When he was a middle-school student, Lloyd Knight made a deal that he called “my dad’s tradeoff.” His father told him, “If you’re going to dance, you’re going to do karate.” For a while, he took karate at night. But dance won.
At 30, Knight – with the support of his family -- is in his eighth season with the New York-based Martha Graham Dance Company, a soloist who has performed starring roles in iconic works such as “Appalachian Spring.” On Sept. 28, as part of the UNC Charlotte Department of Dance’s annual Faculty Concert, Knight and fellow Graham company member Lorenzo Pagano will dance “Traces,” part of a larger work in progress choreographed by Kim Jones, assistant professor of dance at the university. It will be a reunion of sorts -- Jones was a dancer with Graham’s company.
“We danced together and worked together,” Knight said in an interview of his collaboration with Jones. “We maintained a friendship. She comes to the school often to teach.”
Knight said he was excited that Jones asked for the dancers’ thoughts and ideas. “It explores the movement vocabulary of empathy and reflection,” he said, noting that the piece is “very human and deep.”
“It’s not often that you do a duet with another guy.” Knight said it has been a learning experience. “It was perfect -- it happened fast and it was great.”
It’s another chance for Knight to grow. “If you ask a lot of dancers, what do you feel about dance, they would say it’s a way to express yourself. It’s very freeing for me -- the whole mind, body, spirit experience.”
Knight was born in London and moved with his family to Miami when he was about 8 years old. He attended a magnet middle school there but wasn’t involved with any of the arts programs. Fortunately, his homeroom class was in the dance studio.
“I had some friends who were in the magnet program, and we were playing around one morning,” he said. The observant dance teacher invited him to a rehearsal. “I said OK, and that was it. She took me into the program, and I just fell in love with it.”
At college at New World School of the Arts in Miami, Knight was exposed to all types of dance and a roster of teachers who had been principals in their fields. He studied the techniques of José Limón, Merce Cunningham, “we even had an Indian dance workshop,” he said. He worked with many renowned choreographers, including Donald McKayle, Robert Battle and Michael Uthoff.
Three days a week, he trained in the work of iconic dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, which, he said, touched him from the very beginning. “You never do a step just to do a step,” Knight said. “Everything has a purpose and a meaning.” He spent “summer intensive” sessions in New York, taking classes at the Graham school, where he made a connection with teachers and directors. During his senior year, he successfully auditioned and had a place in the company waiting for him after he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
The rest of his career hasn’t always gone quite as smoothly. Like many dancers, Knight has been challenged with injuries. He took a year off to recover from a herniated disc in his lower back – “Graham is a hard technique, especially for a male dancer,” he said. A doctor recommended surgery, but he decided to try physical therapy, acupuncture and Pilates, which he said worked for him.
During that time away from dance, Knight had an internship at the School of American Ballet in the development department where, he said, “I learned so much about the business side of running a school and running a company.”
He said he will always be involved in the arts in some way. “I love acting and Broadway,” Knight said. He has also recently been getting interested in putting dance on film, “looking at it from a different point of view, taking it completely out of the theater and putting it in a real setting.”
For now, dance remains Knight’s passion. “When we have time off,” he said, “after three, four days I start to get itchy.” He said he enjoys visiting colleges and universities. “Dance majors are looking for inspiration,” he said.
Along with Eric Underwood at the Royal Ballet Company and Misty Copeland at American Ballet Theatre -- other African Americans making a mark in major dance companies – Knight encourages young people to be open to all kinds of dance styles.
He returns to New World School of the Arts as often as he can. “I’ve talked with people and try to tell them if you have passion and if you want to do something, you should just go for it and do it.”
The UNC Charlotte Department of Dance will present its annual Faculty Concert on Sept. 27 and 28 in the Anne R. Belk Theater of Robinson Hall. Works by other faculty members and an appearance by a guest artist from the José Limón Dance Company will also be featured. Tickets are $14 for adults, $9 for UNC Charlotte faculty/staff and seniors, and $6 for all students and are available online at www.coaa.uncc.edu or by calling 704-687-1849.