Irene Ashu is a dancer, choreographer, and creative director. This 24- year-old powerhouse is erupting on the creative scene while living and working in California. A creator who prides herself in working from an honest place, her style of choreographing, directing, and dancing is anything she wants it to be. Through her artistic works and social media pages, she utilizes her platform to discuss mental health and honoring your individual path. She notes that the industry can cause a lot of anxiety, fear, and doubt. Everything is an uphill battle and she wants people to understand they aren’t alone in their fears.
She has had the opportunity to work with many big names including artist such as SZA, P!NK, David Guetta, Afrojack, Bebe Rexha, Alunageorge, Eric Bellinger, Fanny Neguesha, Dj Carnage, Andie Case, Mike Tompkins, Chris Brown, WIZKID, Shin, Jeremih, Big Sean, Carrie Underwood, Little Mix, Major Lazer, DNCE, Superfruit, Black Caviar, Nicki Minaj, Late Late Show With James Corden, MTV VMAs, XQ super school live, Sony, Google, Android, Under Armour, LG, Toyota, Coolhause Ice Cream, Irvine Auto Center, and more.
Make Muse: How did you get started in the entertainment and media industry?
Irene: It is has been quite a build up. I feel like entertainment is something I was always destined to do. Everything I’ve done has been a small step for the bigger picture. I’ve always been creative and channeled my energy into projects, activities, or travel.
I began training as a dancer when I was in the 5th grade. I joined an after-school program called YCOA. YCOA increased my interest in dance and opened my eyes to how big of industry existed. I went on from there to join a competition studio and hip hop team.
I didn’t pick up a camera until I was in high school. In high school I would shoot and edit random footage together. The footage ranged from my friends joking around at the lunch table to random interviews.
I got started by creating. I’ve never been afraid to create my own projects. Whether I love the end product or not, I always creating.
Make Muse: You’re a choreographer, director, dancer, and creative director. Which of these roles do you enjoy the most? Why?
Irene: I enjoy directing most. Directing is such a large bubble than can encompass so much. Directing is really what you make it. I always see things as a big picture. Directing allows me to pull from multiple parts of me. As a creative I am not one thing. Sometimes the word “Dancer” and “choreographer” box me in. Even as a dancer on the stage you are directing. You a continuously choosing moments, angles, blocking etc. Everyone is a bit of director.
In one shoot I will choreograph, stage, block, and direct camera. I feel like i need to do it all in order to properly convey my vision.
Make Muse: What is the muse for your creativity?
Irene: Telling the stories of others and speaking about things I am passionate about. The Muse of my creativity is not going insane lol. I am at an intersection where I’ve realized being creative saves me. It is the best way to cope with anxiety, grief, pain, happiness, sadness, and everything in between. My creative steam exists cause I want to exist. I am not sure if that makes sense.
Overall I pool my inspirations from multiple sources. The resilience of my parents inspires me a lot.
Make Muse: What is the piece you’ve created or been a part of that you’ve enjoyed or that spoke to you the most?
Irene: She Bends is one piece that speaks to me a lot. I remember going to the space alone and thinking “I want to bring my friend here and dance”. I feel in love with art and artist. I enlisted my friend Oko (Co-Director Of She Bends @Bayoko) and showed her the space.
Another shoot that speaks to me is the Hey Mama Music video with David Guetta & Nicki Minaj. That was my first major music video. The experience was out of this world. The cast, the director, the production company, the stylist… Everything about that shoot was amazing.
Make Muse: Can you tell us more about “She Bends.” and your role in the project?
Irene: I was the co-director, and writer of She Bends. She Bends is an intersection of feminism, power, and artistry. A collaboration between female neon artist and various dancers. She Bends is an exhibit curated by Meryl Pataky featuring some of the best female neon artists in the world.
I went to the opening day of the exhibit, I remember seeing all the work and thinking I want to shoot something here. I drew a rough concept map and scrapped the project away in my “To Be Completed” Folder. A month later after an audition, my friend Oko (Co-Director) and I went inside the exhibit to check it out again. Long story short we had more meetings and drew up a formal storyboard, put wardrobe together, and cast the video.
Make Muse: In most creative industries, men still have a dominant position. For dance, however most people see this as a female activity. Since you work across creative fields as a director, choreographer, and creative director, do you see a gender imbalance?
Irene: I do see a gender imbalance across all industries. Most people see dance as a feminine activity because they subscribe to traditional gender roles. Everything is what we make it. Nothing is truly feminine nor masculine. Humans put their own beliefs and labels on top of things. I think once we move out of a space of thinking between the lines of feminine and masculine we will find gender equality. I struggle with it myself. At times I find myself saying “Man up” or “He/she is so girly."
This is a clear gender imbalance in entertainment. I think we are moving to place where women are in positions of power. But we need to keep fighting for progress.
Make Muse: Do you have any experiences or stories you’d like to share?
Irene: Just honor your path. As cliche as that sounds it has helped me. I was never anyones favorite dancer growing up. I know some people might be like thats not true… but as a kid I always felt like an outsider on most competition teams, hip hop teams, and school dance groups.
Getting validation won’t make you better. It all about individual work ethic. I feel like the industry has room for everyone. You just gotta find your niche and move past the people that aren’t showing you love. You aren’t everyones cup of tea, and you don’t have to be. Validate yourself and keep it movin’
Make Muse: A lot of your work that you produce or becoming involved in relates to empowering women and also specifically empowering black women. How did your passion for these two areas erupt?
Irene: Just being black. There is a box that everyone wants to put black artist in. I want to be in all the boxes. I want to create my own boxes. I want to create space for black women to exist is places where we haven’t previously. As a black woman it’s easy to feel like a second class citizen. Not only are you black but you are a woman. Those two factors alone shape your perception and reaction to the world. I’ve always been happy to be black. Growing up in a Cameroonian household made me love my blackness even more. My culture is so rich and deep. I definitely put my people on my back.
Make Muse: Do you have any advice for people who want to become of creative industries?
Irene: You can’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. You have to make art you like. It doesn’t matter if anyone likes. As long as you love what you are doing, you will find an audience to share it with. Do not seek validation and do not feel like you have generated content that's relevant. Stay true to your internal voice and trust yourself.
Make Muse: If you could work with any brand, artist, company, etc., who would you want to work with?
Irene: At this point in my career I want to work with Jaden Smith, Kanye West, and Beyonce. I am branching out and working more in fashion as well.I want to work WITH a lot of people but not FOR a lot of people. I am at the point of my career where I am tired of working FOR people. My focus this year is to really work WITH a lot of people.
Make Muse: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Irene: I do consider myself a feminist and more specifically and intersectional feminist. Traditional feminism differs from intersectional feminism.
Make Muse: Do you have any suggestions on how we can empower females of all identities across different industries?
Irene: Support one another. I really mean go out of your way to support your friends. If we all lift each other up a little more we can all progress together.
Also listen to each other more…. The more we listen the more we learn.
Make Muse: Rule number 1 of being a girl boss is…
Irene: Don’t take shit from anyone. Be bold.
Author: Maura Sheedy