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Meet Lila Turner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lila Turner.

Hi Lila, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I was born and raised in Tacoma, WA, and have been living in Los Angeles for 18 years. My relationship with dance and choreography started at a very early age, around 3 or 4 years old. Some of my fondest memories include going to dance class and learning everything from acrobatics to ballet, creating and teaching choreography to all of my neighborhood friends, and performing with my dance studio at senior living facilities. Dance and choreography have been a part of me and who I am for a very long time.

I have experienced many triumphs and challenges during my time in LA, like most Angelenos. I’ve done everything from waiting tables to working in tech. Today, I am a Senior User Experience Designer in the healthcare industry and the Founder and Managing Director of a nonprofit organization called Young Choreographers Project (YCP).

My journey with YCP began in 2015. I enrolled in a leadership seminar, and the assignment was to create a community project. After many years of focusing primarily on my career growth and surviving in Los Angeles, I felt a strong need to reconnect with dance. I looked back at my years as a dancer and young choreographer in elementary school and again in college and remembered how alive creating dance made me feel. Dance always provided a safe space for me to create and express myself. I created Young Choreographers Project with that mind — to give teens living in Koreatown a safe space to experience creative self-expression through dance and choreography. I gathered a group of close friends, and we recruited LA-based choreographers to mentor teens and guide them through the process of creating original dance pieces. The project was a huge success. Watching the students grow over six weeks and ultimately create and perform their work gave me goosebumps. It felt good to be a part of something so unique and make a difference for kids living in my neighborhood and community. Every student experienced a confidence boost and learned how to effectively lead their peers. What was supposed to be a one-time project is now an established nonprofit organization that has operated for almost seven years and impacted the lives of over 100 teens.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Running a nonprofit has brought me a lot of joy and a strong sense of accomplishment, but it hasn’t always been easy. I’m an introvert who had to learn how to step out of her comfort zone to establish relationships and recruit volunteers, board members, and community partners. I still often find myself hiding behind my computer and email to get things done, but I’m working on getting out there and having more face-to-face conversations.

Funding has also been a considerable challenge. Most professional choreographers who participated volunteered their time when I first started the project. However, I quickly became aware of the pay gap for professional dancers and choreographers compared to other artists in the entertainment industry. At first, I tried to resolve this through fundraising alone, but ultimately, I learned to apply for grants. Learning this skill and becoming an official nonprofit organization was a game-changer for YCP.

There have been many lessons learned along the way. I have so many new skills under my belt, and I keep learning as I go.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
YCP’s mission is to transform how young people see themselves by providing dance and choreography programs that cultivate supportive communities where confident and creative leaders and risk-takers emerge. We partner with schools, dance studios, and community arts programs to offer students one-of-kind choreography-based programming.

We refer to the teens in our programs as Young Choreographers (YC). We match each YC with professional choreographers who mentor them through the choreographic process. Each student creates an original dance piece. Sometimes students cast other dancers to perform their work, and other times they perform as solo artists. Every program ends with a student showcase where our YC’s share their created works with their friends, families, and community members.

We specialize in using choreography as a way for teens to develop leadership and creative problem-solving skills. Our curriculum is unique and caters to all dance levels and genres. We believe that you do not need years of dance experience to create choreography. The environment we create is non-competitive, and many of our sessions are in a discussion format. Mentoring plays a crucial role in the quality of our programming. How many teens can say that a professional choreographer or dancer has mentored them? Many of the mentors in our programs are working artists who have credits in film, t.v., commercials, and theater.

Any big plans?
I have aspirations to expand our reach to teens at a national and global level, but we still have a lot of foundational and strategic initiatives to put in place. We are looking to expand our Board of Directors to bring in more resources and community ties in the near future. We’d also like to transition from a primarily volunteer-led organization to more paid and salaried positions.

Last year, we created our first online choreography intensive for teens in response to the pandemic. It was a huge success and allowed us to work with students outside the LA area. We have plans to continue the online version of our programs, and I’m excited for the possibilities that come with that endeavor.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Photography: Jonathan Beckett, Darrel “Friidom” Dunn, Alex Floyd

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