You can see COCA Co-Artistic Director of Dance Antonio Douthit-Boyd featured in STL.org’s recent Spotlight Series® film Relevé which tells his story of determination, passion, and connecting with others through dance.
Watch Relevé, filmed by local production company Once Films, here:
We talked with Once Films’ Creative Director Chris Ryan to find out the inspiration behind the work at STL.org and the Spotlight Series® films to discover and document the people, places, and organizations that elevate the St. Louis region. Antonio also discussed his story and how COCA’s boys in the arts programming aims to create a space for young boys to engage in the arts.
Hear from Chris and Antonio below!
Chris, what was your motivation for launching STL.org?
Chris: I first pursued filmmaking because I loved the visual medium; like any art form, it compels expression. I’m grateful for the immense support I’m afforded through our commercial work at Once Films but having no outside rules for our work found on STL.org is incredibly liberating. It allows our team an opportunity to experiment and explore.
I launched STL.org to actively share people and things I love about our city and the surrounding region. I’m a big believer in shopping and supporting “local” and felt I could do more to encourage others to do the same. STL.org is for those who live here, love it here, and want to tap into the places they’ve yet to discover.
And finally, I’m insatiably curious at heart. It’s one of my significant drivers in life. I’ve found that having a camera in hand opens doors, let’s me peek behind the curtain, and satisfies some of that urge to see everything the world has to offer.
How will this project impact our community and fellow St. Louisans?
Chris: We live in the Show-me State, where there’s nothing like “seeing it.” Our goal is to become a source for fellow St. Louisans to find new things to support: small businesses, craftspeople, artists, and organizations. Very few of our neighbors wouldn’t get behind this idea, but the challenge is that they’ve become harder to find. The biggest signs, advertising buys, and best real estate are out of reach for many of our subjects. We must share these things we love to help them survive and thrive, and STL.org is the rooftop from which we shout.
Through STL.org’s Spotlight Series®, your team highlights individuals in short-form documentary films. How do you identify individuals to feature, and how was Antonio selected?
Chris: We find our subjects through our love of what they do and through word-of-mouth from our friends and supporters. Most often, the stories are ones I’ve personally stumbled upon or already have a real connection. I feel like I know a good story immediately.
In Antonio’s case, his story was recommended by a good friend, Steve Hartman. I had an immediate connection because my mother had been a ballerina performing in New York. I grew up in her dance studios as a child, and it’s always felt familiar (despite me being a terrible dancer). Also, we’re used to seeing a stage performance from a particular perspective and I wanted to capture that differently. So Antonio’s story, and more importantly, his passion and expression, were perfectly suited.
What do you hope viewers take away from the documentaries?
Chris: What I love about this project is that I don’t need goals. I hope a viewer takes something away, but I don’t care what. I hope it has value to them. I tell people that the only agenda here is to be interesting.
Maybe someone buys from an artist, shares a story with a friend, or perhaps feels a little bit better about the community in which they live. But, I honestly do this because I love it, I’m compelled to this work from the core of my being, and I’ll keep at it for as long as possible.
Antonio, What do you hope viewers take away from watching Relevé and hearing your story?
Antonio: I hope viewers see that there are always possibilities. No matter your background or circumstances, you can achieve your goals with the right mindset and a willingness to put forth the effort and hard work required.
What is one of the biggest barriers that prevents boys from engaging with dance?
Antonio: There are many barriers and stereotypes that keep prospective boy dancers from engaging with dance. A lot of times there’s a lack of support from their family unit and friends to feel that it is ok to take a dance class.
Did you ever feel discouraged being a male dancer?
Antonio: All the time, especially when I was first starting to take dance classes. My mom even lied to our family members about my dancing. She told our family that I was going to be dancing with Janet Jackson and a tap dancer. I kept telling her, “No, I’m going to be a ballet dancer!” My mom was my biggest hurdle and was insecure about my choice to be a ballet dancer. She was trying to protect me from the neighborhood where I grew up and from being teased by other kids and family members. I didn’t want to cause any problems for her and would try to hide who I was to protect her. Dance helped me to communicate with her and share what I wanted to do with my life. Eventually, she came around and supported it. My mom wanted me to graduate high school and go to college. I was able to do that to make her happy and pursue ballet to fulfill what I was feeling inside of me.
How is COCA helping to address the gender disparity that is currently present in the arts and supporting boys in dance?
Antonio: All children are created with the potential to be creative and the need to be expressive. At COCA, we want to foster a holistic approach to introducing boys to the arts while providing space for them to use the tools learned in the arts to open doors of success in whatever field they choose. The arts can be a gateway to strength, power, and passion that all young people have the right to, and we want to ensure that no boy is left behind if they wish to have the chance to explore their creative self.
We are supporting young men in the arts by way of making sure that we are correctly gender labeling children, trying to address the barriers with the stereotype of male-identifying students taking dance, and ensuring that our students are in a nurturing and accepting learning environment.
Students in the Dance for Boys program will be introduced to ballet, hip-hop, and modern dance. All our Dance for Boys classes are taught by male faculty, and I oversee the program. The young boys will find a place to be comfortable in themselves and grow from there. Some of the best times in my life as a teacher have been seeing young boys in dance express themselves and blossom.
What’s your advice for boys who are interested in dancing?
Antonio: Just do it. It isn’t out of reach. All students are supported by our faculty and community at COCA. We have created cohorts of boys in dance to help them track through the program together. Our classes have a positive atmosphere and celebrate all our students. We are intentional about ensuring that our young boys with similar interests in the arts feel as though they belong and aren’t the only one.