Forget About the Box
Dancer Kevin Piñero ’12 makes his own rules
by MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
November 10, 2010
Kevin Piñero ’12 (center) performs at the 2010 American Dance Festival.
It can’t be easy for Kevin Piñero ’12 to sit through an interview. He’s talking about movement and dance—the things he’s most passionate about—but he’s stuck in a very small room, nowhere near a dance floor. So he perches at the edge of his seat, gesturing with both hands. Barely contained. Seemingly poised to leap from his chair.
“It’s easier for me to dance what I’m thinking than to say it,” he admits. “That’s why I talk with my hands.”
Piñero is a natural dancer who needs to move.
Which is why friends are surprised to learn that the theatre & dance major and veteran of the 2010 American Dance Festival (ADF) originally planned to become a neuroscientist.
From synapse to syncopation
Piñero only began to dance recently, taking lessons in high school and performing in school musicals. His first semester at Dickinson, he enrolled in a dance class just for fun. The following spring, he joined the Dance Theatre Group (DTG) and took more classes.
“The harder the dance was, the more I loved it,” Piñero says. “I told my high-school dance teacher I was changing my major from science to dance, and she laughed and said, ‘I told you so.’ I don’t think anyone who knew me was surprised.”
That included Director of Dance Sarah Skaggs. “Kevin is a raw talent and an incredible jumper,” says Skaggs, who tapped that ability by incorporating high leaps in last year’s DTG concert. “We could see his potential early on. He just needed instruction.”
Piñero took classes in modern dance, dance history and criticism and earned Dickinson credits by taking ballet classes at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet School & Performing Company, an international classical-ballet school in Carlisle.
“Because [Dickinson’s] dance department is small, students can tailor their dance curriculum to match their interests and goals. Kevin was able to match a conservatory-style education with the liberal arts,” Skaggs says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
When opportunity knocks
The intensive coursework paid off last summer,when Piñero earned a paid internship at the ADF. Founded in 1934 by Martha Graham and three fellow dance pioneers, the six-week festival at Duke University connects talented pre-professional dancers from all over the world with some of the nation’s best instructors.
Five days a week, Piñero trained for six to eight hours a day, observed professional companies’ performances and networked. On his days off, he took the maximum number of extra courses possible. “I think every professional choreographer and dancer I met added to my experience,” Piñero says. “The dance world is very small, and they all seemed to be in North Carolina over the summer. It was amazing.”
Skaggs, who traveled to North Carolina to see her student perform, said that Piñero thrived in this competitive atmosphere. “He did so well,” she says.
Piñero also attracted praise from noted choreographer/director Vincent Paterson ’72, who sat in on a choreography class while visiting Dickinson last March. Paterson, best known for choreographing Michael Jackson and Madonna, told the class he was particularly impressed with one of Piñero’s original works. “I was moved—I was on the edge of my seat,” he told the young choreographer. “Your work is fresh and original. You’ve got what it takes.”
The piece in question, Crazy Genes, explored issues surrounding gender identity, insanity and genetics—issues Piñero examines in his other classes. According to Skaggs, the piece represents the qualities that distinguish liberal-arts trained artists and performers.
“By tackling issues regarding gender and physical stereotypes, Kevin is showing us new ways to look at the body onstage and new ways to look at dance,” she says.
Forget about the box
As for his future, Piñero notes that there is a cultural shift toward more popular, theatrical styles of dance—a trend he wants to buck. He hopes to join a dance company after graduation and eventually found a modern-dance company, perhaps in California.
According to Skaggs, who ran her own company in New York, those dreams are well within reach. “Kevin has a lot of raw talent. But what’s most remarkable about him is that he will challenge himself to extend far beyond his comfort zone. He’ll try anything,” she says. “We show him opportunities—doors he can walk through—and he goes right through them. He’s going places.”
For now, Piñero, who lives in The Site’s performing-arts house, is enjoying his time at Dickinson: living with like-minded students, sharpening his skills, going on field trips to see professional productions and absorbing all he can. Although he’s eager to launch a career, he is grateful to the instructors who made it possible.
“I don’t think I would have [pursued dance professionally] if I went to school somewhere else or had different professors. My professors test my limits and push me to think outside the box, then back inside the box, then to forget the box is even there,” he says with a laugh. “They inspire me to explore what I can do.”