“I’m a firm believer in the saying that when one door closes, another opens,” says Doyle. He should know — opening doors and twists of fate (and a lot of talent) have launched his third career, and happily, it’s also his passion.
It 1995, the Barrington husband and father of three children lost his job when the Almacs grocery chain, a Rhode Island institution, shuttered its doors for good. “I had been working there since I was 17,” Doyle said. “I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do.”
What he did was get his commercial driver’s license and take a job driving buses for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority; a job from which he recently retired. Driving a bus is, by its very nature, tightly scheduled. Doyle didn’t realize it at the time, but he was entering a profession that would allow him to schedule his life to make more time for a passion that had been somewhat compromised by the daily demands of running a busy grocery department: step dancing.
Born to Irish parents in Fox Point, and raised in the Elmgrove section of Providence, Doyle has been dancing for more than fifty years. He learned his first steps from his mother, Margaret, a step dancer from County Roscommon, Ireland, who would “lilt” Irish step dance tunes while he and his sister practiced their steps mornings before going to school. Accompanying her talented children was a habit she never lost, living well into her nineties.
He furthered his dance with instructors Steve Carney and Mary Sullivan of Boston, and then progressed to the McCory School of Irish Dance in Pawtucket. Doyle also excelled as a tap dancer, studying at the legendary Theresa Landry School of Dance, also in Pawtucket.
A United States Irish Dance champion, Doyle competed in Irish dance competitions throughout New England, New York, and New Jersey in the 1960s. His sister Maureen was his partner for many years; his daughter Shannon, who competed as a child, has rediscovered her passion for the dance and is teaching it to children in Wrentham, Massachusetts.
A master artist who has received Folk Arts Fellowships and Apprenticeship grants from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, Doyle now has a prominent place in print on the cover of the latest Guide to Programs of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The NEA’s 2014 Guide features a photograph of Kevin Doyle dancing in the finale of the September, 2013 National Heritage Festival concert in Washington, DC. The concert featured recipients of the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, the National Heritage Fellowship award. Doyle was there as part of an ensemble with Heritage Fellow Seamus Connolly, an Irish fiddler from North Yarmouth, Maine.
“The National Endowment for the Arts is an agency that supports art of the highest quality in the United States. “Having a Rhode Island artist on the cover of its Guide to Programs is an honor for Kevin, for our state, and for our arts community,” said Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. “Of the thousands of photos they looked through…” said Doyle. “I thank the NEA and the R.I. State Council on the Arts, and 2013 National Heritage Fellow Seamus Connolly for making it possible.”
Since appearing on the NEA cover, he has gotten calls to perform at events up and down the east coast, in addition to touring with the Atlantic Steps and dancing and playing percussion as a member of the Rhode Island Celtic band Pendragon (which he done since 1996). Kevin also performs with American clogger Aubrey Atwater and Irish dancer/choreographer Kieran Jordan of Boston, and is a frequent performer on the stage of the Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland.
Looking back, he is grateful that things went as they did. “If I hadn’t left Almacs — if Almacs hadn’t closed — I would never have been able to devote this time to what I really love to do,” Doyle said. “I never realized I was grooming another career. But my passion certainly wasn’t driving a bus.”
“There are so many opportunities coming my way now, and I’m glad I am able to take advantage of them,” says Doyle. Though conventional wisdom suggested retiring in his early sixties could be financially risky, Doyle hasn’t looked back. “In Fox Point, my dad’s old neighborhood, they called the obituaries the ‘Irish sports pages.’ We don’t know what the future holds, my wife and I are not extravagant people, and I didn’t want to wait it out for the sake of money. How do you put a price of your 62nd year of life?”
Learn more about Kevin Doyle and keep up to date on his appearances at kevindoyledance.com.