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Louisville dance company carves a space for creativity even when its not your job

Four dancers rehearse with the group LouCoLab. They wear athletic outfits, some holding others, some with their arms outstretched.
via LouCoLab
LouCoLab welcomes people from different backgrounds, dance styles and skill levels to participate.

Dance can be a restrictive art form. From young ages, dancers are told they have to look, train and audition in very particular ways to be successful. Two Louisville dancers question that with their new dance company that’s for people with full lives that include more than dance alone.

When founders Clare Kresse and Lilly Comstock created Louisville Collective Laboratory (LouCoLab) last June, they wanted a dance company that gave them and others access to something that was missing.

“The arts world, it's very flexible, but you don't know it's flexible until you're older and realize that you can create your own opportunities,” Kresse said.

Kresse and Comstock, who have been dancing since they were children, said youth are often told to follow a narrow formula to be considered a success.

“What we're fed, as young kids in arts, is like, ‘you need to go to New York, you need to go to Chicago, you need to be this body type, you need to dance five days a week plus, do all this stuff like audition everywhere,’” Kresse said.

Rules are even more stringent for aspiring ballet dancers.

“Ballet leaves very little room to study other forms of dance as well. Because if you want is to do ballet and go that world, then you got to be training on pointe all the time,” Comstock said.

This is the exact dance mindset Comstock and Kresse are trying to push back against with LouCoLab.

Five dancers hold the same pose, one arm up, one to the side, on pointed toe. The all look to the right in a rehearsal space with lavender walls.
via LouCoLab
LouCoLab is trying to challenge some of the long-held beliefs in dance with a more inclusive company.

One of the main ways they do this is allowing company members to shape what they do.

“People give us their schedules, and we work with them on their schedule,” Comstock said. “So we're not consuming everyone's time, but we get to dance, we get to have a great day and then we get to put on an awesome performance.”

LouCoLab members who have danced with other organizations have recognized this effort.

“The support and the flexibility, and also the patience that they have to work together with so many different individuals that come from all different walks of life, different training, everything like that has been really has stood out to me in comparison to a lot of places I've danced,” said Erin Finn, one of the company members dancing in the upcoming show.

The ability to balance dance at a high level while not having to be a professional has been a draw for many of LouCoLab participants.

“All of us, I think, have other jobs and we do other things,” said Emma Lucas, who choreographed one of the pieces in “Emergence.” “It's really nice to have a space for us to come together outside of other work, other endeavors that we're pursuing and come together on and just create a show.”

In addition to working with dancers and their schedules, LouCoLab allows a variety of dance styles to participate.

“I think it's just really interesting to see those different backgrounds come together. Whether you are a bunhead or tapper, or you’ve only done salsa, it doesn't matter. You learn from each other,” Finn said.

Two dancers in dark shorts and light shirts hold a pose with one foot on the ground and one leg outstretched.
via LouCoLab
The rehearsals are set around company members' schedules allowing dancers to live their lives outside of dance.

Experience levels also vary.

“If you just started taking adult classes a few years ago, and you're finding your way into it. This is the place for whoever wants to be a part of it,” Lucas said.

And that openness is in the mission of LouCoLab.

“We just hope that this also grows to something where people know that they have a space to be involved in when they want to be involved,” Kresse said.

Both Kresse and Comstock work full-time as dance instructors. They hope the diversity of experience helps their students consider a wider dance environment.

“I think that leading by example is a huge thing, so if kids watch dancers of different styles, body types, whatnot, then they believe that they can do it too,” Kresse said.

Comstock said she wants people to know that good dance and arts opportunities are available in Louisville.

“People have other lives, like people are caretakers, or they need to stay here for financial reasons, so we're just making it more accessible for everyone to live their dream without having to move,” Comstock said.

Their vision of an expanded dance ecosystem also extends to the audience.

“I want to give them something, give them an experience that does make them think in some way,” Comstock said. “Whether they feel something and they relate to one of the pieces, or they have questions, or maybe it's a topic that they don't talk about often.”

In everything they do Kresse and Comstock said they want to question the limits and parameters previously set by the powers that be.

“It's like a lot of dance companies, even us, we can watch and be like, Oh, we could never do that. And I don't want anyone to ever think that they cannot do something because they can,” Kresse said.

Emergence” runs March 31 and April 1 at The Henry Clay Theater.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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