Ashley Everett is more than just Beyoncé’s backup dancer, she’s her leading lady. Whenever you see Mrs. Carter on stage, Ashley is usually on her left-hand side, slaying the scene with a vengeance.
At just the age of 17, Everett ditched the renowned Juilliard School to obtain full-on baddie status by two-stepping alongside Bey for her first worldwide concert tour, The Beyoncé Experience. “I was like just give it your all and live in the moment, perform and have fun,” she told Vixen.
For the past eight years, Ashley’s versatile dance skills and signature red hair has become a signature part of Beyoncé’s brand as her official dance captain.
Here, the fiery-haired beauty gives us an exclusive play-by-play on nearly a decade’s worth of Beyoncé’s music videos from her POV. Beyhive, prepare to get your life. –Ashley Monaé
1. Green Light (2007)
Was this your first music video with Beyoncé?
Both “Green Light” and “Get Me Bodied” were actually shot in the same year, but yes, “Green Light” was first.
How did you get the gig?
I was living in New York and training at Alvin Ailey at the time and it was just a big open call, like the talk of the town. This was around November or December of 2006 and so it was freezing. Since it was an open call, basically anybody and their mama could go, which was crazy. Everybody did come, of course, because they just wanted to try and see [Beyoncé]. They didn’t even dance but I really went because my mom was like, ‘Just do it.’ She’s all about going on auditions and still is. She’s always like, ‘You never know, just do it. It’s a good experience,’ even if I don’t happen to book it. Some of my friends were going so I went. I ended up cutting the line and still sitting and waiting for three hours. I auditioned and a few months prior, I had met her choreographer and her at Alvin Ailey when she was rehearsing for an awards show so when I auditioned, I saw them again and the choreographer [Frank Gatson] recognized me. He’s like my family now–my dad in the business and my mentor. He remembered me being at Alvin Ailey and he kept me throughout the day. Beyoncé came and saw me. It was like fate.
What was your initial reaction after being chosen?
I was like, ‘Just give it your all and live in the moment, perform and have fun.’ You know, I didn’t really have high expectations or anything. I was 17 and just living in the moment really.
Were those stiletto ballet shoes real or just props?
No, they were real. It was really hard for us to straighten our knees. They hurt so badly. I’m a dancer and did point work and stuff, but some of the other dancers didn’t and had never been on point before. Beyoncé is no point dancer or ballerina so I was in shock that they were all tough and hanging in there because it even hurt me to fully straighten my legs–they were so arched. We couldn’t do anything. When they would say cut in between takes people would have to run in with chairs and we would sit down and just wait. We couldn’t walk but you could crawl. (Laughs)
2. Single Ladies (2008)
What comes to mind when you think of this video?
I guess what comes to mind is what everyone else thinks of it and how iconic it became. It’s like the “Thriller” of that time. It’s just insane because we worked on it for weeks, not knowing what was going to become of it, but knowing that it would probably be a hit but not really knowing the impact it would have on music and dance. It’s just iconic. I feel grateful to have been a part of it.
3. Ego (Remix) (Feat. Kanye West) (2009)
In 2009, you went from a brunette to the signature red-head we know today, but from the video, you can’t tell since it’s shot in black and white. Why the drastic change?
I had dark red hair. Since the video is in black and white, you couldn’t really tell but my hair wasn’t that signature fiery red that everyone identifies me with. As time went on, it got lighter. I was definitely nervous. That’s why I dyed it a dark red first. I’m naturally a brunette and the only thing I had done with my hair, color-wise, were a few highlights. I was inspired by a white friend whose hair was red and at the time, black girls with red hair weren’t really popular, but I wanted to do something different and give myself a new look. Beyoncé was the one that asked me would I go brighter and I was immediately like, “Yes!” I wanted it brighter, anyway. I just needed that extra push.
Were those sequined outfits a Mama Knowles production?
Oh wow. I can’t remember but what I can say is those jumpsuits gave me tiny little cuts all over so much so that when I began to sweat, it stung, (Laughs) Our shoes were so uncomfortable, too. They hurt so bad. We would take the shoes off and our feet would swell to the point that it was just better to leave them on.
Speaking of ego, even though your Beyoncé’s dance captain, have you ever experienced any humbling moments?
Absolutely. I’ve auditioned and not gotten jobs, but I really do think it’s just in me to be humble. Being around [Beyoncé], she’s so humble so how dare I sit around and act like I’m Obama or some ruler of the world when I’m not. We’re all human beings, we all go the bathroom. (Laughs) We all mess up things. We get pimples. I think also just being around my family and friends who keep me down to Earth, and seeing her too and watching her remain humble and grounded and being close with her family helps.
4. Run The World (2011)
Beyoncé herself said she was terrified during the first take of this video. What was going on in your mind and what was the process of shooting a big production like?
The first take of everything is a little rough and nerve-racking because you have all these different elements. There’s like hundreds of girls [in some of the takes] so that in itself was a whole process. Hiring people, rehearsing dance steps, and doing all that. For “Run The World” in particular, we had sand and wardrobe or your shoes can be difficult to move in. There’s always something that makes it harder than just working in a rehearsal studio. After that first take, you’re like, “Okay, we just gotta thug it out and get through it.”
5. Blow (2014)
Did you already know how to skate?
I grew up rollerblading so skating wasn’t too far of a stretch. I definitely fell a few times and so did some of the other girls. We had extras in the video and when we were doing the actual skate scene, they were excited to be in the video and they could skate better than us. The production crew were trying to put her dancers around [her] but they kept easing their way to her like, “I want to be next to Beyoncé.” They were so serious. (Laughs) Hey, they wanted to be in the shot, I get it but when it comes to skating, I knew just enough to get by.
The video was shot in Houston. Although Beyoncé abides by the vegan lifestyle, are there any good food spots she put you on to in her hometown?
Her mom will actually cook for us sometimes when we’re in Houston. She’ll make gumbo and it’s so good and authentic. I love when Ms. Tina cooks for us because she’s like everyone’s mom. We’ve had her gumbo a few times while on tour and I think she made some on the set of “Blow” too. Of course, it went pretty quick.
6. Mine (Feat. Drake) (2014)
You were in this video, right?
(Laughs) Yes, contrary to belief. I think it’s so amazing how we recreated art and how the dancers weren’t recognizable. Literally, they had a picture and that’s what we recreated in movement. They brought us this picture that was like fabric and these people, I can’t remember if they had wigs on, but that was the inspiration. It was a person sitting there with movement, but it was a still picture, so that’s where that came from. I looked at it like artwork. I have pictures with that bob on. It was different. I’ve never had a blonde, bowl cut with bangs past my eyes so we all had fun with it. Actually, the hairstyle started off as a shoulder length bob with bangs and we turned it around. That’s how it got that shape.
You flexed your contemporary dance skills in this video, too. How was that?
It was like going back to my roots. Anthony Burrell came in and helped with the choreography for the video. He’s like my brother and was at Alvin Ailey, too. When I first started working with Beyoncé, we were on tour together and did a ballet, contemporary duet together so it was like for old time’s sake.
7. Heaven (2014)
You got your acting chops up in this video.
That was so fun. I have so many incredible memories from shooting that video. We shot it in South America and were in Puerto Rico for most of it. There were a few pick-up shots done in New York as well, but we shot while on tour in South America. We were constantly flying back and forth, we’d do a show, fly, have a day off and shoot. We did amazing and incredible things. Where we would stay was incredible too. I felt like I was Beyoncé. We were flying on private jets and helicopters and they closed down zip-lining just for us. We got to do some really, really awesome stuff–it was fun. We drove through Times Square, too. That’s where I’m the driver in the car, and people were like going crazy. We had a car in front of us and a car behind us with cameras so they clearly knew we were shooting something. We didn’t have a license to be shooting so, of course, we’re drawing all this chaos and attention in the middle of Times Square. The cops were like, ‘What’s going on?’ We got pulled over and the officer is like, ‘Miss, may I see your driver’s license?’ My driver’s license was in the trailer and me and Beyoncé are sitting there like, ‘We’re going to jail.’ I was like, ‘Good thing you’re rich, girl, so you can bail us out.” (Laughs) I was definitely going to jail because I was driving and didn’t have my license. It wasn’t even my car! He ended up asking for a picture and she was like, ‘That’s why he stopped us really.’ It’s so funny.
8. Grown Woman (2014)
Have you seen the viral trend, #BeyoncéAlwaysOnBeat?
Of course. I thought it was hilarious because she really is always on the beat. It’s pure comedy. (Laughs)
As you mentioned, you chose to tour the world instead of studying at Juilliard. How has that decision impacted you and molded you into the woman you are today?
It definitely gave me my independence at a young age since I started being a professional. I couldn’t have asked to be in a better camp with her because she started young with Destiny’s Child. She got it. Her family got it. I remember my dad talking to my tour manager and being like, ‘Please look out for my baby girl.’ So they really are like my family. I’ve grown up in front of them and I’m thankful I experienced this with this camp. Who knows how I would’ve been treated or how the circumstances would’ve played out, even what road I could have gone down. I could’ve been some crazy girl that just lost it really young or something, you know. It could’ve gone that way, let’s be real. We’re in this industry with drugs and alcohol and I’ve seen it all, but I personally just don’t participate. It’s crazy. It has definitely molded me into the person that I am today. I’m grateful of the process and the path it took me on.
Overall, what has working with Beyoncé’s camp taught you?
Working with someone like her with her work ethic, you don’t have a choice. We all have to be hard workers and if we’re not, then you’re not going to last. Her work ethic is unreal to watch, be around and to experience. It’s inspiring. I think anyone that’s in the same room as her and gets to see her or experience how she works is going to leave with something. Whenever I’m around her, I just try and absorb all the knowledge and experience. She knows what she’s doing and she’s worked really hard for it, and that’s why she is who she is. It really inspires me to keep going and to continue pursuing my goals and dreams.
Photo Credit: Sterling Photography