Choreographer and Dancer: Kyle Abraham

Choreographer and Dancer: Kyle Abraham

2013 MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham derives inspiration from the urban fabric of his native Pittsburgh to create a unique and expressive style of dance.


8 - 12


Arts and Music, Experiential Learning

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Kyle Abraham is a dancer, choreographer, and 2013 MacArthur Fellow. As the founder and artistic director of, he relies on sense of place and community to inform his style of movement, which he calls “a hybrid of gritty and a bit of elegance.”


Before getting involved in dance, Kyle was primarily interested in music, something he was surrounded by growing up. His affinity for music naturally led to an interest in dance, culminating in the founding of in 2006. “When I started getting into choreography, I had already been into music for a long time and I was really thinking of ways to highlight music.” From the beginning, the character of Kyle’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt city, has been a major influence on his artistic direction. “When you think of visual artists and musicians from Pittsburgh, like Andy Warhol for example, you see this industrial life mixed in with something almost upper-class. You see a blending of worlds in their work, and I think in mine, too. It’s like an elegant blue collar work. I’m really trying to blend cultural perspectives—chuck them all in a melting pot.”


Though much of Kyle’s work is derived from his personal story, he has managed to connect to people of varying backgrounds and highlight common experiences and emotions. “I get letters sometimes from people telling me their stories. It’s amazing to me that I’m making a dance about my life experience, and someone could have a totally different life experience than me but still see themselves in my work. That’s how I know I did my job. It’s not about everybody getting my history. But hopefully they get something they can relate to or spark a conversation.” Furthermore, Kyle takes advantage of opportunities to engage directly with different communities while touring and performing across the country. “We get to see people listening and talking to one another that might be from totally different walks of life, but they’re engaging in a conversation about their community. They find likenesses in their community and in their histories.” 


As a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director, Kyle wears many hats. The demands of running a company sometimes get in the way of bringing his artistic vision to life. “Time is my enemy. There are so many things that you have to do as a choreographer, dancer, director, son, boyfriend, all of that. There’s not enough time to feel like you can do all of those things well. That’s a struggle for me. Especially when thinking about the intimate moments in making a work. It’s hard to give those attention. If you have two hours of rehearsal, and you want to draw out the smallest detail—even just the way you touch someone on the shoulder—making time for those little moments is really hard. But what people remember the most are those details.”


“It’s everything. It is my work. My work is about reaching communities and finding our differences and our similarities. That’s what the world is; it’s that conversation.” GEO-CONNECTION Kyle’s work focuses on a unique intersection of geography, history, and culture. He uses art as a lens to examine the ways space, place, and our surroundings shape who we are as people. “Everybody has their personal histories, and in the end it’s all about perception, really. When you see a dance performance or art or music, whatever experiences you’ve had in your life wind up finding themselves in how you respond to what you’re seeing, hearing, and feeling. “It goes beyond culture, even. Culture is constructed. You can be raised in one community but have a culture rooted in a whole host of communities. That’s what makes up our histories. It’s tied to where you’re from and where you’re going, who you’re interacting with.” SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CHOREOGRAPHER OR DANCER Kyle says being open to new styles and influences was key to his development as a dancer. “It’s important to try all dance forms and styles. Be open-minded to what different styles have to offer.” Being open-minded also applies to thinking about who and what you want to be, something Kyle remembers grappling with while growing up. “There’s so much power in that period when people are trying to put labels on you or tell you what you can be. You have to actually take a moment to think about what you believe in and what you don’t in relation to what people are trying to put on you. That helps identify the fundamentals of how you see life for many years to come.”


Those interested in dance and the arts should take advantage of opportunities to see live performances and explore different styles. As Kyle has noted throughout his career, each local community has a unique style and perspective to offer. To learn more, see the A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham website.

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Ryan Schleeter
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

April 29, 2024

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