Emerging Artists Laboratory

The BlackLight Summit's Emerging Arts Laboratory creates opportunities for performance, networking, mentorship and professional experience. Artists in our Lab share a passion for radical reimagining, Black excellence, artistic integrity and challenging artistry.


Ashayla Byrd

Ashayla Byrd (she/they), raised in Virginia Beach, Va., began her dance training at eight years old at Old Donation Center for the Gifted and Talented (ODC). She then trained intensely at the Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School to strengthen her technique. She explored her love of the arts at Shenandoah University (SU), graduating with a B.A. in both Dance and English. While at SU, Ashayla received the inaugural Jamal Barzinji Scholar Award for her research about decolonizing the Eurocentrism of dance history syllabi. Ashayla also served as the President of both the Sigma Rho Delta Dance Fraternity as well as the Shenandoah Conservatory Student Council. She has worked with professional artists including Tiffanie Carson, Daniel Padierna, Jacob Brent, Maurice Fraga, Casey Noblett, Eddy Ocampo, Yoshito Sakuraba and Anna María Alvarez while also collaborating with various student choreographers. After graduating from Shenandoah in May 2021, Ashayla worked as the Communication and Curatorial Intern and the Financial Assistant at Dance Place before being hired full-time as the Presentation Administrative Assistant. She hopes to continue studying dance and the communities who engage with it while also creating equitable, decolonized creative spaces for all people. She is ecstatic to be joining the Dance Place team as a staff member!



Raeanna “Rae” Grey

Raeanna “Rae” Grey (she/her) is a 24 year old movement artist who resides in Washington, D.C. Her movement, described as both “powerful” and “organic, serves to offer artists a realm in which they may showcase their true authentic selves and sort through the essence of what movement appears to be and the potential for which it can be. Rae has performed with multiple companies in the DMV including BREathe, Heart Stück Bernie, Capitol Movement, Aru Dell’Arte, ReVison, UpRooted and Dance Art Theater. She has also performed with programs such as NACHMO DC and Dance ICONS. Rae produced and directed the sold out show, The Hollow: New Beginnings with longtime collaborator Lucia Gagliardone, where she managed ticket sales, production, cast and crew and marketing, in addition to performing in two works and choreographing a third. She has also showcased her work in the District Choreography Dance Festival, Transformation Showcase, Coalescence and film, busy mind, at the Kennedy Center’s Day of Dance. She is currently working towards her first evening length show, which will be self-producing at The Fillmore in Spring 2023.

Rae’s work aims to serve the individual above all else and in doing so she aims to create an inclusive and comfortable environment that encourages the collaboration of ideas. By highlighting the individual, she gives room for fresh breath and space in the creative practices that she occupies. Rae’s work has also always had the recurring theme of creating for the joy of all and being exclusive of none. Through group conversation and movement she aspires to create an environment in which group mannerisms are seen as one cohesive unit. In doing so, her practice engages individuals participating in a comfortable and at ease environment in which all voices and bodies can be readily received and cared for by all of those present.  



Anastasia Johnson

Anastasia Johnson is a dance artist, educator, curator and choreographer born and raised in Richmond, Va. After receiving her B.A in Dance along with a Pre K-12 Virginia Teaching Licensure in Dance Arts from James Madison University in 2017, Johnson relocated to Maryland to further her artistry in the DMV area. Currently, she holds the title as Energizers Creative Arts After School Manager, Summer Camp Director and Teaching Artist at Dance Place in Washington, D.C. Since relocating, Johnson has performed with companies and artists such as, Choreographers Collaboration Project, VT Dance Company, Extreme Lengths Production, Rachel Luebbert, Juanita Maria Dance Company, Contra-Tiempo and Coyaba Dance Company, Liz Miller and New Growth Collective. Johnson has been developing her own dance company called A.J. Collabs (AJC), who has had the opportunity to perform at the 2019 Small Plates Festival, Works In Progress Showing, Ascending Choreographer’s Festival, National Choreography Month DC, Black Choreographer Festival, Layers V.3, Dance in the DMV Festival, Richmond Dance Festival and Coalescence: A Visual and Performing Arts Showing. AJC strives to shed light on social injustices towards marginalized communities through the vehicle of dance education, performance, choreography, community engagement and collaboration. Johnson is the co-founder of Coalescence, an alumni of the 202Creates Residency Program, has been featured in a DanceTeacher Magazine article and holds a certificate in Women’s Entrepreneurship from Cornell University.



Stephen Lyons II

Stephen Lyons II is a DMV-based multidisciplinary artist working as a dancer, actor, choreographer, writer and director for the stage and screen. His artistic journey began with hip hop dance at Aberdeen Dance Company and he has since worked with Phunktions Hip Hop Dance Company, Culture Shock DC and Extreme Lengths Productions. 

Stephen acted as the Artistic Director of Culture Shock DC for three years during which he choreographed live performances and directed dance films that enriched, educated and entertained his community. Stephen’s work has been selected for Dance Place’s 2020 New Releases Choreographer’s Showcase and its 2021 Exquisite Frame dance film showcase as well as The Clarice’s 2022 Spring Dance Concert and its 2023 UMoves Dance Concert. In the past year he has interned at HBO and participated as a Blacklight Summit Emerging Artist. Stephen graduates this spring from the University of Maryland with a degree in Theatre and Dance. Moving forward, he hopes to further deepen his craft in order to tell underrepresented stories with the utmost care.





Selyse fluctuates between being an independent artist and collaborating with others in the performing arts. She is a university graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Bachelor of Art in Dance. She currently performs with a few dance companies working in modern and hip hop dance technique. Outside of these companies, she has had the pleasure of working with many artists from or based in the DMV, Louisiana, New York and South Africa. Her most recognized work, Silent Exhaustion, was featured in a regional artists showcase and previously chosen to be featured in an ACDA Mid-Atlantic North Conference Informal Concert.



Jay Williams

Jay Williams is a multi-disciplinary visual artist based in the DMV by way of North Carolina. Blending film, dance and graphic design, Jay seeks to build innovative, personal and inclusive worlds that feel both familiar and fantastic. As a Black and queer graduate from North Carolina Central University, he bases his work in the experiences of his identities, while also using his platform to collaborate with other marginalized artistic voices. He began his dance training under Nicole Oxendine at Hillside High School. He would later go on to explore dance at North Carolina Central University under the tutelage of Nancy D. Pinckney. He is a member of Koffee Dance Company and has participated in the American Dance Festival where he performed repertory from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company (reset by Shalya-Vie Jenkins). He has also performed with Chuck “Baba Chuck” Davis, in Masha Maddux’s Wake Forest Dance Festival and choreographed for schools on the primary level as well as colleges in North Carolina.