Meet the Founder: STU Arts’ Briana Ashley Stuart
Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Upon first meeting Briana you are struck with someone who holds passion, creativity and drive like no other. Raised in the United States, Briana Stuart moved to Belgium 3 years ago to pursue her vision of creating a community that allows dance to connect with any and everyone. If you are new to the STU Arts community, or are in general just interested in knowing about the Founder of STU Arts, this interview will allow you to get closer to understanding of the person behind the organization.
When did you start dancing?
Born in 1990, Briana recalls her mother placed her in her first dance class around the age of 3 (though with some friendly debate between her mother and her on when she actually started dancing). Stuart recalls she was decked out in a sparkling purple leotard with sleeves, and her hair done with a poof of bangs to finish it off. After that, it was hard to keep her out of the studio. She mentioned “apparently I used to dance around in Kindergarten…I don’t remember that, but I’ve always been a mover.” It wasn’t long until she started dancing with her local high school and then later pursuing a dance education at the University of Michigan.
What is it like to be a dance instructor?
Being a dancer teacher can have its ups and downs, working with others can be tough while trying to play on everyone’s strengths without risking frustration. However, during her university days, it was customary as a dance major to teach a beginner modern dance class for a semester. Briana recalls “it felt natural for me to be in front of a group of people [and] a mirror and move…I like myself when I teach; that keeps me teaching. I learned more about myself and my field when I’m trying to give information to others.” From then on, learning to be a dance teacher was another step of being a dancer. She mentions that “so many things are necessary when teaching a dance class, [you] have to be in tune with yourself and be very confident when you teach.” This then translates to her adlibs and quirkiness in her classes that makes her more unique than other instructors. Stuart cheerfully admits “I say the weirdest things when I teach, but it’s usually helpful!” The added notes or scatts mentioned in her class allows students to understand movements and music when words aren’t sufficient enough. This then brings her students closer to dance and therefore closer to art all in all.
What is it like having STU Arts?
Shifting towards STU Arts as an organization, Stuart connected her work with moving to Belgium on the whole. In the heart of it, She states that “there is a lot of stuff that I can give and learn and receive at the same time”. She mentions that her relationship with the country as “sometimes complicated but great!… It’s give and take with this country, with the opportunities that I have and the people that I meet.” She translates her experiences with the organization mentioning that STU Arts is a give and take; “seeing [my students] eyes or their whole spirit light up after the class.. it’s that continuous give and take that is very present in STU Arts or the general art of dance”. Having STU Arts is giving out good energy and then getting some in return.
Although with all the good, Briana mentions that it can be nerve-wracking. Jokingly referencing STU Arts as her baby, she states “you see all the things that needs to be worked on or improved, and you want it to be this thing;… it’s a reflection of me, as it grows I have to too, and I will. I’ve learned a lot about myself, pushed myself in a lot of ways. For its own mission, it has required me to keep up with its growth. With her energy, passion and drive, it comes to no surprise that she will be able to translate STU Arts growth to the world.
Where do you see STU Arts in 5 years-time and How far has it come?
STU Arts is on the rise, and will do so increasingly in the years to come. As for her vision, Briana mentions that as the organization expands, her plans for the kids and adult programs will do so instinctively. While adding to it program, she wishes to have a larger team, those who can work up front as well as behind the scenes. She mentions “I would like to add other teachers to my team who hold the same vision I do.” As for how far STU Arts has come, she mentions the organisation has grown to become more detailed and specific, and is “making moves that happen”. Stuart states that “when people say ‘STU Arts’, it's re-emphasizing that it is something that exists. It’s like when you say ‘Nike’ or ‘Apple’, you know what it is”. It’s that accomplishment of speaking something into existence that has transformed STU Arts into what it is today. Stuart describes it as “derserv[ing] to be its own living and breathing entity”.
Who has inspired you to be a dancer as well as dance instructor?
Although not mentioning one sole person that has inspired her to do what she is doing, she gives credit to her high school dance teacher—Mr. Anthony Smith. She recalls “he was so hard on us, as much as any other dance teacher. There were expectations, but he pushed us really hard and we got some great training; I still talk to him to this day”. Stuart also gave homage to her parents for instilling her drive and persistence to do what she loves. She recalls by mentioning “some people tried to get into my head, but my parents pushed me. They pushed me in asking how are you going to do that, what are you going to do to make it a reality”. In reflection, this is “something that continues to flow in everything I do. It’s not about the way, it’s about the how. If you can figure out how to do it, it is achievable and possible”.
What are the achievements and what do you strive for?
STU Arts proudly represents the only Brussels based organization that offers classes in the African-American form of Stepping. Briana explains that “[STU Arts made] a dent in presenting a new cultural dance form that presents a new form of expression and empowerment in community”. It is with those introduction of dance forms to all communities that separate STU Arts from other organizations. She also mentions that “with the Everybody Can Dance classes [it has also] built a community of dancers [that are] recognizing the benefits of movements of dance. That is the basis of STU Arts—to make dance relevant to everyone no matter what it is. Stuart connects the organization with both exposure and relevance; exposure in the sense of introducing the idea of new dance forms such as stepping, and relevance in the sense of making people feel good after a dance class, or utilizing those moves learned in class to everyday life. Stuart points out “I think dance can be used for anything and I think lot of achievements can be connected to making dance an everyday occurrence, not just for special occurrences like weddings”.
When People look into STU Arts Dance, what is it you want them to think?
Off the top of her head, Stuart mentions three words that resonated with what STUArts is on a whole—energy, connectedness, and possibility. She connects herself with her work by mentioning “because I have never been just one thing, I never want STUArts to be pigeonholed to just one thing [too]… when I expand, I want them to add to my vision, the idea of possibility and to keep things open”.
In the heart of the organization itself, it is clear to see that STUArts is on the rise with its vision of community, prospect and vibrancy that separates itself from other organizations. Briana Ashley Stuart introduces a new vision of dance through the eyes of “dance for all”. She reaffirms the notion that dance is not just a form of simple movement, it allows one to create and connect with oneself and others at any level or age. If you are interested in starting your dancing journey with STUArts, be sure to check out the website here.