Music for Class: Alex Ketley

Music for contemporary dance and improvisation

Even during his studies at the prestigious School of American Ballet, Alex Ketley knew his ultimate goal was to become a choreographer. So after just four years of dancing with the San Francisco Ballet, he abandoned performance to follow that initial creative spark. “There’s something very romantic about being saturated in your own artistic process,” he says. “It was dreamy and fun. I was completely unstable financially. I had no idea what I was doing. It felt so open and crazy.”

That in-the-moment feeling is what he’s trying to impart to his students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, where dancers learn current contemporary repertoire and try their hands at choreographing. Aside from ballet, Ketley teaches a class called Hot Mess, which is all about getting students to open up, act crazy, be vulnerable and let go of their technique. “I might ask them to growl like a dinosaur that has spasms in its body, while acting like a cheerleader. And it’s proved to be a tool to get into their playful sides,” he says. “So much of dance training is about the control of the body. But it’s really valuable to feel out of control. And everyone has to drop the idea of pleasing me, because there’s no way to do it well.” DT

Artist: Tommy Four Seven

Song: “Armed 3”

“I play a lot of really aggressive electronica in the beginning of rehearsals, partially because I want dancers to root down into their bodies and get out of their heads. The aggression and momentum in this music gives the studio a sense that we’re going to have fun, and that dancing doesn’t always have to be pleasant. It can feel messy and lost and still be radiant.”

Artist: Philip Jeck

Song: “Veil”

“This track has a lot of weight to it. And it makes me feel that all the movement we do is important. Each small decision and choice has significance. Movement has the most gravity when it’s invested.”



Artist: Gregory Alan Isakov

Song: “Master & a Hound”

“I’m interested in the full span of emotions in dancers. Something about this track makes room for fragments of emotion that we can attach to when exploring movement.”



Artist: Lil Wayne and Cory Gunz

Song: “6 Foot 7 Foot”

“I’m a big fan of hip hop because I’m obsessed with rhythm. Rappers are unique architects of how our perception of time can be squashed, drawn out, shattered and restructured. And hip hop always gets the room bouncing.”


Artist: TV on the Radio

Song: “Wolf Like Me”

“I grew up skateboarding and listening to punk music, so I feel nostalgic toward that culture, and sometimes, I want to bring that into the studio. It feels important to acknowledge the freedoms of childhood against the seriousness that dance practice can have.”


Photo by Andrea Basile, courtesy of Alex Ketley

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