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Unless otherwise noted photos and copyright 2017 Mike Strong KCDance.Com and Mike Strong Photo Gallery and CV Site - Email This Page

Donald McKayle

By Nicole English; photos by Mike Strong

In the Dance Department
Interview and Class pictures from 24 August 2006 ("Games" pictures from dress 13 Sept 2006)
University of Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri - Dance Department

Bio on PBS:
Bio at Univ. Cal. Irvine Dance Dept.:
Talk at Kansas City, Missouri main Public Library 24 Jan 2008
prior to KC Ballet performance of "Hey-Hay, Goin' to Kansas City" ballet

On Wednesday and Thursday, August 23rd and 24th, UMKC Dance students had the opportunity to take a couple of lengthy Master Classes with famed choreographer, Donald McKayle, at the Performing Arts Center (PAC). The two Master Classes covered the history of dance and dance composition for choreography.

The opportunity for the Master Classes presented itself when Dance Director, Mary Pat Henry, contacted McKayle about performing one of his most well-known suites, "Games", for the up-coming Wylliams/Henry Fall Dance Concert. Henry requested this piece specifically once she found that it was available through Dance USA America Masterpieces program. "Games" was one of the dances listed under that program as being available for college companies. McKayle has worked with UMKC's professional dance company for 12 days working out the reconstruction of his original choreography, which is based upon children's experiences with play and with life.

"Play is serious business for children," commented McKayle on "Games" to students. "It is not intended to be a metaphor for life, but rather a representation of children's experiences."

McKayle created the dance very early in his career. He found the impetus for the piece out of his own experiences as a child in New York City. In his own experiences he found a narrative, a story to tell.

"For the children of New York, the streets are their playground," said McKayle. "Through their fun and games, there still runs a thread of fear... the idea came out of my own experience of fear and terror that I built up into a narrative."

McKayle explains that there are three uninterrupted sections to the "Games" suite. First, there is "Play", which is a thematic introduction to the piece. This is followed by "Hunger", which deals with deprivation in childhood. The last section is "Terror", which deals with the loss of innocence in childhood.

The piece has no formal music, but is performed solely to the acapella singing and chanting of the dancers. Energetic and entertaining, this piece seems to tell a "story within a story" that humans can relate to both individually and as a culture. It has universal appeal, yet can speak to individual experiences.

"Games is a movement and dramatic dance," McKayle explains to students during the Master Class. "It has only 10 moves... but they are varied... there is lots of variety within those 10 movements ... in that way, the piece is very economical, very efficient."

Photos in the studio area were taken during Don McKayle's Dance Composition Master Class

Don McKayle

The master in class
With DVD and book
Don McKayle gives and elicits constructive criticism after individual improvs, in this case for senior Ben Biswell, reflected in the mirror behind McKayle.  
  Senior Ron Belger  

Between instructor/dancers Rodni Williams (left) and Sabrina Madison-Cannon



Now a professor of dance (and endowed chair) at the University of California--Irvine, McKayle has been an extremely active and prolific choreographer. He still travels the world teaching and choreographing for dance companies in different countries.

Very influential in Modern Dance, he has worked with such great names as Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey, and was recently featured in the PBS Great Performances documentary special on dance, "Free to Dance". He has also worked with PBS on his own autobiographical documentary for PBS, "Heartbeats of a Dancemaker". He has also recently been named by the Dance Heritage Coalition as "one of America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: The First 100". McKayle has also received Tony awards for his works on Broadway and has done choreography for a number of well-known films, including Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", and "The Jazz Singer".

After a break, McKayle returned to his chair in the studio to work with the dance students again.

"As many years as I have done this, what I always like best is to get into the studio and work with the dancers," said McKayle.

"You have to have a lot of passion and discipline because this artform, dance, is a lot of effort," McKayle added during his time with the students. "People think that dance is light and easy, for some reason... but it takes hard work and discipline... and knowing a lot about yourself."

The students applauded in appreciation

The Wylliams/Henry Danse Theatre, UMKC's professional dance company, will be presenting their Fall dance concert featuring McKayle's work, "Games", for three performances. The performances will be held Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, September 14, 15, and 16, at 8:00 PM in White Recital Hall at PAC.

Unless otherwise noted photos and copyright 2017 Mike Strong KCDance.Com and Mike Strong Photo Gallery and CV Site - Email This Page

UMKC Dance Division
page links on this site

UMKC Dance Division moments between studio classes
Dance Division moments between studio classes


Fall Concert "Choreofest"

The annual fall concert with staff and guest choreography.


November 2012
November 2011
November 2010
November 2009
November 2008
November 2007
November 2006
November 2005

Spring Concert

Held every April with staff and visiting choreography. This could be considered the school's Dance Division Showcase for the year.

April 2012
April 2011
April 2010
April 2008
April 2007

Other Dance Concerts and Dance Division Events at UMKC

These range from guest concerts, to special classes with visiting masters to various other dance events with UMKC dance division dancers.

Carmina Burana
CORPS de Ballet 2011 Conference with the introduction of the Tudor Curriculum
Battleworks Concert - 25 October 2008
UMKC Master Class with Robert Battle - 20-24 Oct 2008
Note: as of spring 2011 Robert Battle is to take over as Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey from the retiring Judith Jamison.
Master Class with Donald McKayle - August 2006
100th Year Anniversaryof the Conservatory - April 2006

Senior Recitals

These are held in the winter semester and the graduating seniors begin signups and rehearsals early in the fall semester. This is one of their last graded works. Each senior choreographs and directs a group piece and performs in a solo which may be self-choreography or another's and may also be a duet if there is a large enough mix of solo to duet.

There are a number of recital concerts, depending on the total number of seniors. Generally the mid-week concerts have in-town seniors while those with families out of town are scheduled for Saturdays so their relatives can attend.

Senior Recital 2012
Senior Recital 2011
Senior Recital 2008
Senior Recital 2007
Senior Recital 2005

Related Links

Non-UMKC events which have UMKC dancers, staff or visiting artists.

Don McKayle talk at Public Library, KCMO about Kansas City Ballet piece he was commisioned to create.

UMKC guys in Romeo and Juliet at Kansas City Ballet Spring 2008 backstage in costumes.

Wylliams/Henry Sept 2006 and "Games ," choreography Donald McKayle.

For some of the least expensive, good dance entertainment in Kansas City the University of Missouri Kansas City's Conservatory of Dance and Music's Dance Division offers some of the best young adult dancers in the area. UMKC's Dance Division is among the top dance schools in the country. Those of us who live in this area often miss that distinction but people elsewhere know (isn't it always so?).

Each year's entering classes just keep getting better as the incoming talent keeps inching upward in ability. Some of the students are fed into the system by local studios and some are from national and even international recruiting by the dance staff.

Although this web site is a journalistic effort to show dance in Kansas City, and is not intended as a booster of anyone in particular, the pages listed above are referenced by students considering attending the Dance Division.

The students in the program are intense. They are not just talented, they are hard working, very focused and very competitive in a way that shows competition is cooperative. I've watched them truly support each other. As an adjunct, I have a computer class with a lot of these highly disciplined young people. They are very sharp. (As are athletes in the athletic program, and for many of the same reasons as the dancers. I get those "kids" in my classes too and they really focus hard because they are gone a lot as well.)

This focusing skill among dancers has seemed far more obvious in the last couple of years since Twitter and other web media have produced an adapted audience with short attention spans whose questions show that they skip and skim material rather than read throughly.

Although I've no way of testing it, I don't think there are any more Einsteins or Not-Einsteins among dancers than among anyone else. However, I am more convinced than ever that the practice of dance develops the ability to focus intently as a result of two things, 1) the need to quickly and efficiently make up for time away from classes in rehearsals and performances (something shared with our athletic-program students) and 2) the need to remember precisely so many details and variations in choreography and be able to modify program details in a snap. That is a terribly valuable tool for all walks of life.

The dancers have to be sharp, partly because so much of their non-class time is spent in rehearsals, performances and their own works (i.e. senior recitals) not only for shows at UMKC, but also locally in Kansas City where they form a part of the talent pool. Many of those rehearsal schedules are on weekends and late into the nights. Sometimes they can be in 40 or more hours of rehearsal a week - that is time outside of class, job, transportation and so forth. It varies greatly but it is seldom light.

I would also call dancers athletes but I hate to, not because they are not athletes but because such statements tend to sound more like an excuse for dance to be tolerated as legit. I think the comparison of dancers and athletes should be more like a multiple of the famous Ginger and Fred comparison which states that she does all the stuff Fred does, but in high heels and backward too.

Dancers don't just move a ball to a goal (so to speak) but they have to do it in character, smiling, with grace and technique specific to the art form, never letting down and never stopping, on beat, keeping count, and repeating exactly the same moves to the same music again and again (you should see some of my comparison videos of separate runs), no mistakes. No cut on traditionally-defined athletes (football, baseball, etc.) and not that there is not tremendous grace in the result, but they get to grunt, groan and grimace with bodies twisted and turned any which way just as long as the ball gets to the goal.

In my personal experience with these "kids," these dancers are talented as both physical athletes and mental athletes. Then there is the thing about what great people they are, but that is another rant. Don't get me started.


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Don McKayle at Wylliams/Henry Sep 2006
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