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Renowned Dancers Leave New York To Join COCA

Kirven, right, and Antonio Douthit-Boyd
Andrew Eccles
Antonio, left, and Kirven Douthit-Boyd are principal dancers with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York.

Antonio Douthit-Boyd “stumbled upon dance” in St. Louis. Kirven Douthit-Boyd was “forced into it, really” in Boston. The pair, now principal dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, is moving to St. Louis to become the Center of Creative Arts’ artistic directors of dance.

“I’m so excited to come back to St. Louis,” Antonio Douthit-Boyd told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday. “If you would’ve asked me this 10 years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. I would’ve never said I would move back to St. Louis. But working with the kids over the past eight years has been such a pleasure and such a joy for Kirven and I.”

During that time, the pair has been visiting choreographers at COCA, a community arts center that serves 50,000 people each year in its programs.

“Dance is by far our largest and strongest discipline, but we also have programs in theater, voice, art and design; all ages, all skill levels,” COCA executive editor Kelly Pollock said. There are about 2,000 people in the dance programs, she said.

“(Antonio and Kirven) are at the peak of their professional careers in one of the world’s most renowned companies,” she said. “They could easily go on for many, many years. They’re still getting rave reviews. The fact that they’ve made this choice to leave at this time, it’s so incredibly hard to achieve what they’ve both achieved in the dance world. For them to make the commitment to come to COCA and to really develop the next generation of dancers in St. Louis speaks volumes about both their values (and) what they’ll bring here.”

The Douthit-Boyds already have a few changes in mind for COCA.

“Pretty much we feel like where the organization is now, where the dance department is now has kind of outgrown itself,” Kirven Douthit-Boyd said. “So we just want to make small changes and kind of up the ante as far as how we train the kids.”

Antonio Douthit-Boyd also wants to see more boys and men get involved in the program.

“We definitely want to do more community outreach so the young men can see us in the communities that dance might not be available,” he said. “We first have to come in and see the day to day, but we definitely have some plans to switch the structure and the way we’re training the kids, and, honestly, just making sure that everybody is getting everything they need.”

Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd, both in their 30s, said deciding to leave the stage now also gives them more opportunities to work with students.

“Dance is very visual,” Antonio Douthit-Boyd said. “If the kids can see us do it, they can visualize it and they can mimic what we’re trying to do. They can see this for another 10 years.”

“We wanted to leave the stage at a time when people still wanted to see us,” Kirven Douthit-Boyd said. “It’s important for us to share who we are right now with this generation of young dancers, and I think it’s going to benefit them.”

While most of COCA’s students are taking classes for recreation, some are exploring professional careers, Pollock said.

“We do have a very serious pre-professional division. It’s a very customized, individualized approach for those who are interested in a career track,” she said. “While the majority of our students won’t leave COCA and go on to professional (arts) careers, there’s just significant life lessons that you learn through arts education: the discipline, the rigor, the problem solving, the collaboration that comes with arts training. That’ll take them into whatever careers they choose.”

But before starting at COCA in August, the Douthit-Boyds have a tour to finish.

We start a U.S. tour Feb. 1 with Alvin Ailey, and we finish up in New York, where we have a two-week season at Lincoln Center. Right after that, we’ll finish our entire tour with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Paris for four weeks.”

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.