One of the best parts of my job is listening to young artists talk about their work. With the Danceworks DanceLAB in full swing, the time is ripe. Kyra Boprie is dancing in Ignite and choreographing for Art to Art.
I love hearing about how people get involved in Danceworks, and that’s where we started our conversation as we crossed 21st Street and headed down Wisconsin Avenue to a Starbucks last week.
“I grew up taking ballet until I was 13,” Kyra said. “When my parents couldn’t afford it anymore, I joined a dance team and got hit with the hip hop bug, where I found an open community of great dancers. I auditioned for hip hop crews all over Detroit and that led to my first professional performing job with the Detroit Pistons. I also taught at a studio that focused on competitions. After a while though, my deeper side called and I knew it was time to move on. I wanted to create art.”
We stopped so I could lock my bike.
“It must feel great to just hop on your bike on a beautiful afternoon,” she said to me—and I immediately felt great about being able to do that.
“Yeah,” I replied, “beats talking to you on the phone, don’t you think? So much better to talk face to face. My husband would be mad, though, if he knew I rode my bike here.”
“I understand,” she said. “I get harassed all the time by the guys hanging around my apartment on 23rd Street. I just talk to them and make friends.”
“I meant because of the traffic, not the neighborhood,” I explained, “but I think what you just said is what Danceworks’ mission is all about. Enhancing the joy, health and creativity of our community starts by connecting with people—people we don’t necessarily feel comfortable with at first.”
We entered Starbucks, ordered our drinks, grabbed a couple salads and sat down.
“I had seen the Mad Hot Ballroom film when I was visiting New York,” Kyra continued. “I bawled my eyes out. I wanted to do something like it that I would be comfortable with. When I moved to Milwaukee, I started dancing for Cedric Gardner with Sole Matter and met Gabi (Sustache), who connected me to her mom Amy (Brinkman-Sustache, our director of education). She knew I was looking for work. That’s how I found my way to Danceworks and to Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap.
“Before I came to Danceworks, my choreography experience was limited. I thought I was going to be a studio dance teacher. The most I had choreographed were dance exercises and short routines. So I signed up for Ignite and met Rasheeda Paniell, another hip hop dancer and choreographer. She asked me to choreograph with her for her Ignite submission. She gave me three minutes of dance to create. I also met Gina (Laurenzi, a DPC company member), who asked me to choreograph for some of her students in Kenosha. She gave me another six minutes.Up until then I had never done more than two and a half!”
As Kyra talked, I thought how one person always leads to another at Danceworks. Sometimes the opportunities seem endless. She continued on.
“Then I started studying contemporary with Edward Winslow. I was seriously uncomfortable with that; the movement was so different. I felt like he had picked me up and dropped me off in Africa without a map! I asked him to create a piece for me for the DanceLAB Get it Out There concert. That I had access to this professional dancer—and that he took time from his schedule for me—was amazing. It was also terrifying—that black box theatre is black! I had no sense of orientation when I performed, and the audience was just four feet away from me. I think that’s why I chose to choreograph for Art to Art instead of dance.
“I cast six dancers for my piece in Art to Art. I cast a non-dancer named Chad Nelson as the lead. He’s an amazing thinker and artist, and we’re writing our piece together. He doesn’t know what he’s in for, because he’s never danced in a black box. Don’t tell him! Working with a non-dancer is a big challenge. He wanted to start with the story, so we did. The theme is recycling—how it affects us every day. People’s trash is fascinating to me!”
“This is a really great story, Kyra. It’ll be fun to write up.” I asked her one last question. “Can you tell me a little about your experience with Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap?”
“I taught at Fratney, Elm and Pierce Street schools,” She said. “It was amazing, awesome and challenging, right up to the day before the competition. It’s more like a psychology session than a dance class.
“There was this one student who was ‘too cool’ right from the beginning. She would lie on the floor, and people would tap around her. When I walked in on the last day of class, she said, ‘Eeewwww.’ I asked her why she had to say that on my last day, and she said, ‘I hate you.’ I think maybe she had just gotten bored. On the day of the competition, she hugged me and she really danced. It was super serendipitous going from the Detroit stadium to the BMO Harris Bradley Center stadium.”
From stadium to stadium…..I thought back to Kyra’s words, I want to live deeper, create art. She is doing that and passing her gifts on to others.
“Passion ties it all up,” she said. “I’m passionate about teaching these kids. I’m reminded of how dance can be a portal to a better life for others, like it was for me.”
Like me too Kyra, She took the last swig of her juice and held up her empty bottle. “I’m going to save this and use it in my piece!”
I gave her a hug then–two I think, maybe three before we finally said goodbye. I had been completely charmed by this recycling, friend-making, risk-taking, persistent, lovely young dancer, choreographer, teacher and art maker who uses her spark to spark others. Come to the DanceLAB and she’ll spark you too!
Ignite: A Hip Hop Dance Experience—July 26, 8:00pm; July 27, 2:30pm & 7:00pm
Art to Art: Recycled Edition—August 1 & 2, 7:30pm; August 3, 2:30pm
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.