Devon Louis had a rocky introduction to concert dance. Though he started taking hip-hop classes at 7 years old at a small school in Washington, DC, called The DC Dragons, his first ballet class at 8 years old, with Dance Theatre of Harlem, almost ended his future career before it could even begin. “The 8-year-old me was very shy, and when some of the other students pointed and giggled at me because I didn’t have white socks to wear with my white ballet shoes, I remember feeling very embarrassed,” he says.
Thankfully, when Louis was 13, DTH held a residency program in DC in which they held classes taught by Arthur Mitchell and Robert Garland every Saturday, and he began to fall in love. He was accepted into Duke Ellington School of the Arts for high school, and shortly thereafter experienced the biggest turning point in his dance training. “I saw Alvin Ailey perform at the Kennedy Center when I was 15 years old,” he says. “I watched Matthew Rushing do Love Songs, and felt things I’d never felt before. I wanted an audience to feel the same way through my work. I knew I was destined to dance.”
So, Louis immediately told his dance teachers that he was ready to take dance seriously. “I started working through my lunch breaks, training as hard as I could,” he says. “I wanted to see how far I could push myself in my technique.”
After graduating high school, Louis attended The Ailey School as a recipient of the Oprah Winfrey Scholarship for two years before participating in Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, under the direction of Milton Myers. From there, he began his professional career in the second company of Ballet Hispánico, as well as with The Metropolitan Opera and Nimbus Dance Works. In 2018, he joined Paul Taylor Dance Company, where he has been dazzling audiences with his clean technique, organic movement quality and charismatic performance ever since.
On the most helpful correction he’s ever received: “In Horton, it was to keep my chin up, and in ballet it was to keep my chin down. With modern dance you really want to be presentational, and you want your chest to be forward because it is the undercurve of the genre. Ballet is already presentational, so you don’t want to have your chin too high so you lose your face.”
On his most influential dance teachers: “My first dance mom, Katherine Smith, was a huge inspiration to me. She understood how deep my love for dance was and pushed me forward. At The Ailey School, Ms. [Ana Marie] Forsythe and Milton Myers were amazing. I started taking their classes at the same time, and they gave me the freedom to explore Horton in class every day. It is a codified technique, but on top of the technique, they wanted me to enjoy it. They were so charismatic and made class a fun experience.”
On the least helpful advice he’s ever received: “A lot of people will encourage you to go into auditions with an understanding of whether or not they are typecasting people, or what they are looking for. I have found that it’s better for me to go into the rooms with zero expectations. If you go into the room and assume they aren’t looking for someone like you, you definitely won’t get the job. But if you go in and decide to do whatever it takes to get their attention, you never know what will happen.”
His advice for dance teachers: “Don’t give up on the difficult students. I was a difficult, hard-headed student, yet my teachers never gave up on me. Try your best to inspire a love for dance in your students, and help them have a positive outlook. See your dancers as who they can become, rather than simply who they are today. Even if they have given up on themselves, you should never give up on them.”
On his goals for the future: “I just want to be successful. I have reached almost every dance goal that I have set out to achieve. Now, I just want to continue to have a good and positive career, and then hopefully get into choreography at some point. If it doesn’t happen, that’s OK. I just want to be happy.”