophomore Eboni Watlington, who graduated from Amherst County High School in 2012 and has a similar affinity for dance. Like Watson, she has been dancing since she was a toddler.

She appeared in three dances at the fall concert. Originally from Philadelphia, Watlington has performed at the Freedom Theatre and with the Koresh Dance Company. Since coming to SBC, she has joined both the school’s dance program and Taps and Toes, a tap club.

She said she enjoys creating “a metaphor to life” with her dancing. She hopes to dance professionally after college and eventually start a dance school called Expressions.

“I like everything about [dance],” especially how it is an expression of feelings and ideas, Watlington said. “What you can’t say out of your mouth, you can say with your body.”

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