[00:00:00.170] – Brett Dupree
Hello, Kayah, and welcome to my podcast.
[00:00:02.600] – Kayah Alexander
Hi. Thank you for having me.
[00:00:04.320] – Brett Dupree
Can you give the listeners a little explanation of who you are?
[00:00:07.710] – Kayah Alexander
Yes, my name is Kayah. I’m originally from Sacramento, California. I currently live in Dallas. I am a performing artist. I’ve danced in a modern dance company here in Dallas. I’m a commercial actress. I’m also a fitness instructor for group fitness and cycling and pilates. Do a little bit of everything. And I love all of that. What I do.
[00:00:26.910] – Brett Dupree
So did you always like dance growing up?
[00:00:29.040] – Kayah Alexander
Actually, I started dancing pretty late. Aside from in-home concerts or performances that my best friend and I would put on in the living room to Britney Spears or Sync or 3LW. I didn’t have any formal training or exposure to dance until my junior year of high school. And I started dancing on the dance team and we did a lot of hip hop, very basic technical movement. But I loved what I was learning and I loved being able to perform it in front of my peers. So I fell in love with the outlet and carried it into the career choice. I ended up majoring in dance in college. I transitioned into a professional dance career right after school, and I’ve been here since.
[00:01:08.430] – Brett Dupree
[00:01:09.160] – Kayah Alexander
[00:01:10.080] – Brett Dupree
I hear the world of dance like I know nothing about it other than watching so easy dance.
[00:01:15.600] – Kayah Alexander
Of course. Of course.
[00:01:17.700] – Brett Dupree
I hear it’s very competitive.
[00:01:19.520] – Kayah Alexander
Definitely. I think a lot of people don’t realize how many sectors of the dance world there are. What you see on So You Think You Can Dance is a lot of commercial dance. A lot of those dancers come from backgrounds in gymnastics or competition. They all cross and overlap in different ways. But there’s also the concert world of dance where you see a lot of trained ballet, modern and contemporary dancers joining companies like your regular nine to five job.
[00:01:47.430] – Kayah Alexander
They go into the studio every single day. And usually, companies only have spots depending on the size of the company. The company I worked for typically had a professional company of 12 and it’s a nationally, internationally known company, so it’s pretty competitive to get a spot. But the people that they end up hiring are usually either fit for the company.
[00:02:08.750] – Brett Dupree
Dance is kind of a different major in life. So you were your family really into your idea of going into the dance instead of, I don’t know, becoming a lawyer or a doctor?
[00:02:19.020] – Kayah Alexander
Yes, both of my parents were very supportive. My mom, you know, was my best friend growing up, and she was supportive of everything that I showed a passion for. I was interested in a lot of things and I had a lot of friends that did different stuff. Anything that I demonstrated passion and interest, enough interest to actually put in work or come forward and ask her, you know, Mom, can I do this? Can I take this class?
[00:02:45.300] – Kayah Alexander
Can I go to this audition? She was super supportive. And when I fell in love with my ended up my alma mater, Howard University in Washington, D.C., I was literally on the other side of the country. It was expensive. And of all things, I wanted to study dance because I had fell in love with it. Towards the end of high school and my mom, she was supportive and said, all right, let’s start working on these scholarship applications. From both sides of my family, they’ve always supported me in being consistent with what I was interested in. So they’ve had faith in me.
[00:03:18.390] – Brett Dupree
What are some of the biggest barriers in going through dance career.
[00:03:22.920] – Kayah Alexander
Not being the version of yourself that you think you’re supposed to be for? Maybe what is your dream job? As you can imagine, the dancers, especially in the professional world. There’s always this conversation, internal and external conversation of body consciousness. While some companies may impose that a little bit more than others. There’s always the factor of being in front of a mirror all day long and judging yourself in order to get better. But the judgment definitely takes a toll on you mentally. You know, working on technique and flexibility and range and how your body can help you get across a message that’s burning inside of you, whether it’s coming from your own heart or a choreographer is giving you a task to tell a story.
[00:04:15.420] – Kayah Alexander
You know, you only get one body and it’s a huge task to transform every single time you’re cast in a ballet or a piece or a production when you literally only have that one vessel. And it’s never it seems like it’s never quite where you want it to be. But that’s what makes the work interesting.
[00:04:35.940] – Brett Dupree
Seems like you couldn’t go down a shame spiral during that.
[00:04:39.480] – Kayah Alexander
Most definitely. I’ve never necessarily had any moment of doubt to the degree of no, I can’t do this. I’m not for this. But what I think is even worse is the spiral down of I’m never going to be enough. I can be here. I’m present. I’m showing up. And I’m working on. But all of my hard work might not be enough. My voice might not be enough for what the choreographer is demanding, my body might not be enough with the aesthetic that they want to portray.
[00:05:14.040] – Kayah Alexander
I think that’s definitely more dangerous than the more commonly circulated doubt. I just can’t do this. It’s scarier to know that you can do it, but you won’t be enough.
[00:05:24.510] – Brett Dupree
Was there an instance in your life where you’ve had that feeling and then you got over it?
[00:05:29.370] – Kayah Alexander
Yes. There’s been several. I think it might have been my first season in the company that I danced for. I had a choreographer come in and they were setting a contemporary ballet on the company. As you know, there were six men and six women. We were all dancing in the piece. I think one dancer was out because she was injured. But for the most part, we were all working this choreographer. I was in love with the way he moved.
[00:05:55.500] – Kayah Alexander
I was in love with the way he explained things, the way he went about portraying the aesthetic and the feeling and the look. He’d give these super intricate details and stories of, you know, this should feel like water cascading down the hill. And then it crashes in to, you know, dry soil and then it gets soaked up. That’s how this should feel. And he should turn like he was so descriptive and it was easy to get wrapped up in him.
[00:06:22.110] – Kayah Alexander
So he was great to work with. And it was a ballet that three sections in the middle section. The second section was a duet. And on the first day of working with the choreographer, he was pairing different people up just to see how people move together. And I got paired with one of the senior company members and he continued to work with us. And he was creating choreography. He was changing choreography. He was experimenting. And I and the senior company member whom I knew I’d been watching, perform for years before I got into the company, working with both of them at the same time.
[00:06:58.950] – Kayah Alexander
It was hard, but it was a dream come true. I was so excited to be present and be doing the work. And Monday went by and we layered on more and Tuesday went by. We learned more. And Wednesday we completed the ballet. We start cleaning it up. Thursday, everyone’s really got started getting into their characters and really dancing it full out and feeling all of the nooks and crannies and just exploring the work that we had. And Friday, the last days, always these showing.
[00:07:26.040] – Kayah Alexander
So we’ll have people from the marketing department come in. Sometimes the media will come in to preview the piece before it actually goes on stage, which will be several weeks later. We had probably about an hour and a half before the official showing and the choreographer took me aside and asked if I could speak with him in the hallway. And I was like, yes, of course. Took me into the hallway.
[00:07:45.450] – Kayah Alexander
And he explained to me that I just wasn’t going to be a fit for the duet that we had been working on throughout the week. And he gave me the assignment to switch out with one of the other women in the company and to learn her track. And I had about an hour and a half to do so before the showing. I wasn’t taken out of the piece. But this huge role that we had been working on all week long was just taken in the blink of an eye.
[00:08:16.410] – Kayah Alexander
And I didn’t understand why in the moment it hit me, but I was like, OK, I need to learn this other choreography that’s on stage less than half of the time and, you know, all of those kind of shallow surface things that you get wrapped up in. But it’s like, I just need to learn it. The showing is today I learned and I said, you know, maybe I just need to know both of these roles and trying to stay positive.
[00:08:36.960] – Kayah Alexander
Maybe I’ll get to still perform the duet. You know, we’ll see what happens in rehearsals coming forward. Rehearsals came forward and I never got to even revisit that duet. And I watched in rehearsal every time that section came up and I saw another person in that and I could feel everything that was being done, you know because I had danced it. When I tell you that just was a blow to my confidence because I didn’t understand why I had put in the work I was growing.
[00:09:06.420] – Kayah Alexander
I was finding new things within the art. And, you know, rehearsal week goes by really quickly. But I just didn’t understand why. I sat in a dark space mentally for a few months to come. If I’m being honest, I eventually started to shift when I saw other opportunities being presented that I wasn’t expecting in works, performing works that were that felt more like me. It didn’t feel like I was having to prove anything to anyone. I didn’t feel flustered or unworthy.
[00:09:41.910] – Kayah Alexander
I felt like certain roles were made for me. I didn’t realize that that wasn’t the first opportunity, the first opportunity. I was just excited. I was working with this person and that person in the spotlight was on me. And I got wrapped up in that. And I in those moments, I didn’t realize this doesn’t feel as good as it would. If you were to create it yourself or if it were a role that was truly built for you and it took time to sit in that dark space to even be able to realize there are things out there that are better than what you thought was going to be it for you. If that makes sense.
[00:10:15.040] – Brett Dupree
How do you get over that disappointment?
[00:10:16.730] – Kayah Alexander
I think it’s important to look at the bigger picture or recognize there is a bigger picture and come to terms with the fact that everything happens for a reason, even if it seems like a disappointment. There is some kind of lesson in that, or there is a series of feelings that you’re supposed to learn from. Even if the overall hovering disappointment doesn’t feel good.
[00:10:40.250] – Brett Dupree
Tell me the story of your first audition
[00:10:42.830] – Kayah Alexander
for the company?
[00:10:43.850] – Brett Dupree
or the first big audition that you went through or the one that you first you really wanted.
[00:10:48.100] – Kayah Alexander
OK, my first audition that I was most excited about was the second time that I auditioned for the company. I was already in the second company, which is kind of like The Apprentice performance group. I set out my leotard and tights that I wanted to wear. I knew exactly what my makeup was going to look like for the day. I warmed up probably for like two and a half hours before the audition even started. And I was talking to myself in the mirror.
[00:11:17.240] – Kayah Alexander
Isa Ray style, you know, like girl, you got this! You’re the Ish! you’re ready to go! You’re prepared. You’re going to give everything you’ve got. You’re going to show them who you are. I got into the audition room and I still felt that way. But the voice wasn’t as loud. It became kind of a faint whisper. And I started looking around more and more. I tell you, when you don’t have your blinders on, especially in competitive spaces, you will be distracted.
[00:11:45.830] – Kayah Alexander
Although I know that I gave a good audition. I know it wasn’t my best. And I lost out on my best the moment I started looking around and subconsciously comparing myself to the other people in the room.
[00:11:57.320] – Brett Dupree
That’s a very good message to just do your best without trying to compare yourself to others.
[00:12:02.630] – Kayah Alexander
Yes, it’s a lifelong fight, too, no matter how old we get. It’s always a temptation to compare yourself to others.
[00:12:11.120] – Brett Dupree
Well, that’s one of the funny things about life, is even when we learn the lesson, that’s not always the last time we need to learn that lesson.
[00:12:19.520] – Kayah Alexander
Tell me about it. You’ll go through a whole nother situation for a second time and you’re like, wait a minute, this feels very familiar. Haven’t we already done this? Management, what’s going on?
[00:12:32.060] – Brett Dupree
According to your bio, you lost your mother in the same two weeks as you auditioned for your dream company. What was that process like?
[00:12:41.180] – Kayah Alexander
I had my senior dance concert and then my senior performance or dance concert, and my mother was actually supposed to be there for my rites of passage and final performance. At the conclusion of the weekend of the show, I knew she wasn’t gonna make it on Friday morning. She told me that she had to go into the hospital because she hadn’t been feeling well. So I had found out on that Friday. But on Monday is when I got a call and my father was living in the vicinity of my school.
[00:13:14.600] – Kayah Alexander
And we both got the call that we should make our way to Oakland, where my mom was as soon as possible. I got to Oakland. I got to be with her. The situation was 20 times worse than I would have ever imagined. I lost her. She transitioned in Oakland a couple of days after I got there. And then I flew back to D.C., graduated, went back to California to facilitate a memorial service for her, and then prepared to go down to Dallas for the internship that would lead into me getting into the organization, working with the second company and also teaching through their outreach program.
[00:13:53.300] – Kayah Alexander
Everything happened so fast. And with my nature, I know that things happening all the time, like moving quickly through things and always having something to get done can be a distraction for me. And almost like staying busy can be a coping mechanism. And it wasn’t until the audition was over. Graduation was said and done. I had brought, you know, my two big suitcases down to Dallas where I had a job yet or not. Everything was said and done.
[00:14:21.620] – Kayah Alexander
And I sat there and I just cried. But the beautiful thing about that hectic time and the thought that I continue to go back to is the fact that my mom was the first person that I expressed to that I was interested in dancing for Dallas Back Dance Theater. And although when I first expressed the interest, I was far away from being in this space physically and mentally to join that professional company in particular. She said, Oh, you will, you will, baby.
[00:14:55.160] – Kayah Alexander
And you will shine and you will shut it down. You will make an impact on the company, you just won’t perform there. Her saying that early on has always resonated with me and it’s something that I’ve carried with me. And it’s something that has pushed me through to strive for a career that perhaps some people would not have envisioned for me. But it took a lot of time being by myself and processing that transition. I didn’t feel like I lost her because I still feel like she’s with me.
[00:15:27.250] – Kayah Alexander
But not having access to someone physically and being able to call her, I still have her name and her phone number. It’s not her phone number anymore, but I still have her in my favorites on my phone. You know, several phones later. It’s been eight years since she transitioned. But still, I think back on everything that she’s said to me and everything that she’s written. And that is my go-to keep pushing if that makes sense.
[00:15:53.910] – Brett Dupree
It does. So her encouragement of you, is that what got you into wanting to do, youth mentorship?
[00:15:59.380] – Kayah Alexander
I think so. I didn’t realize when I started, but I think so. I’ve grown up hearing different versions of what people have experienced with the mother-daughter dynamic. But I know for me, my mother has been my best friend, but she’s also always been an authority figure, so I’ve always had the utmost respect for her. But having that respect balanced out with someone that you see as a confidant that you can trust and communicate with as a friend.
[00:16:32.620] – Kayah Alexander
I know that that relationship dynamic is rare. And I witnessed as I began teaching through outreach dance programs and working with students in an ensemble that I directed for five years, that a lot of these students, and particularly young women, don’t have that dynamic with anyone, let alone with their mothers being able to fill that space and create that space for young people to have friendship and guidance from the same person. I think that is something that’s unmatched. And I think that’s something that all young people should experience because I know that it’s shaped my life in an unimaginable way.
[00:17:11.380] – Brett Dupree
What do you like most about what you do?
[00:17:13.150] – Kayah Alexander
I love reactions. I love surprising myself with how good something can feel or how deeply I can feel something when I’m performing or when I’m sharing. I like to perform spoken word poetry as well. But I love experiencing other people’s reactions. You know how when we’re in a conversation and someone says something that kind of triggers you or you can relate to either your head starts nodding or you do. Yes. Or because you feel something close to what the other person is feeling. I love being able to experience that and witness it when it comes specifically to performance, when it comes to taking on other characters like acting, whether it’s for the theater or these commercials and for television projects.
[00:18:00.970] – Kayah Alexander
I love diving into another character that is outside of me because it requires me to strip everything that I’m already holding onto as myself and become another person. And I think that is the core of being empathetic to people. If you can separate how you already think, how you already feel, and try to even just for a second, imagine what it’s like to be in the other person’s skin. That is one of the most human things that we can do. And I enjoy being able to do that through the medium performance art.
[00:18:34.810] – Brett Dupree
So what is it like to work with you?
[00:18:37.220] – Kayah Alexander
Endless corny jokes. Endless corny jokes. I am probably the corniest person I know. So it’s working with me is what I’ve been, from what I’ve been told, is pretty easy and relaxing. I value professionalism, of course, and getting the work done in a timely matter. However, I think it’s always easier to get the work done when you feel comfortable with people and when you feel like you have space to be yourself. I use comic relief on a consistent basis. Working with me, there’s definitely going to be some laughs in the room.
[00:19:11.920] – Brett Dupree
You have a very eclectic. I like to be varied. You do a lot of things. Basically what I’m getting at. Do you have a story of one of the things that you did that really affected somebody and you felt changed their trajectory in their life?
[00:19:25.060] – Kayah Alexander
And there was I guess it wasn’t a one-time event, but I have mentored some of my students that I had the opportunity and joy of working with. Through the junior performing ensemble that I directed. And I know that Miss Kayah was goofy and always with different ideas. That’s what my students would say about me. I also especially coming in out of college. I brought in a lot of several elements. Research and presentation to the table when it came to the way I was training my students, my dancers in the ensemble that I was directing.
[00:20:07.930] – Kayah Alexander
They were expected to write papers and they were expected to stand up and present their ideas or their findings or their review of different performances they’d seen or the processes that they went through to work with these choreographers that were working with them.
[00:20:24.040] – Kayah Alexander
Several years later, a lot of my students are graduating from high school soon, if not already. I have several of my students that I started working with when I first moved to Dallas that are now in college. And I have a few that actually chose to go to my alma mater, Howard University, and they’ve shared that. It’s because Miss Kayah went there and they saw how I was working in the dance company as a professional dancer and then also pairing that with the Miss Kayah they knew as their teacher.
[00:20:54.880] – Kayah Alexander
They thought it was pop in and they wanted to follow those footsteps and get as much out of their own experience based on what they witnessed within me. I would never take the credit for completely changing someone’s trajectory, but I definitely know that I’ve influenced
[00:21:12.190] – Brett Dupree
Feels good to make an impact on someone’s life, doesn’t it?
[00:21:14.260] – Kayah Alexander
[00:21:15.260] – Brett Dupree
So we are coming to the end of our time together. And one thing I like to ask my guests is to do a minute of motivation. You can imagine this as if you have a time machine and you’re going back to your eight-year-old self. You want to convey everything you need to live a happy, joyful life. But unfortunately, you’ll have a minute until you are taken back into the future or you can think of it as taking your entire life’s message and condensing it down to a minute. So you’re ready?
[00:21:38.300] – Kayah Alexander
[00:21:38.770] – Brett Dupree
[00:21:39.510] – Kayah Alexander
You do not have to have every detail figured out regarding your dream move to make it happen. Fear of it being too late or taking too much time or not having enough preparation. It’s not an excuse. God willing, the time will pass anyway. So whatever it is that you think about more than three times a day, whatever it is that you see other people doing, and you know that you could fill that space. Start right now.
[00:22:05.770] – Kayah Alexander
You can spend your whole life contributing to someone else’s dream. And while your presence will be valuable, it won’t last as long as it would or be as impactful as if you were carrying it out yourself. Your legacy is something that can only be shaped by you. What are you going to leave behind? Start today.
[00:22:27.340] – Brett Dupree
Awesome. Thank you so much for being on my podcast. I really enjoyed listening to your story. I mean, number one learning about a world that honestly, I know nothing about, which is dance, but also listening to how you keep on going on and dealing with the judgment that it takes to be a good dancer and not letting that consume you. And dealing with that story of disappointment and being able to go past that is always nice to hear. And I also appreciate the fact that you learn how to do this and you push forward and you had so much encouraging growing up and that you then take that encouragement and help the youth out today in their lives and fulfilling a role that some people didn’t have.
[00:23:07.360] – Brett Dupree
So you’re giving back in a way that I believe is special and sharing in the world through your dance is, I think, awesome. So thank you so much for everything you do in this world. And thank you for being on my podcast.
[00:23:17.890] – Kayah Alexander
Of course. Thank you again so much for having me
[00:23:20.720] – Brett Dupree
May your day be special.
[00:23:21.780] – Kayah Alexander