Last week, the Arts and Education Council announced eight 2021 St. Louis Arts Awards honorees – including Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd for their Excellence in the Arts. Their passion for supporting the next generation of dancers is among many reasons why they will be honored in January.

Take a look back at an interview with Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd which originally appeared in Happenings in 2015, after they announced they would leave the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to become co-artistic directors of dance at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA), an Arts and Education Council grantee.

Can you talk about your decision to come back to St. Louis and COCA specifically? How did it all come about?

Antonio: I had a long talk with Kirven after we had our first meeting with Kelly [Pollack], executive director at COCA, and a few things stuck out in my head, like why I wanted to leave St. Louis as a child and go to New York and become a dancer. When it came to returning to St. Louis, a lot of the same things came to mind. I want to come back to help other young artists achieve each and every thing that is possible for them. I want to help them see the world outside of St. Louis and be able to love what they do. St. Louis gave me so much, and when Kelly came to us with the offer we jumped on it.

You’re both leaving Alvin Ailey while still in your prime. Will you dance professionally here in addition to your work at COCA?

Antonio: Dance will always be a part of our lives and, yes, we will dance a little here and there. But our main focus for now is the young people we are responsible for. We owe so much to the Ailey Company. To think we will never dance on stage again with our friends hurts. But it’s like Mr. Ailey said, "Dance came from the people and should be delivered back to the people." Kirven and I plan to do just that.

Kirven: Even though we're not dancing full-time, we are still dancers at heart. We have a lot to share with young artists in St. Louis but if an opportunity presents itself in a way that's appealing to us, I'm sure we'll dust off our shoes and hit the stage again. I also like taking classes and going to the gym so I'm sure that these things will continue to make up parts of my days.

How did the tragedy in Ferguson impact you both and did it play a part in your decision to come here?

Antonio: Ferguson was hard for all of us outside of St. Louis to read about, but just imagine those young ones who had no say in the matter and had no clue of what was really happening. I'm sure being there and seeing that will be burned into their minds forever. And if bringing great artists and instructors into the community can help them escape for just an hour a day, we will do that. Who knows? You might find your next dance star right there.

Kirven, you are originally from Boston. How are you doing with this decision to come to the Midwest?

I'm so excited to be moving to St. Louis. I've grown to really love the city. There's so much good art happening and it has a really great vibe. I will miss East Coast living for the convenience of everything but I am looking forward to settling down in Missouri.

What changes can we expect in COCA’s dance program once you two take over?

Antonio: COCA has always had a very strong dance program, but we plan to bring them things that we have learned from our travels all over the world and guest artists from some of the world’s greatest dance companies. We want to make St. Louis the dance hub of the Midwest, so keep your eyes wide open.

Both of you said you want to do more outreach, especially to young men living in communities where serious dance is not an option. What will that look like?

Antonio: We want to make dance available for everyone. If you are serious about the craft, then we want to help. In dance we always have a lot of young ladies that want to dance but never have enough partners for them. Kirven and I are hoping that by us being in St. Louis, we can help young men understand that it’s okay to dance and still be strong athletes. I was one of the 50 fittest athletes in the world in Men’s Health magazine in 2014, the only dancer on the list.

Can you each talk about your approach in teaching students? How will you get the best out of them?

Kirven: As co-artistic directors, Antonio and I share a lot of similarities in teaching style as well as the changes and growth that we see for the program. Putting together a curriculum that helps students’ development technically and artistically is key. It is important to get the training and the approach to dance to a point so we can bring in guest artists to set works that challenge the students. This will take a lot of effort on our part. We have to instill the values and discipline of the art form while learning individual students’ needs. We want to put COCA on the map as one of the best institutions for pre-professional dance training.

Antonio: Young people are very smart. You give them the information and you help them figure it out. You never dumb things down because of their age, you give it to them and you watch the growth. When they get that, give them more. Everybody can learn to dance, but we are looking to make amazing, employable artists while still having fun.

Antonio and Kirven have devoted themselves to educating the next generation of dancers at COCA. Under their leadership COCA has forged new partnerships including in collaboration with the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis launched a new Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in dance started in the fall of 2016.

Stay tuned for more stories about the 2021 St. Louis Arts Awards honorees on our blog. Learn more about the 2021 St. Louis Arts Awards honorees here

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