Arts & EntertainmentStage

Dancing to the Top

Kyle Leland is the dance captain in the touring production of ‘Memphis’
by Donalevan Maines

Maybe it was Memphis.

No, definitely it was Memphis. Getting cast in 2010’s Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, Kyle Leland saw the light, and it sure felt right.

“I approach everything as a ladder you have to climb,” he explains. “I was a dancer, and my goal was to dance in a Broadway production. But as soon as I got Memphis, I saw a bigger ladder and knew I wanted to climb it all the way to the top in this field.”

Memphis inspired Leland, who’s 24, with the dream of becoming an ultimate hyphenate like Houston-born Debbie Allen, who acts, dances, choreographs, directs, produces—and teaches at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA). That’s the nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that awarded Leland a scholarship eight years ago—and changed his life.

In the touring production of Memphis that will play Oct. 25–30 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, opening the 2011-2012 Gexa Energy Broadway at the Hobby Center season, Leland is the dance captain and a swing who performs in the show when a replacement is needed. Memphis involves a biracial romance in the 1950s rock and roll/radio scene.

Leland was conceived by a black man and the white mother who raised him in Redondo Beach, California. “I didn’t really have any connection with black people, and the only mixed-race person I knew was my brother,” he says, adding that although he lived in Los Angeles County, “I was far away from Hollywood in mentality.”

Once he enrolled at DADA, he says, “I finally saw people who looked like me and had the same creative minds. Debbie’s academy was rather magical.”

After three years at DADA and graduation from high school, Leland says, “I opted not to go to college. I flew out to New York on a one-way plane trip. I ran with my gut.”

The out dancer, who is single, auditioned three times for Memphis before getting cast as a replacement for a dancer who hurt himself in last fall’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “It was the best Christmas gift ever,” he says.

In January, five performances of the Broadway show were filmed by twelve moving cameras, and the footage was edited into a film that was broadcast to theaters nationwide last spring as a special event.

“They turned it into a perfect depiction of the Broadway show,” says Leland, who saw the completed product at a special red-carpet preview for cast and crew. “It was just us in the movie theater, and we laughed and cried and cackled throughout.”

Leland says his favorite moment in Memphis is when Felicia, the black chanteuse who’s in love with a white man, sings “Love Will Stand When All Else Falls.” It begins as a solo, but she is joined by the company following a clever scene change. “I get caught up when it happens, and sometimes I start crying on stage,” he admits. “It’s a moving song about how love has a great way of transcending things when people love who they choose to love.”

For ticket information, call 800-982-ARTS, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday–Friday, or visit

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.


Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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