Four years into a successful career with San Francisco Ballet, Alex Ketley quit unexpectedly to pursue teaching and creating choreography. Looking back, he says age 22 was the perfect time to branch out on his own and feed his hunger for creating. "It was liberating, because if I was terrible at teaching and choreographing, I had the time to just get another dance job," he says. "If I had left San Francisco Ballet five years ago when I was 40, the pressure would have been totally different. Starting when I was young allowed me to feel really playful about making work. I was initially underemployed, but it was OK because I didn't have the responsibilities that come with getting older."
Over the years, Ketley has flourished as director of The Foundry (a multimedia dance company), taught theater and performance studies at Stanford University, and created his own technique titled "Hot Mess" that he teaches at San Francisco Conservatory of Dance (where he's resident choreographer) along with other standard ballet and choreography classes. Ketley describes his Hot Mess classes as eight ridiculous movements performed in a cycle that becomes increasingly more extreme with each set. For example, he will ask his dancers to perform a silly hip-hop dance while singing a romantic song in a made-up language while making terrible faces. "No one can accomplish these prompts in a good way," Ketley says. "They scramble the body a bit and allow me to use failure as a creative tool. It challenges our notions of beauty by exploring ugliness
PRE-TEACHING RITUAL: "I like to improvise for a couple of hours before teaching. I do this to figure out what is rumbling around in me. Dancing on my own gives me clues as to what I want to work on in the day with the students."
FAVORITE TEACHING ATTIRE: "I wear Prana climbing pants because they are super-comfy and durable. I always dance in socks, and I wear Gap breathable shirts with a sweater over them to keep my back warm."
GO-TO ENERGY-BOOSTER BREAKFAST: "Eggs, a gluten-free bagel and fruit."
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF DANCE: "I've been a rock climber my whole life. I love that it interfaces movement with nature."
ITEMS HE NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: "My iPhone (for music) and a water bottle."
HIS GUILTY PLEASURE: "On the rare occasion it works out—waking up and watching the 'Great British Baking Show' with my daughter instead of getting out of bed."