There is a giant computer monitor behind Kellee McQuinn’s head. Project files are lined up on her desk; her DJ equipment—speakers, a mixer and lights—are off to the side. The walls are filled with KidTribe show posters and some of her favorite photos. Also in the room: puppets, hula hoops and boxes full of future plans.
The room is alive with creativity—just like McQuinn.
Her mom was a dancer; her Dad was a cerebral type with a perfect nose. Her mom wanted that nose for her children, and that’s how Kellee McQuinn came into being.
Mom taught dance in their home studio in New Jersey. When she wasn’t teaching, Mom directed community-theater musicals. “I can only tell you how old I was by what show my mom was doing,” McQuinn says. She had no idea there was any other kind of music beyond show tunes until the fifth-grade.
Apart from the nose, Dad didn’t have much of a presence in her story, with the exception of his high school graduation present: a two-week whitewater-rafting adventure on Utah’s Green and Yampa rivers. Our Jersey girl had never before been that far away from the stage, the mall or her Aqua Net.
“I awakened,” she says. “It was the first time that I felt like a soul with eyes. Nature is very, very important to me—that’s my spirituality. It’s how I rejuvenate.”
That trip is also where she met a young man named Ben. They hit it off and spent those two weeks together—and then it was over. Some 10 years later, she saw Good Will Hunting andrealized Ben Affleck was the boy on her raft.
Higher education started at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) before she moved to Colorado State University. But …
“The acting bug was so deeply in me that I just felt like college was a waste of time,” she says.
She auditioned for the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre in Florida, and got accepted into the intense program. “We started with 20, graduated with 16,” she says. While there, she earned her Equity card.
Then it was off to Hollywood, because New York is a little too close to Jersey. McQuinn worked as a nanny, and once as a booker for a psychic, while going out on auditions.
“I got some commercials. But for about 10 years, I was the runner-up for everything. It was between me and Jessica Alba for the role that broke her, and Jennifer Garner for the role that broke her. It got to the point where everything … was a fight between me and the girl who got it.”
McQuinn was deeply unhappy. “I asked myself: What’s something that I have autonomy over? How can I use all of my gifts and talents? Who needs my help, and what makes me happy? And then I had this lightbulb moment: Dancing. Children.”
Finally, everything made sense. “I had this feeling of extreme relief. I had no plan. I had no qualifications,” she says.
A friend called. “I told her, ‘I am not going to go to the Lexus callback. I’m going to quit acting. I think I want to do something with dance and kids.’”
Her friend replied: “Well, this is crazy. I just talked to a friend who has dance classes for parks and rec all over Los Angeles. She just lost her main teacher.”
The next week, McQuinn was teaching 15 classes, and within the year, KidTribe was born.
“It started as dance parties—these little Saturday-night dance parties, where parents would drop their kids off, and kids would just dance,” McQuinn says. “It was really about, ‘You’re invited to the party.’”
That was important to McQuinn. As a kid, she couldn’t help but turn subjects like history and math into songs, skits and even little movies. But being different often meant being bullied. Some of McQuinn’s classmates were future Real Housewives of New Jersey. You do the math.
At KidTribe, she added what she calls “hip-hop hooping” into the mix, and expanded the program into an international obesity-prevention movement. In 2009, she was invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll. She received the same invite for eight consecutive years.
“I’ve hula hooped with 5 million children,” McQuinn tells me.
She’s developed, produced and implemented programs with NASA, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the Red Cross. She executive-produced a PBS animated show called Mack and Moxy.
Palm Springs has been part of McQuinn’s life since the 1980s, when her grandfather purchased Tommy Dorsey’s old home. Her mother followed some years later, and in 2016, Mom survived a heart attack. McQuinn began splitting her time between Palm Springs and Los Angeles, and noticed on her drive back to L.A. that her heart began to feel heavy right around Riverside.
“I moved to Palm Springs on a whim. I thought I would be writing my memoir, wearing a muumuu, and hanging out with my mother,” McQuinn says with a laugh. “I have not written a word of my memoir; I learned that muumuus are called kaftans; and my mom has to schedule with me weeks in advance.”
McQuinn still writes, directs and produces. When well-known Palm Springs DJ Barry Martin, aka DJ Baz, decided to move to Spain, McQuinn took over for him as DJ modgirl. That’s how I met her. At the time, I knew nothing else about her. I didn’t know that one of the awards on her desk is the Community Leadership Award from President Barack Obama’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, nor did I know that the other is a Broken Glass Ceiling Award from the Palm Springs Women in Film.
I am so very humbled and grateful that this hip-hop-hooping, highly honored badass was the DJ at my birthday party—and McQuinn slayed it. I’m not surprised; that’s what badasses do.