New Instructor Spotlight: House Dance's Kim Holmes

Posted August 26, 2015

As a young girl growing up in Harlem, NY, Kim studied jazz, African and creative movement under director Dianne McIntyre and instructor Mickey Davidson at Sounds in Motion on 125th Street.

As she recalled her early dancing days, an old adage from the most influential person in her childhood came to mind: “My grandmother always used to say ‘little girls need grace and discipline.’” For Kim, dance wasn’t just recreational; it was a vital part of her education. As she grew into her teenage years, she and her friends were intrigued by new dance forms that were not being taught in the classroom.

 “I was out in the street with a bunch of girlfriends and we were called the Culture Shock Posse,” she recalls, laughing, “which is hilarious to me now because at the time, we didn’t know that we really were a culture shock, especially for females in House dance.” And so the story of her artistic crusade begins.

Like many of her peers, Kim discovered House and hip-hop as a way to escape from working class oppression and the institutionalized pressures of being a young person of color in the 1980s. Starting at 16 years old, Kim would sneak into nightclubs with her friends—most frequently to a venue called “The World” on the Lower East Side—where the energy on the dance floor was exactly the opposite of what was happening on the other side of the walls. “We would watch people dance freely and just release,” she recounted. “It was amazing to me.” There were traces of African dance, jazz and even American modern dance in this new way of moving. The origins of the dancers would also influence the choreography and vocabulary; dances from Cuba and Jamaica, among others, were represented in the club. “You would see everybody,” she explained. But this wasn’t just a place to see and be seen. Unbeknownst to many, it was the beginning of a social and cultural phenomenon. As Kim explains, “So many people would come just to let go and be themselves without knowing that they were creating a technique that was going to go international, and that eventually everybody would want to learn it.”

House and hip-hop dance remained a constant in Kim’s life throughout her late teens, but she reached a turning point when she became a mother at the age of 21. It was a pivotal time which forced her to make decisions about how she would survive while still living a fulfilling life. Kim remembers thinking, “I don’t want to do a 9 to 5. I can’t do retail – I’m not working in Macy’s for the rest of my life.” She took a leap of faith and eventually made a lucrative career touring with the likes of Missy Elliot, Salt-N-Pepa and Jay-Z. When she wasn’t on tour, Kim taught dance classes in NYC. To this day, Kim finds it hard to believe that she can pay the bills by simply following her dream and sharing herself with the world. “I’m telling my stories to students, I’m giving them my vocabulary, I’m creating movement, people want to see me perform and I’m traveling the world with different artists.” She explains it as though she’s having an epiphany mid-sentence: “Oh–this is a living!”

When tour life proved to be too much time away from her daughter, who was then of school-age, Kim landed a job at Alvin Ailey’s Arts In Education & Community Programs department. “That was really a big step for me,” she asserts, “because I was able to share my story with kids that didn’t see their way out. I was helping kids that thought this was their last stop in life.” Kim describes the work she did for AIE as her “ministry” and loved having the opportunity to share that part of her life with her own daughter.  “You kids are the hope for the future,” she would say to them. “If I ever stop dancing, there’s a plethora of you that I have planted these seeds in.”

Kim now brings her wealth of knowledge to adults at the Ailey Extension, where she will teach open House dance classes and even have a live DJ once a month. Her advice for new students:  “Remember that you’re not auditioning. Some people feel like ‘I have to be the best and I have to be perfect.’ As soon as I come into the room my attitude is: ‘This is class. You paid for class. You’re coming to learn and open your mind and be receptive to it. You paid for the movements, so after this they’re yours – they’re not mine anymore. I’m sharing a piece of me with you. When you come in open-minded like that, it’s easier to have that exchange.”  As for music selection, Kim prefers an old school sound, such as Chuck D, Missy Elliott, Jill Scott and even John Coltrane and other various blues artists. Her eclectic taste in music keeps every class interesting. “That’s the great thing about House,” she explains. “You can use so many different types of music. You get some percussion, and you can have some Afro-Cuban, because it’s all mixed in. Everybody has planted a bit of who they are in this House community.”

After each and every class, Kim describes feeling exhilarated and grateful. No matter how she feels on the way to work, she doesn’t take any opportunity for granted. One expression in particular resonates with her: “Someone told me there are two things we don’t know in life: when we’re coming and when we’re leaving. So that dash in between? Make it the best.  That’s where I come in, by making you the best and feeling better about yourself. Because when you feel better, then I feel better and can take it to the next level.”

The process of teaching is mutually satisfying for Kim and her students, and it is evident that her energy is contagious and has the potential to grow exponentially. That kind of visceral connection with her students is what keeps them coming back. She says, growing emotional, “I’m overwhelmed sometimes when you see that person who had that hard day, and then they came in and they got the little choreography that you gave them and they say, ‘I thought I was never going to get this and you broke it down in a way that I can understand it.’ It’s really heartfelt for me.  Sometimes I have stuff in my own head where I say, ‘I don’t know why I’m here’ – and then moments like that happen and I think, ‘This is the reason why I’m here. Because that person, who wasn’t going to show up, showed up today.’”

Take House dance with Kim Holmes on Thursdays from 8:00-9:30pm.

Interview and blog post by Chandra Jackson.


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