Today, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to honor my first dance teacher, Mrs. Ashley Sunada. She trained at Syracuse School of Dance & Center of Ballet and Dance Arts. After graduation, she got accepted to Ballet Magnificat’s Trainee program through their four-week summer intensive. After being a trainee for one year, she got accepted to Ballet Magnificat’s Professional Company. Mrs. Sunada danced with Ballet Magnificat for six years, and then founded Light of the World Ballet School and Company, a traveling ministry and trainee program in Syracuse, New York. I decided to conduct an interview with her to reveal more about her dance journey and inspiration.
Sashira: How did you get started in dance? How old were you?
Mrs. Ashley: So, I was six years old and my sisters took ballet also and actually believe it or not, when I was in my mom’s womb, she was on the guild for Syracuse Ballet Theater. As a young child, I begged her, “oh please let me take ballet. Please.” She wanted to wait till I was older, so I started when I was six.
Sashira: Who encouraged you the most in your faith and dance journey?
Mrs. Ashley: I’d say that the Lord used my relationship with my sister Courtney as well as my parents. Also, spending time with the Lord personally and being filled with the Holy Spirit really changed things for me. Courtney was an encouragement, and we would pray together before I would go to my secular dance studio so that I could reach the girls with the gospel. I began to view my time at the studio as a time to try to find people to share Jesus with. This came from the Bible studies I had with my dad and my mom. What they really brought to light was to not make pursuing a dance career the highlight of going to dance, but to use it to shine the light of Jesus.
Sashira: How did you first discover Ballet Magnificat?
Mrs. Ashley: There was a woman who was coming to our life group who told me about a Christian ballet company… I think it was she who told me that they were going to be on the Christian television show called the “700 Club.” I ended up watching that, and I was amazed by the performance Kathy and Keith Thibodeaux, the founders of Ballet Magnificat, did in their duet performance. They were eventually invited to my church, which was perfect because they were both invited, along with two other company members, to stay at our house. I was then able to ask them lots of questions and was able to see if they were really valid. Thus, when my family and I saw that they had a heart to reach people, my parents felt better about the possibility of me pursuing a dance career with them in the future.
Sashira: How old were you when you first auditioned for Ballet Magnificat, and how did you feel throughout the application process? Were you nervous or excited?
Mrs. Ashley: I was eighteen-years-old and had just graduated from high school. I just had my senior [ballet] recital and got on an airplane to Jackson, Mississippi the next day. I was going there for a 4-week summer intensive, which they used in order to audition dancers for their trainee program… It was a pretty intense audition process for me, but I was also auditioning them to see if this environment was where I wanted to spend a good portion of my life. So during the end of the 4-week summer program, I didn’t know if they had accepted me, and I ran into Mrs. Kathy Thibodeaux in the hallway and she said, “Are you planning on coming?” I said, “Well, if you want me,” and she said, “Oh, we would love to have you!” So, I guess that was the audition process. So, I only had a few days to get housing in order while I was there before I came back home. There were also a lot of things my family was going through financially, so I was praying about whether I should do the program. I thought about staying home and going to college as well as helping to serve my sick grandpa. When I told my parents my final decision to stay home, the Holy Spirit welled up inside of me, and I said to them that I think I am supposed to go. When I said that, my mom said she had peace about my decision, and my dad thought I should go as well. So as soon as I got that confirmation, I had confidence in my decision and that God was behind it.
Sashira: When did you realize you wanted to open your own dance school, and why did you want to open it in the area that you were from?
Mrs. Ashley: It was my sixth year at Ballet Magnificat… that the Holy Spirit made it clear that I wasn’t going to be there as long as I thought. At one point after I told my parents, they thought it was time for me to make the transition to return home. I was initially angry but got confirmation through scripture… So, I eventually moved back home and had tremendous peace about it. It was so good to lose the identity of being a ballet dancer and be able to say, “I am a child of God.” I initially thought God wanted me to pursue missions, so while I was working and attending online college, I went on mission trips. People knew I was a dancer, so they would ask me to bring my ballet shoes to the mission trips. So, I would dance, and I saw how the Lord used that to cross barriers. So, when I came back home, I thought what better way to attract young ladies then by starting a ballet school and discipling them that way. So, I decided to step out in faith, and I bought dance floors from Ballet Magnificat Two and started a ballet studio.
Sashira: What is your biggest advice for young people in their pursuit of God’s will in their life?
Mrs. Ashley: I would say to give your time and energy to the Lord as well as lay before him everything you want to do and declare you want his will and not your own. “Seek his kingdom” is the best advice I can give, because while there could be pain and suffering, when you know you are in the center of God’s will, that is the most peaceful place you can be even in the midst of challenge.
To conclude this article, I would like to thank Mrs. Ashley for her instruction and wisdom she taught me when I was young. She inspires me on my dance journey to use my gifts for Him and strive for His will and enjoy reaching that goal every day.