A native Philadelphian, Ama grew up surrounded by dance and music. Her mother, Carol Butcher, was a member of the famed Arthur Hall Dance Troupe, and also taught tap and African dance at a local dance academy. From the time she was still a baby, Ama couldn't stop moving to the drums. She recounts how she and her twin sister Payin wiggled their diapered bottoms so hard during one of their mother's rehearsals that they broke through the playpen netting, setting themselves "free to join the dance." Ama started formal dance lessons at five or six years old, in ballet, modern and jazz, and studied tap and African dance with her mother.
Ama has been dancing with Kulu Mele for more than a decade, learning and performing both West African and African Cuban pieces and traditions. She participated in the Ensemble's 2008 trip to Guinea, which was a life-changer for her. She says she was in tears every day of the adventure, crying for joy at having the opportunity to both study with accomplished artists she had seen previously only on videotapes and to visit Africa. That same year she was awarded an Art and Change Grant from the Leeway Foundation. In 2009 she participated in an international choreographers' exchange in Philadelphia, organized by Dance Advance, examining the relationship between innovation and tradition. In 2011, she choreographed two African Cuban pieces for a production entitled, Village: An Afro-Futuristic Fable. Ama teaches at schools and community centers and plans to keep honing her choreographic skills.
[Kulu Mele African Dance and Drum Ensemble's official website]
“Kulu Mele in Guinea: Travel Stories. A conversation with Baba Robert Crowder, Ama Schley, Payin Schley, Dorothy Wilkie and others,” Works in Progress 22:1/2 (Summer/Fall 2009). Reflections on the troupe's visit to Guinea.