There’s an unmistakable grace and elegance about dancers. Even in just ordinary movements, there’s a little something extra — a toned arm that extends for the door just so, or a jaunt down a rainy street with a rhythm that suggests a danseur prancing between raindrops.
This beauty is evident, when, after breakfast with close friends at their Harlem home on a recent Friday, these men begin their journey to the New York City Clerk’s Office to legally tie the knot.
A union that occurs as the Supreme Court readies itself to give a ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars same-sex couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. An act of love made as the Justices deliberate on the repeal of Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in California.
Depending on how the Court rules, Antonio and Kirven’s marital bond might be recognized nationwide. It would only be a fitting extension of a powerful love, as lovely as a leg extension by dancers of international acclaim.
The path to an Ailey dancer wedding
“We had been talking about marriage for a while, and we knew years ago that we would be together forever, but about six months ago we just decided to go ahead and get married,” says Kirven, who has been bonded to Antonio for eight years. “We don’t have a cute little engagement story, or anything. There was no bended-knee proposal, or doves released, or any of that. Next time someone asks me, I might make up a story though.”
Forgoing the traditional church ceremony route, Antonio and Kirven prefer a quick, no-fuss wedding. The City Clerk’s Office — the proverbial “City Hall” — is the best option for them.
Dressed in identical grey suits with black ties and a pop of blue print for pocket squares, Antonio and Kirven use the time in the waiting area before their number is called for impromptu dance numbers.
They take pictures that may or may not have involved the phrase “twerking in the courthouse.”
Kirven’s cousin Ellyxandria Ferguson serves as official photographer. With no stage in sight, the dancers in their wedding party assemble, disperse and reform in precise formations naturally as the men in the happy couple wait their turn.
Seemingly disparate life paths converge
Antonio and Kirven’s lives are so intertwined today, it’s hard to imagine them not being together. Yet, it is a bit of a miracle that two young men from such different beginnings ended up on the same path.
Kirven grew up in Boston surrounded by a large and loving extended family that embraced him when he came out at as a gay man and decided to pursue a career in dance.
“I think the fact that I came out a year or two before Kirven helped make his coming out easier,” says Kirven’s cousin Ellyxandria.
“My mom has always been supportive,” says Kirven, 28. “I don’t think anyone was exactly shocked when I came out. Before I came out, my dad would express a dislike towards homosexuals, but now he really tries to understand me and he gets that I’m just trying to make something of myself. Being gay is not a bad thing. We’re born this way. As long as you’re a productive human being, that’s all that really matters.”
Antonio’s more difficult path
Antonio, 32, grew up in St. Louis in a single-parent household with a mother who frequently made homophobic comments. Eventually Antonio moved in with his adoptive mother who has been a tremendous support system for him throughout his life.
“I came out to my biological mother when I was 19 and she basically unleashed every homophobic slur she could find. She told me I was going to catch a disease and die. She didn’t understand why I wanted to be a dancer either. That didn’t seem like a career for a man to her,” says Antonio.
But at around the time that he joined Alvin Ailey, his mother had begun to try to repair their relationship. She seemed interested in learning more about his career and his life in general. Unfortunately, she passed away not too long after that. Antonio believes her drug addiction contributed to her early death. “I know she appreciated me and I know she loved me. Her birthday was June 7th, and that’s why we chose June 7th as our wedding day. It’s just a small way to pay tribute to her and make her a part of our day.”
Emotions well for Antonio and Kirven
“Kirven was already crying this morning,” notes Antonio as their time nears. “I was a little anxious in the car on the way here because we were stuck in traffic and I didn’t want to be late, but I’m not nervous or anything. I’m marrying my best friend.”
Any additional nervous energy is promptly dispelled by the copious laughter of the celebrants. Six of the couple’s closest friends are their attendants, all amazing, accomplished comrades from the dance world including Jon Taylor, who is not only the Alvin Ailey wardrobe supervisor, but also today’s wedding planner.
Antonio subtly (and not-so-subtly) fishes for details on the playlist for the coming reception, specifically the first dance song. But Kirven is steadfast in his refusal to give up his musical surprises until the evening.
When it is announced that Antonio and Kirven are next to marry, a grand cheer erupts from their wedding group, louder and larger than most others.’
The grooms are asked whether they prefer to be called “husband” or “spouse” during the ceremony, and both quickly agree: “Husband.”
Conducted with a tone and cadence suitable for a royal announcement, the ceremony lasts less than five minutes. But those few minutes are filled with an abundance of love.
Antonio and Kirven wipe away each other’s tears as they exchange diamond wedding bands, as most of their friends dab at their own eyes.
“You got your diamonds!” Antonio says as he places the ring on Kirven’s finger. The husbands kiss and hug as the wedding officiant makes his way out of the room, but not before wishing them a happy life.
This civil servant happily notes that he’s the only city official whose job requires him to be surrounded by love every day.