Aysha Upchurch, the Dancing Diplomat, identifies as a seed planter, soil agitator, and curious and passionate artist. Professionally, this translates to her working as a dancer, choreographer, educator and arts administrator who is committed to social inclusion, community engagement and artistry development. While serving as the Associate Director of COOL Schools at VSA Massachusetts, she worked at the intersection of arts integration, special education, and professional development, training educators to develop and execute more equitable and inclusive teaching and learning environments. In Washington, DC, she founded and directed the award-winning dance ensemble, Life, Rhythm, Move Project. Blending her dance training and professional backgrounds in youth advocacy and conflict resolution, she uses Hip Hop dance to entertain and educate audiences while supporting youth voices. Aysha uses her training in Advancing Youth Development to facilitate movement and conflict resolution workshops for young people and a range of educators. The thread of Hip Hop culture and arts runs throughout her work as an artist, and deeply informs how she positions herself as a facilitator and instructor with students of all ages.
Aysha has performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the White House and has been selected as a US State Department Cultural Envoy in Dance in Bolivia, Honduras and Guatemala. In 2007, she won the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Local Dance Commissioning Project and created Am I On?, an award-winning evening-length Hip Hop work about the space between youth and adult voices. Aysha holds an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University and is currently on faculty at Salem State University – only the second college to allow dance majors to concentrate in Hip Hop. She received her Ed.M., concentrating on Arts in Education, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she has served as Teaching Fellow and Project Zero Classroom faculty member and is a current Visiting Practitioner in Education, documenting and creating works as the Artist-in-Residence seeking to raise the profile on dance education and Hip Hop pedagogy. Key to all of Aysha’s work is the belief that an empowered body is a powerful liberation tool and that culturally responsive arts education is central to progressive and inclusive education reform.