After-school special: Interview with Kesha McKey

Kesha McKey (Dance ’91) currently serves as Chair of the Dance Department at NOCCA and is the founding Artistic Director of KM Dance Project. She holds a BS from Xavier University of Louisiana and an MFA in Dance Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


What is your motto?

Honesty. The key to good work is honesty in your art, speaking from the I. Expectations are a thing and you want to have goals. However, responding to those within the framework of your true self, what you stand for, what you believe in, what you trust–that will lead to good work.

Who are your real life heroes?

How many can I list? My mother is a huge support, I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her. My dance teacher at NOCCA, Lula Elzy, is a big advocate. My grandmother, Yvonne, was a big fan and supporter of my work. She was active for so long, such a go getter of a woman–it is inspiring! Ms. Carol Bebelle, who founded and led Ashé Cultural Arts Center for a long time. She truly activated my social justice perspective and brought it out within my work.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Teaching is a large part of my success. I worked at Ashé, directing their Kuumba Institute with children aged 5-16. Now, some of those babies are NOCCA graduates! Seeing that, the outcomes, the fruit–it is amazing. It is why I do the work I do, I see the impact. Teaching takes a lot of energy, time, patience, and sacrifice. What you put into the work is a lot but the impact it has totally outweighs that. It brings me to tears to see kids going on to do what they want to do and be successful.

As it relates to personal achievement, my greatest thus far has been through my dance company, KM Dance Project. In 2019, we were honored with a National Dance Project Production Grant through the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA). We are the first dance company in the state of Louisiana to receive this award since the inception of the grant program. This funding will support the development of our new work Raw Fruit as well as the premiere of this work in 2021 and the following tour starting in 2022.

What experience/idea/lesson do you think of the most from your time at NOCCA?

When I think about my student time (laughing), oh my goodness. I would say, not being afraid of yourself. A specific situation was when Ann Reinking came to NOCCA to audition students for a musical theater program in Florida. I was so scared. I don’t know how to read music, I don’t know what I’m doing. Lula pushed me and encouraged me. Just sing, just audition. Having that opportunity, life just went off. People responded. I learned that thinking that it has to be a certain way and the only way to be successful is to do all the things (that is, have gotten all the training) isn’t true. Stepping forward with your true, honest self might be just the thing people are looking for. Don’t get in the way of yourself.

What is your favorite NOCCA memory?

As a student, a group of us were able to go to Los Angeles to perform at the Pantages Theatre when Lula was nominated for a Disney All American teaching award. We learned her choreography and Donald Harrison Jr. performed on the saxophone. It was amazing, huge. It was a part of an official award ceremony-there were teleprompters! And we got to dance–it was beautiful. It was another level–the theater, walking down Hollywood Boulevard. When we were flying out, my mom made a sign for the car, “Hollywood or bust!” It was so exciting.

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