Dancing it Forward: Monica Ellison

In the past, the phrase “ballerina’s body” was used to describe women who were tall, thin, had perfect posture, slight features, long shiny hair pulled into a bun…and milky white skin.  This stereotype has changed over the last few decades, thanks in part to magazine covers like the one shown here from this summer’s Pointe Magazine, but it still looms large in popular culture (think of the movie “Black Swan” or the television show “Bunheads.”)

And it was in the years before magazine covers like this when a young Monica Ellison fell in love with dance and developed her talents into a diversity of styles. While the media may not have offered much in the way of role models, she was fortunate to have some great support in her Baltimore community, initially dancing in her aunt’s school and seeing  Alvin Ailey come through town on a national tour (a company that deserves credit for inspiring countless young dancers). This continued to her time at the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts and later when she danced professionally in New York.

When life circumstances and family brought her to Chattanooga, she was immediately drawn to a theater with legs emblazened on the side. Her discovery of Barking Legs Theater, and most importantly, theater owner/dancer/choreographer/educator Ann Law opened up a world of local dancers, acceptance and a place for experimentation and freely dancing

And in our smaller dance community, her vision grew not just as a dancer but as a teacher, a change-maker. She wanted to share that the future of dance could look like any body, could move in any way. Young people across the community could be encouraged to believe in themselves, to go beyond the physical and to vision beyond body type. She wanted to look into a child’s heart and teach her to feel good about herself – and to dance free.

Monica has always been a dancer, and will always be one in her body and soul (a woman with a goal of dancing until she is 80, who, I have no doubt, will reach that milestone). But now, as a mature woman, she is also a teacher, a cheerleader, a community igniter and a believer. Monica dances it forward to a next generation.  She ensures that her young students, as well as the audiences who have the fortune to experience her perform, will be granted a vision beyond artificial limits of a body shape or color and instead see pure beauty in size of spirit and joy in motion.




“She wanted to share that the future of dance could look like any body, could move in any way.”