Retiring Alvin Ailey dancers have new mission after Ferguson

Alvin Ailey principal dancers retire to give back
Alvin Ailey principal dancers retire to give back

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Story highlights

  • Alvin Ailey dancers Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd, retiring to give back
  • They will serve as teachers and mentors at the Center for Creative Arts in St. Louis
  • COCA helps disadvantaged children get more involved in the arts

(CNN)For Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd, dance is life.

"It changed my world," said Kirven Douthit-Boyd. "When I found dance, I knew that this was something that would elevate me from what I was brought up in," added Antonio.
These partners, on and off the stage, have been principle dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for more than a decade, but now they've decided to retire. Choosing to help educate and mentor the next generation of dancers, Antonio and Kirven will head to St. Louis, Antonio's hometown, to be co-artistic directors for the dance department of the non-profit Center of Creative Arts (COCA).
The two made the decision to retire and teach soon after watching the Ferguson riots unfold on television. They noticed the youth were on the front lines.
"It's heartbreaking anytime you see something like that anywhere in the world, and to know that this is from my community that's one of those things where you wanted to do something,' said Antonio. "The community needs some kind of inspiration."
"I feel like someone needs to show the youth, there is something else you can do," said 30 year-old Kirven.
"I feel like our knowledge of the field has really prepared us for that kind of challenge," said Kirven.
"One of the biggest things Mr. Ailey said was that dance came from the people, and should always be delivered back to the people. I strongly truly believe in that," said 34-year-old Antonio.
COCA helps connect the St. Louis metro area with programs that bring out the creative potential in children and adults through the arts. The center offers dance, theater, visual arts and voice classes, and annually serves more than 50,000 residents.
Antonio said: "85-90% of our student body is on scholarship."
Kirven and Antonio have had a long-term relationship with COCA, teaching young dancers at least once a year.
"Someone has to teach kids, and we really feel like a lot of people really went out of their way for us and we are at a point like let's do it," said Kirven.
Antonio has a particular soft spot for COCA. The center gave him a scholarship when he was 16, a move that launched his dance career.
"The arts is such a healing thing, I found dance and any time I left my neighborhood to go to COCA I forgot anything that was going on in my head," said Antonio. "That two to three hours a day that I spent there changed my life," said Antonio.
With all the excitement the Douthit-Boyd's have about helping to mold the next generation of dancers, their retirement is bittersweet.
"We got to work with Judith Jamison, Masazumi Chaya, Robert Battle and Dudley Williams. These Icons that you saw when you were a child dancing, you get to walk in and see them every day. It was one of those things where still you gotta just pinch yourself," said Antonio.
"You kind of can't' really think about the fact that it's ending, you have to think I still have to do all of this well," said Kirven. "I couldn't have asked for a better career transition."