After moving to New York City in the early 2000s to work as a principal dancer with the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and as a soloist at the Dance Theater of Harlem, Antonio Douthit-Boyd never thought he’d land back in his hometown of St. Louis. 

But upon returning to the Midwest nine years ago, he found himself working part time as a professor of practice in dance in Washington University in St. Louis’ Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences and serving as artistic co-director of dance at the nearby Center of Creative Arts (COCA). 

This fall, he joined WashU full time to become PAD’s official ballet master. He sat down to talk about his journey, his dance philosophy and the future of classical dance at WashU.

Antonio Douthit-Boyd demonstrates a position for his students during a classical ballet course. (Photo: Sean Garcia/Arts & Sciences)

Tell us about your journey from St. Louis to the heart of the New York City dance world and back.

I came to dance at the age of 16, which people say is quite late. I was walking with a group of friends down a street near Compton and Washington Avenues in St. Louis when we heard drums coming from a building. We went inside and found Angela Culbertson, artistic director of aTrek Dance Collective, holding a class. We messed around in the back of the room and, after first telling us to leave, she let us stay and invited us back for another class. At first, we all laughed, but I thought about it afterward and realized how exuberant my body felt being in that room and moving in that way.

The next time I walked by the studio with my friends, they kept going and I went inside. It all happened from there. Angela saw promise in me and called Dance St. Louis, which sent me to the Center of Creative Arts (COCA). I grew up in north St. Louis in a very low-income neighborhood where opportunities were hard to find. But people took a liking to me and said I had talent, mentoring me along the way.

I got a college scholarship for dance but after one year I left for New York City and became a soloist with Dance Theater Harlem. After that, I became a principal dancer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where I toured for almost 13 years. That’s where I met my husband, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, who was also an Ailey dancer and is now the artistic director at Big Muddy Dance Company.

When I introduced Kirven to St. Louis, he fell in love with the town. He was so impressed with the community support and engagement with the arts. For 10 years, we came back every summer for two weeks to teach dance intensives at COCA. We saw such progress in the kids, even over two weeks. When it came time for us to step back from performing, becoming artistic co-directors of dance at COCA was a natural step. Then, after a year, we were both hired by WashU to be professors in the Performing Arts Department.

Read the full profile on the Ampersand website.

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