Hope Boykin Shares What It's Been Like to Retire During COVID-19

October 11, 2020

In early March, Hope Boykin took the stage with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater thinking it was just a regular performance. “I wish I had known it was my last one,” she says. “I didn’t have the intent to say farewell that night.”

The show marking her retirement and celebrating her 20-year career with the company wasn’t supposed to happen for another two months. But a week after that March performance, the coronavirus forced Ailey to cancel the rest of its season. At first, Boykin thought there might be an opportunity to reschedule, but she quickly realized that live performances would not come back for months.

“Walking away from performing is sad. Knowing there’s no final show is sad,” Boykin says. “I thought, Can’t I just have one sadness? Now there’s two?”

But Boykin has overcome many hurdles in her career, such as major injuries, and has reinvented herself multiple times as a choreographer, teacher, director, writer and speaker. Although she didn’t get to “put a bow on her career” the way she’d planned, she’s had other projects to focus on. Creations for BalletX and students at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, where she is an artist in residence, continued on Zoom, as did her work planning and teaching for the Kennedy Center Dance Lab summer program.

The chance to shepherd young dancers through this time by nurturing their artistry is a source of inspiration that’s helped keep her going. “The creativity from these young people is so satisfying,” she says. “Working through a screen has made it so there’s no hierarchy. We are all even in this new experience.”

The shift to digital programming has brought new opportunities, including hosting an interview series with Ailey artists and recording a workshop on Revelations. She even performed in Ailey broadcasts from home, a postretirement opportunity that likely wouldn’t have happened in a regular season.

While she knows she won’t perform again at the level she was at back in March, the possibilities of what she can do next are otherwise limitless, including continuing to dance.

“It’s my duty to keep giving,” she says. “During the world’s intermission, who knows what I’ll discover next?”