Get To Know Your New Buckhead and Virginia-Highland Centre Managers!


October 25, 2023

Get To Know Your New Buckhead and Virginia-Highland Centre Managers!

Our Buckhead and Virginia-Highland Centre Managers Ansilla Bearden and Ashley Suta may be new to their roles, but not to the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education. Enjoying their sixth and seventh year of service respectively at Atlanta Ballet, their recent promotions to Centre Manager herald exciting new opportunities for them as well as the students and families they serve. Read on to get to know them better!

Ansilla started with Atlanta Ballet as a front desk associate and quickly established how much she loved working with creative minds and being immersed in the arts. That realization drove her to pursue growth within the Company and she was later promoted to Adult Open Division Manager and Summer Programs Manager, roles she still holds alongside her new Buckhead Centre Manager position. Ashley followed a similar trajectory, starting as a front desk associate and faculty member at the Virginia-Highland Centre. In 2021, she supported the soft launch of ‘Educate.Motivate.Elevate’ (E.M.E), the Centre for Dance Education’s student mentorship program, serving as a faculty mentor. Most recently, she stepped into the role of EME Program Coordinator with fellow faculty member Calla Vaughn.

Ashley graduated from Kennesaw State University (KSU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and a concentration in Classical Ballet. During her time at KSU, she performed with the KSU Dance Company in works by Christine Welker and McCree O’Kelley and studied choreography under the direction of Israeli guest-artist-in-residence Ella Ben-Aharon. “I fell in love with dance at the age of five after watching a ballet demonstration at my local library,” she explains. “My parents immediately signed me up for classes, and thus began my lifelong pursue of the arts.” Ashley discovered a passion for dance pedagogy on accident by accepting a teaching position at a local studio after high school. “The idea of being a dance teacher pushed me so far out of my comfort zone, but I was willing to try it for a year.” That one year ended up changing the course of her journey as a dance professional.

Ansilla has danced her entire life, from small studio productions in her home state of Texas, to stages shared with world-class artists such as Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, and the Chainsmokers. “There is such freedom in expressing yourself with movement,” she asserts. Ansilla is a graduate of Georgia State University where she received a degree in Journalism with a minor in Marketing. She has worked in television and film production, and held roles in project management, event coordination and advertising.

So, what are our Centre Managers looking forward to in their new roles? “I look forward to getting to know the students better and watching them grow on their dance journey,” explains Ansilla. “I didn’t have much contact with students or their families while working in the main offices, so it is nice to be able to put names to faces and to be “in the center of it all,” so to speak.” Ashley too, is keen to deepen relationships with students and their families. “Being an original faculty member from the opening of the Virginia-Highland Centre in 2018 has given me the unique privilege of being a part of student stories from the very start. Those who joined our Tiny Dancer & Me class that year are in the BI Student Division now. It’s beautiful to see that level of growth first-hand.” Ashley will never forget the students’ reactions following her promotion. “The outpouring of love and support I felt was unparalleled, she enthuses. “I just love that students run into my office all afternoon or down the hall to tackle me with a hug to tell me about their day or how dance is going. I can’t wait for all the fun, new memories we will get to build here together.”

Both Ansilla and Ashley wear many different hats at the Centre for Dance Education. Ansilla is also responsible for the Summer Programs, which are an excellent way to keep students actively practicing their art throughout the summer months. Ansilla is enthusiastic about them and makes a simple comparison to highlight their significance. “If you have ever stopped an activity like lifting weights or running for a couple of months and then started up again, you probably won’t easily pick up right where you left off; you will need to re-build strength and endurance. The same happens when students stop dancing. They lose flexibility and the body requires time to be able to ‘remember’ correct posture during exercises. Ballet also requires the retention of a lot of vocabulary which can easily be forgotten if not used for many weeks. Summer programs not only help students maintain their progress but to continue to build their skills. We always see marked improvement in students who participate.”

Ashley also serves as the Kids in Step Coordinator and Educate.Motivate.Elevate Program Co-Coordinator and thoroughly enjoys keeping busy. Kids in Step is the CDE’s student matinee series and an extension of Atlanta Ballet’s Community Engagement Program. “The generosity of our sponsors allows us to present abbreviated productions at a minimal cost to local schools,” she highlights. “Through facilitating these educational field trips, I get to give back to the community and help to make the arts more accessible to a younger audience.”

The student mentorship program Educate.Motivate.Elevate serves students in levels BIII to CI and strives to build trust, embrace diversity and instill confidence both in the classroom and beyond. “We challenge students to develop a holistic, more personal connection to their dance training,” enlightens Ashley. “Through EME we supplement student education with exclusive Atlanta Ballet and Atlanta Ballet 2 dress rehearsal viewings, backstage tours, dance history lectures, mental health resources, networking opportunities, master classes and more. Our objective is to inspire young students to establish personal goals in their dance experience and to create a supportive environment amongst their peers, faculty and staff.”

It seems hard to believe that with such a busy schedule, our Centre managers have any time to pursue activities outside of work. But they do! In her spare time, you’ll usually find Ashley hiking or travelling. She loves camping, exploring new cities and visiting little coffee shops and bookstores. “I’m an adventurer at heart and love being outdoors and enjoying nature. I also love journalism and am a freelance dance critic; I’ve contributed to ArtsATL and Into the Proscenium, DanceATL’s Promenade and previously served as a DanceATL Writing Committee Chair.” She is also a pet mom to four cats: Arya, Annika, Remus and Rory!

Ansilla is a huge fan of history and likes to combine her love of travel and weekend road trips with a visit to a museum or historical landmark. If she’s not out exploring or reading a book in a corner somewhere, you can usually find her in the kitchen cooking for friends and family. You may even catch her in character, as Ansilla loves to dress up. “I guess they call it “cosplay” now, but I jump at any opportunity to wear a costume or dress in theme for an event!” She is also a pet mom to cat, Lucca.

And finally, a personal message from our Centre Managers. “Our Buckhead Centre families know that we have had a number of challenges these past months, and I am beyond grateful for the patience and support shown,” says Ansilla. “We are still a work in progress but I hope to have the finishing touches done to our renovation by the beginning of the new year. Creating a welcoming space for our students and families is important to me. I also want to encourage the mentoring relationships between faculty and students, so students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and asking questions in class.”

Ashley’s desire for the Virginia-Highland Centre is for it to continue to grow from the inside out and for students to thrive, push boundaries and find their voice as artists. “My predecessor, Nicole Adams, was a fearless and inspirational leader in this community and I hope to continue the incredible work she started here,” she explains. “I can look back to certain dance teachers and mentors throughout the years who are the reason I’m here today. I want to encourage that kind of growth in our students and be the reason they believe in themselves.”

If you’d like to meet with Ansilla and Ashley, or even connect with your student’s Centre, why not take an adult class? In addition to Adult Ballet, the Virginia-Highland and Buckhead Centres offer classes in Adult Jazz, Adult Contemporary and Adult Modern. No experience is necessary, and your attendance would be a terrific way to become more involved and to get to know our wonderful faculty as a CDE parent. We hope to see you soon!

L-R: Ansilla Bearden, Ashley Suta. Photos by Kim Kenney.