COCAs New Moves
Two of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theaters best aim to take COCAs dance program to the top
It's no secret that the Center of Creative Arts is making waves on the national scene: Executive Director Kelly Pollock was invited to speak at the National Endowment for the Art’s annual meeting in October, elevating the community arts organization to an unprecedented level of prestige. Her next step: Bringing in two top dancers from the world-renowned, NYC-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to helm the COCA dance program.
For one of the men, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, the move will be a homecoming and—beginning in August—a chance to give back to the community that formed him as a dancer.
Currently in his 12th season at Ailey, Antonio’s classes at COCA left a lasting impression. “My upbringing was a little rough, but I figured if I had dance as a constant thing that I could rely on, no matter what challenges I faced…[it] helped me overcome a lot of those issues,” he says. “A lot of the time, I wasn’t in my neighborhood seeing what was going on. COCA and dance saved me from becoming a product of my environment.” His classes, which he started at 16, made him want to be a dancer, but he didn’t realize he could make the kind of successful career out of it that he has today.
At the time, COCA’s dance program was more recreational, and Antonio traveled between COCA for jazz class and Chesterfield for his ballet classes. Now, dance classes are all under one roof at COCA, so his goal is to provide the “best training in every realm of dance” for students who are exploring their passion for it, just as he did. “We’re hoping to put COCA on the map as one of the premier pre-professional training facilities in the Midwest,” says Antonio.
Finding Their Rhythm
Antonio shares this goal with his fellow Ailey dancer and husband, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, who’s in his 11th year with Ailey’s main company (he also danced for two years in its junior company). The two met and fell in love while dancing at Ailey before getting married in 2013.
With up to six head-spinning months each year spent on the road, dance has intertwined both their professional and personal lives: Antonio has said that seeing each other dance acts as a “mediator,” allowing them to take out any frustrations that come from that intensive travel schedule on the dance floor.
As they settle in St. Louis, Kirven and Antonio will share the title of artistic director of dance as they work to build up the dance program at COCA, in part by teaching some classes themselves (with occasional appearances from industry friends) until they solidify faculty. “We want to bring Ailey to St. Louis,” Kirven says. “We can’t ever cut ties with them.”
By drawing heavily upon their combined 23 years of experience dancing at Ailey, plus placements at other companies, they’re hoping to give students— whether from the city, county or inner-city metro areas—lessons from the best schools they’ve been to, ultimately “upping the level” of what students produce, be it in modern dance (their main focus), hip-hop or ballet. “We want them fully prepared to go into companies or colleges,” Kirven says.
“We’d love to get COCA to a place where it rivals one of the top schools in the country,” he says, adding that he and Kirven will be at COCA “as long as we’re asked to do it.”
Photo credit: Jacob Blickenstaff