Updated Friday, April 25, 2014 to include audio from Cityscape.
Growing up in north St. Louis, Antonio Douthit dreamed of dancing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The story of his rise from homeless kid to COCA prodigy to Ailey dancer is legend in the St. Louis arts world.
But not only did he achieve a prominent spot with the Ailey company, he recently attained another milestone beyond the reach of Alvin Ailey, the man: marriage. Now known as Antonio Douthit-Boyd, he tied the knot with Ailey dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd last year in New York City, where same-sex marriage is legal.
This weekend, the pair comes to town for two Dance St. Louis performances at the Fox Theatre. Their arrival coincides with their 10-year anniversaries with Ailey and approaches their first wedding anniversary.
Their June 2013 union received broad attention, with articles and photos in the Huffington Post, New York Post and The Grio. It was the natural next step in a long-term relationship, Antonio Douthit-Boyd told St. Louis Public Radio.
“We met through mutual friends then started hanging out. That turned into a ‘like,’ then ‘like’ turned into a ‘love,’” he said.
Ailey ‘Set Out a Roadmap’
Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s marriage would have been unthinkable in Ailey’s day. It’s been widely reported that Ailey, a master dancer and choreographer, was a closeted gay man.
When he died in 1989, people involved in same-sex relations could be legally prosecuted. The U.S. Supreme Court had recently upheld what were known as the “sodomy laws,” with Chief Justice Warren Burger referencing a quote in his concurring opinion that sex between men is worse than rape.
“Being a homosexual man in that era was very taboo,” Antonio Douthit-Boyd said.
Antonio Douthit-Boyd speculated that Ailey’s decision to remain closeted was a calculated one, that Ailey had to think about the bigger picture to avoid alienating donors. But even as Ailey kept his own life a secret, he slowly paved the way for the Douthit-Boyd’s 2013 marriage.
“When he started this company, he wanted individuals who could be individuals, and people who could be themselves,” Antonio Douthit-Boyd said. “So I think he set out a roadmap for us to be doing what we’re doing today, to enjoy dancing and be in this company and not be afraid to be who we are.”
Breaking Gender Rules
The Douthit-Boyds experience life as a double minority: gay and black. But Antonio Douthit-Boyd said he’s experienced little racial discrimination. Most of the trouble he’s faced on the gay front has been based on breaking society’s rules about gender.
“The whole stigma of being a dancer and being male,” Antonio Douthit-Boyd said. “I got teased for being a dancer, in general, and then the whole gay thing came because, ‘Oh, he must be gay because he likes to dance ballet.’”
Kirven Douthit-Boyd acknowledged that, even today, same-sex relationships are controversial. But being completely open about their marriage helped to win acceptance.
“If we were kind of tip-toeing around the situation or we were acting like we were doing something that people might not like, then there might be some sort of hesitation in how people received this situation,” Kirven Douthit-Boyd said.
Ailey dancer Alicia Graf Mack, the couple’s longtime friend who taught at St. Louis’ COCA for a year after an injury, has seen their love grow during their decade with the company. They’re like brothers to her, she wrote in an email.
“They were ushers in my own wedding and I was a bridesmaid in theirs, Mack said. “Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd are ambassadors for all those who have been oppressed and who are now able to live their best lives in full view.”
So what would Alvin Ailey have said about their union?
“I think he’d be very proud that we were brave enough to go ahead with the marriage,” Antonio Douthit-Boyd said.
But he imagined that after the celebration, Ailey would have quickly turned his attention to other matters.
“He would be like, ‘Congratulations, now let’s get out there on the stage and do this work,’” Antonio Douthit-Boyd said.
Antonio Douthit-Boyd talks about his life in St. Louis and giving back to the community in COCA’s “I’m a Dancer” video.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Where: Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., 63103
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 25-26
How much: $35-$70
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL