Ashley Kohl Cover Story News Ohana Performing Arts

Ashley Kohl Promotes Inclusion and Joy Through Dance

Ashley Kohl Promotes Inclusion and Joy Through Dance

Her Completely happy Place

Ashley Kohl, perhaps greatest recognized within the region as the former host of Mass Attraction, has carved out a brand new success story over the previous three years as owner of Ohana Faculty of Performing Arts. But the street thus far hasn’t all the time been straightforward, marked by private upheaval, monetary challenges, and a sudden uprooting to a new location. Via all of it, her enterprise has grown, however her values — a dedication to inclusion, constructive vibes, and providing a protected area to domesticate a ardour for dance — have by no means changed.

A lady reached out to Ashley Kohl just lately on Fb, saying she needed to bop, but was feeling unsure.

“She stated, ‘I haven’t danced since I was a child, I’m really out of practice, I have no confidence, I’m really intimidated. However I need to attempt something new that’s for me, to help me build my confidence, and I need to really feel accepted — and I feel like your studio is a perfect place.”

So she gave Ohana Faculty of Performing Arts a attempt.

“I saw her in my grownup hip-hop class final night time, smiling the whole time,” Kohl informed BusinessWest. “She was tremendous nervous when she came in, but when she left, she stated, ‘I can’t wait to return back.’”

In some ways, that lady personifies Kohl’s imaginative and prescient of what she needs Ohana — which just lately hosted a grand opening at its new location in Chicopee — to be.

“A dance studio may be intimidating — however this is not that place. What I envision is individuals of all shapes, all sizes, all backgrounds, all beliefs, all genders, all identities, everyone. It doesn’t matter what age you’re, you’ll be able to come right here, and I really like seeing everybody dance. Everybody. Once I dance, I’m joyful. So I know dance will convey them pleasure. And that’s the last word aim.”

After a irritating spring throughout which she was given just a few weeks to discover a new location for the studio she has owned since 2016 (extra on that later), Kohl takes her personal measure of joy from the area on Sheridan Road in Chicopee, which is more than double the dimensions of her former studio in South Hadley.

Courses embrace ballet, tap, hip-hop, musical theater, modern, dad or mum/youngster combo courses, adult-level courses, fitness and extra. But schooling is simply a part of the equation at Ohana (a Hawaiian word which means ‘family’). The other part is a give attention to kindness, compassion, and inclusivity.

“Ohana has turn into more than a dance studio — it’s a movement,” Kohl stated. “So many people enroll not just because they need to dance, however as a result of they need to be a part of this constructive power. It’s a spot of affection.”

That power is shared lately by more than 300 college students. “I overcame a ton of adversity as a result of we have been kicked out and given a month to discover a new place. And now I’m dwelling my dream, doing what I really like. This is my comfortable place. These individuals are my family. It’s a lot greater than a job. I even have ‘Ohana’ tattooed on me, because that is what I stay, sleep, eat, breathe.”

Winding Street

The journey so far, nevertheless, has been a winding one, marked by both disappointments and sudden successes — all of it subtly directing Kohl to that glad place she now occupies.

The relevant a part of the story begins with an audition in New York City for So You Assume You Can Dance in January 2010. Kohl waited in line overnight, within the rain, for that probability, and when she had her few seconds to impress the producers, her moist sneaker caught on the rubber flooring during a pirouette, and she or he fell.

Considered one of several reminders on the walls that Ohana is intended to be a spot of acceptance and inclusion.

“I cried all the best way house, considering, ‘my goals are over, my life is over,’” she recalled. But in March, one other alternative arose — an open casting name for Mass Attraction, a life-style program on WWLP-TV. Kohl’s mom encouraged her to audition, and she or he did, despite the fact that she had no journalism or tv background. She didn’t feel almost the strain she did in New York two months earlier as a result of she figured her possibilities weren’t great. But she stored getting callbacks, and ultimately the internet hosting job.

“I beloved it. It was superb, the issues I discovered, the individuals I met,” Kohl stated, noting that she had attended school, but never graduated. “I look back on my time at Mass Attraction, and that was the perfect schooling I might have acquired. I discovered about each business, met individuals from each walk of life, and discovered easy methods to adapt and overcome. It was an amazing studying experience.”

And in addition, with one fateful interview in 2015, a fantastic inspiration. “I did a story on a dance class for teenagers of all ages and all talents. Afterward, I received in my automotive, and I used to be so inspired. I assumed, ‘this is what’s missing in my life — dance for individuals of all talents.’ It moved me.”

At the similar time, two different things have been occurring. Her marriage was falling aside, and she or he didn’t need to go through a divorce whereas in the public eye, so she was trying to step away from a hosting job she had come to love. And her mother, who had owned Method Studio of Dance since 1997, first in Chicopee after which on Newton Road in South Hadley, was trying to decelerate and provided her daughter the opportunity to take over the business.

“That’s once I thought, you understand what? I’ll depart TV — I feel it’s my time — and I’ll open a dance studio for individuals of all talents,” she stated.

The sudden inspiration stunned her. Although she’d been dancing all her life, she by no means once — not as a child, as a young person, even in school — had a want to comply with in her mom’s footsteps and own a dance studio. But, right here she was, struck by a new ardour and capable of see how the occasions of the past several years had led her to that time.

“If I obtained So You Assume You Can Dance, if I didn’t fall and made it via and my dream came true, Mass Attraction never would have happened — and that led me right here.”

Kohl took over Method in 2016 and altered the identify to Ohana to stress not solely her circle of relatives, however the one she hoped to create among her students. “My mom stated, ‘you convey your personal power and imaginative and prescient. Rebrand it and make it your personal.’”

And there, on Newton Road, the enterprise grew for 3 years — until she had to transfer.

She truly first heard rumors that the constructing owner needed to sell in the course of the summer time of 2015, and not long after, she stumbled upon the Sheridan Road building in Chicopee, which had been vacant for two years and wanted copious amounts of work. “I wasn’t within the place financially to jump into one thing new,” she recalled. “I figured, if it’s still there once I want it, it was meant to be. And once I acquired the eviction letter, this place was still obtainable.”

That letter came on March 1 of this yr, telling her she wanted to be out by April 1. “I’m a single mom with two youngsters, and I used to be within the midst of my dance season, so it was really arduous. And I had grown up dancing in that constructing, so there were emotions, too.”

She pushed the owner for six weeks as an alternative of four — truly, “I begged,” she stated — and was granted the extension. Via those six weeks, Kohl had the primary flooring of the brand new location renovated, and after courses started there at the end of Might, she went to work on the top flooring.

Ashley Kohl says the transfer to Chicopee was disturbing at occasions, but serendipitous in the best way it came together with no program cancellations.

“It undoubtedly wasn’t move-in ready,” she stated — however no courses or packages have been ever interrupted. “We had our last class in South Hadley the Thursday earlier than Memorial Day, and our first-class here the Tuesday after Memorial Day. It was very worrying, but this group had my back. They all got here out on shifting day. I never was alone, and that’s a testomony to what this group is and who the individuals are.”

Protected Area

The new, 6,000-square-foot Ohana — more than doubling the 2,600 square ft out there in South Hadley — consists of three giant studios, one in every of them handicapped-accessible; a ramped entrance and restrooms are additionally ADA-compliant.

“I need to be sure that this can be a place where everyone feels welcome,” Kohl stated, but that sentiment extends past disabilities. “We’ve youngsters as young as 18 months, and adults as previous as … properly, anybody who needs to return and be part of it. I feel the most important factor is that everybody feels accepted, they usually really feel snug and not intimidated, and everyone will get to carry out.”

Why take up dance? Kohl says individuals have totally different causes — however everyone dances anyway, in some type or one other. “Perhaps we don’t admit it or go to bop class, however we all really feel music in our body, regardless of who we’re.”

Widespread TV exhibits like So You Assume You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, and America’s Obtained Expertise have made dancing much more mainstream, however a bit of intimidating at the similar time, she added. “Individuals assume, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t dance like that.’”

On the similar time, although, she believes dancing makes individuals joyful — and she or he needs to offer an outlet where they will do this in a non-intimidating method.

“You could be a part of something where you are feeling like you’re accepted, the place you’re beloved and supported, where you possibly can train and launch the strain of the day in a constructive place. There aren’t many locations you possibly can go and simply be happy and feel like you possibly can let go and find a pleased place.

“It’s not for everybody,” she admitted. “But the primary thing is, whether you say you dance or not, you do in some capability. And to have the ability to come to a place that’s protected and glad and constructive and loving is basically cool.”

Kohl is protecting of these constructive vibes, too — and gained’t tolerate damaging or disrespectful conduct.

“When you are available right here and convey your dark stormcloud — granted, we all have dangerous days, and we’re here to carry you up,” she advised BusinessWest. “But when you’ll speak about individuals or deal with individuals unkindly, I’ll ask you to go away. This can be a very protected, completely satisfied place, and I’m critical about protecting it that approach.”

Kohl stated she was bullied rising up, but lastly felt like she belonged when she attended highschool at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts, a spot the place individuals finally ‘acquired’ her passion for dance. It was, briefly, the protected area that public faculty was not.

“Not every kid has that,” she stated. “Perhaps residence isn’t protected. Perhaps faculty isn’t protected. However I know — I guarantee — whenever you come right here, you’re protected. Whether or not you’re an grownup in a very dangerous marriage and home isn’t protected, no matter it might be, I hear from folks that they come here, they usually really feel completely happy.”

That’s particularly notable in a dance world that can admittedly be catty, cutthroat, and competitive, she added. “And there’s a time and place for that if you wish to be on Broadway, but that’s not what this is. We don’t compete in dance competitions. We do it for the love.”

It begins with the love of family — her mom nonetheless runs a dance retailer within the studio, and it’s her handwriting that varieties the Ohana emblem on the walls — but now extends to 300 college students, 11 academics, seven assistants, and one full-time worker, all of which have the potential to increase in this a lot bigger area than Newton Road allowed.

Nonetheless, the transition was scary at occasions. “The entire time I was terrified, however my faith was stronger,” Kohl stated. “I knew if it was meant to occur, it might. What’s the worst factor that would occur? It fails? Then I transfer on.”

Because it turns out, she just had to transfer a number of miles away. “It’s fulfilling, and it’s greater than a dance studio — it’s individuals’s second house,” she went on. “I really feel humble and grateful, however I’m pleased with it because I don’t feel there’s enough of this power on the earth.”

Dwelling the Dream

It’s protected to say Kohl has a lot to do within the new studio, however one objective down the street is to broaden group outreach packages. Already, Sunshine Village residents take courses on Fridays, a Westfield program for adults with disabilities shall be starting up on Thursdays, and instructors train dance at the senior middle in South Hadley as nicely. She’d like to do extra of the latter — “bringing these vibes and power and dance to individuals where they are. That’s the subsequent step.”

In the meantime, she promotes the spirit of the studio by way of packages like Wingman for Dance, which teaches college students about kindness, self-acceptance, variety and inclusion, giving back, and group service. Speaking of giving back, students also present annual charity performances to help native nonprofits, and Kohl based One Ohana Inc. a registered 501(c)(three) group that awards scholarships to dancers of all ages and skills all through the Pioneer Valley.

She’s keen about all of it, because, properly, life’s too brief not to be.

“I was born with something inside me that I’ve to pursue, and if I don’t, then it’s going to be buried in a cemetery somewhere, and nobody will ever know what would have come of it,” she informed BusinessWest. “And take a look at this now. I found my passion — to convey not simply dance, but joy to individuals’s lives.

“I’m not going to die with my passion inside me,” she went on. “I’m going to make a distinction and encourage individuals. I have a humble home, and I’ll in all probability by no means be wealthy, but in my coronary heart, I’m so full.”

Joseph Bednar could be reached at [email protected]

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Cover October 11, 2010