He has the hands of a dancer, large hands with tapered fingers that move constantly and gracefully as he talks. Even when he sits in his UCI office, flanked by walls crowded with awards and posters from his career, his hands perform their own kind of dance.
He is Donald McKayle, dancer, choreographer, director and UCI Claire Trevor Professor of Dance, and he never seems to stop moving.
“I just keep doing it,” he says. “I could retire, but this is so exciting.”
“This” is teaching UCI dance students to, well, follow in his footsteps. He has been out of work just one week in his 50-plus-year career. Being versatile helped: “I had nothing other than a love of dancing, and no allegiance to a particular style.”
His credits for choreography and direction include Broadway musicals, feature films, concerts and television. He has five Tony nominations, two Emmy nominations and numerous awards. McKayle received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Eighth Annual Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival in November 2005 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.
“I’ve been proclaimed, cited and declared,” he jokes. He has received the UCI Medal, the campus’s highest honor, and published an award-winning autobiography, Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life.
McKayle lives in Irvine with his wife, flamenco dancer Lea Vivante. He joined UCI in 1989 and teaches advanced modern dance and graduate choreography. As artistic director of the dance department, he’s especially proud of his Etude Ensemble, a student dance group he runs like a professional outfit. He’s currently working on Dance Visions, a showcase of dance styles, live music and video to be performed next February at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
McKayle can proudly name former students now dancing with the Rockettes, the Joffrey and Nashville ballets, and other top venues. He encourages current students not to limit themselves:
“I tell them to open themselves to as much as possible, both as dancers and human beings. The more colors you have in your palette, the more you have to work with.”