Keira Whitaker's picture
  • Dish
  • 9 April 2018
Donald McKayle

As heaven gains another angel, we sadly say goodbye to an amazing man, choreographer, and dancer. Mr. Donald McKayle lived from 1930 to 2018, leaving behind many heavy hearts who were impacted and changed by his life’s work.

McKayle was born on July 6th, 1930, in East Harlem, where he grew up in an integrated neighborhood that opened his eyes to racial issues and prejudice. He actively engaged in education and strived to learn more about African American history by joining the Frederick Douglass Society. Dance finally came into his life after seeing Pearl Primus perform, where he became enamored with the potential of movement. He joined The New Dance Group on scholarship in 1947, and he began formal training in modern, ballet, tap, Afro-Cuban, and more. From there, he was unstoppable, and began choreographing after just a year of training!

McKayle was known for his work on Broadway, TV, and for his choreography that addresses social and racial issues. Works like Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder (1959), and Games (1951) are powerful examples of how his choreography opened windows to someone else’s world, allowing the audience to see the hurt, pain, and suffering of people from various ethnic backgrounds. He was a true change maker and light amongst the dance world, and his impact made waves in the art community.Towards the end of his life, McKayle became a professor at the University of Californi,a Irvine, where he leaves behind several generations of college students who have learned his work. His choreography and legacy lives on through his students and the many lives that were impacted by his life’s journey. McKayle was one of the greats, and as dancers, it is our job to remember the greats, respect their life’s work, and pass on the lessons they teach us.