Dancers
Dancers work choreography, developed by Dance Key West, at Dixon Place in New York. DANCE KEY WEST/Contributed

Since 2008, Dance Key West has been synonymous with movement in Key West, holding court on the island’s mainstages while finding moments in which they can pop up on sandy stretches or in neglected alleyways with unexpected, but accessible, site-specific works.

While the company maintains a consistent presence and high level of artistic integrity in its productions, the dominant focus of its first 10 years has been finding niches and filling gaps, giving back to the community.

Founder and director Kyla Piscopink remembers the fledging days of the organization she started after leaving New York to chase her love to the Keys. “It was a difficult choice to relocate because there wasn’t much of a dance scene here and dance was my passion,” said Piscopink. “My solution was to create Dance Key West as a way to provide opportunities for myself and other dancers to create and perform at a professional level here.”

The opportunities created have been countless. Though the name of the company references the tight-knit community in which, and for which, Piscopink develops programming, the enthusiastic choreographer doesn’t limit her creativity to a two-by-four-mile radius. Over the years, the company has performed original content at NYC’s Lincoln Center, Triskelion Arts and annually at Dixon Place, New York’s pre-eminent artistic incubator.

December will find Piscopink and company back in the Big Apple premiering a new project, entitled “Flock + Treasure,” a duet between Piscopink and longtime collaborator, Jordan Fife-Hunt. In April, the company will debut a new piece locally.

“Till It’s Gone,” an experimental piece inspired by our ever-changing island, is slated to be performed as a site-specific work at sunset on April 4. “The idea is centered around the effects of greed, gentrification and overdevelopment, with the title paying homage to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi,’” Piscopink said.

Despite a full dance card (pun intended) with shows in Key West and New York, performance is but a fraction of the company’s efforts. It has created workshops dedicated to helping young choreographers find their voice, and partnered with local agencies to custom-build outreach programs specifically designed for the populations they serve. Additionally, Piscopink and company offer autism movement therapy, a program developed, in response to a specific need, using specialized cognitive methodology to help children become more comfortable moving their bodies and being in group settings — an approach that can significantly improve behavioral, emotional, academic and social skills.

Perhaps the most visible outreach program in Dance Key West’s repertoire is the ReMARCable Dance Project, an innovative program combining the talents of Dance Key West, Steve Burns (“Blue’s Clues,” “The Moth” storyteller) and MARC, a local non-profit serving adults with developmental disabilities.

The inclusive program, which improves coordination and provides a social confidence-building atmosphere, is a product of Piscopink’s belief that artistic expression and physical activity are imperative to good health, and that every creative voice should be nurtured.

“It’s absolutely amazing to watch the progress from year to year. The MARC clients have become their own dance troupe, moving and working together to create art and express themselves. It’s beautiful,” Piscopink said. In April, the clients will present the culmination of their hard work in a public showcase at The Studios of Key West.

While some programs work toward a finale, others find their importance simply in continuing a sustainable existence. Year round, Dance Key West offers free weekly dance and technique classes, including ballet, jazz, African, tap, contemporary, hip hop, composition and dance history, onsite at Bahama Village Music Program (BVMP). Additionally, they offer classes on location during BVMP’s six-week summer camp.

Dance is a beautiful and powerful art form, but one that comes with unique financial challenges. Recently for example, the company purchased tap shoes for a class at BVMP, providing a necessary tool that would have been a luxury for many families. The shoes were purchased with individual donations from a campaign that barely raised its voice above a whisper, showing that the community is attuned to the integrity of the company and happy to jump in with help.

It’s that continued generosity, whether through the purchase of a single pair of shoes, or with the underwriting of an entire series, that has nourished the company for the past 10 years.

As 2019 draws to a close, the company pauses to applaud its history while preparing for all that’s still to come. The upcoming “A Celebration of Dance Key West,” which kicks off the group’s 11th season, allows Piscopink and company to reminisce with the community while sharing a vision of the future.

While the November celebration hopes to see continued support from the community, if the sole focus was monetary gain, every dance fan would simply receive a hopeful little white envelope in the mail. Giving back is in the DNA of Dance Key West and the creatives at play are anxious to show, tell and celebrate. Attending guests will be toasted with complimentary prosecco, treated to light bites, and entertained by auctions and dance-related games. The evening will be capped with a one-night-only performance, featuring original content developed exclusively for this audience.

Standing on the precipice of a new decade, Piscopink considers the company’s next steps as it plans to balance maintenance and reinvention, while keeping a steady eye trained on community needs. She knows what works and what will continue, but doesn’t let that stop her from exploring fresh paths. “Trying new things and finding new ways to create is important to me. I want to fuel the creative fire that keeps Dance Key West progressing from year to year.”

2019-20 Season

A Celebration of Dance Key West
Saturday, Nov. 2
The Studios of Key West
533 Eaton St.
tickets at dancekeywest.org

DKW Dance & Technique at BVMP
Bahama Village Music Program
103 Olivia St.
Tuesdays
5-6 p.m.

Flock + Treasure
Dixon Place
161A Chrystie St., New York, NY
Monday, Dec. 30
7 p.m.

Till It’s Gone
Key West (exact location TBD)
Saturday, April 4
sunset

The ReMARCable Dance Project
The Studios of Key West
533 Eaton St.
Friday, April 10
Saturday, April 11

Full company and season details available at dancekeywest.org.

Autism movement therapy
Any schools or organizations interested in scheduling an autism movement therapy class should contact [email protected]

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