A native Philadelphian, Ama Schley 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 a baby, Ms. Schley 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." Ms. Schley started formal dance lessons at five or six years old, in ballet, modern and jazz, and studied tap and African dance with her mother.
Ms. Schley has been dancing with Kulu Mele for more than a decade, learning and performing West African and African Cuban pieces and traditions. She participated in the Ensemble's 2008 trip to Guinea, which was life-changing for her. She was in tears every day of the adventure, crying for joy at having the opportunity to both study with accomplished artists she had previously seen 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. Ms. Schley teaches at schools and community centers and plans to keep honing her choreographic skills.