Today we’d like to introduce you to Lara Wilson.
Lara, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Michigan, and I grew up dancing pretty seriously from the age of 12. Dance taught me loyalty and self-control, and it gave me a very raw high that kept me out of trouble. I was a nerd who did well academically, but by the end of high school, I couldn’t imagine giving up dance, so I set my heart on going to school in New York City. I got into my top choice—Fordham University’s B.F.A. program with The Ailey School—and started college there at age 17.
It was a really tough four years, seven if you count the three I stayed in the city after graduation. I didn’t fit the mold of the school, which was historically Black, although that gave me a perspective on the minority experience I am grateful to have. It was also very traditionally body-conscious, which I wasn’t used to and which was a real challenge for me. After graduating, I studied intensively for years with Paul Taylor’s company, but over 500 women would be competing for a single job at their very infrequent auditions. I took the rejection and ensuing devastation really hard. Meanwhile, though, I had been making my own work, which I showed at a young age at APAP, Jacob’s Pillow, Symphony Space, and in films I self-produced. My friends from college went on to join some of the best companies in the country (Alvin Ailey, Hubbard Street, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, among others), and they would work for me occasionally. That was exciting.
I moved to Orange County in 2012, thinking I was moving to L.A. It was for love, but it was also for self-preservation. I needed time and space to recover from the world I’d left. Eventually, I met some other dancers, and we began collaborating, presenting dance at events in galleries and warehouses to audiences that did or didn’t know much about dance, but seemed to be really energized what we were doing. We called the company The Assembly for the way we assembled our productions out of nothing.
Today, I own five businesses and split time between the Joshua Tree area and Orange County. One is a small creative and branding studio (https://nomdepixel.com) that pays most of my bills. The Assembly (https://instagram.com/theassemblydance) continues to collaborate on original works and live events. My husband and I, the guy I moved west for, opened Compound YV (https://compoundyv.com) in the high desert in April 2018. It’s a gallery, event space, and office for my other work. We found the building after two years of driving around in a Sprinter van. And then I am also a partner in two other dance-based businesses, DIYdancer Magazine (https://instagram.com/diydancermag), which just released its third issue in print, and All Movement (https://allmvmt.com), a consultancy for creative teams that want to use movement in their commercial storytelling.
I was hesitant to do this interview at first because I’ve struggled with reconciling all of these identities and “brands” within myself. And while focus is a quality and a skill I value, I’ve been learning how each of my pursuits informs the next. I’ve also been drawing boundaries around what I contribute to each in an effort to have as much impact using my unique skill set as possible.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has absolutely not been a smooth road! And yet, I’ve always had enough to eat, I’m healthy, I have loving family and friends, and I have everything to be grateful for.
People-pleasing got me in some very precarious situations that took me many years to move through. There’s a Midwestern thing that’s niceness mixed with passive aggression I had to get over. You have to be kind to people and I believe in honesty, but my advice to young women would be to stop worrying about other people’s feelings, especially authority figures (including parents!) and partners. Recognize where and from whom you require validation and approval, and ask yourself why. Dream bigger than you might think possible, but dream openly. Being too determined on a single outcome can close you off from other incredible opportunities, not to mention your own well-being.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about your business – what should we know?
I consider myself a choreographer and brand designer. I am an artist who owns a space for artists. I think I am appreciated most for the intersections of my talents, the ways I think through and commit to my work, and my ability to collaborate well and facilitate collaborations. At the basis of everything I do is a high level of trust in my partners, fellow artists, and clients. This I learned from making dances and I try to apply it to all my work because I think it’s a magical tool.
We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
I think men and women underestimate women. I’ve been guilty of it, and I am a textbook feminist; I was a Women’s Studies minor and obviously I am an actual woman. I’ve also been on the receiving end of it more times than I can count. People see beauty or youthfulness—I’m 32, but easily mistaken for my early 20s—and expect you to fall into line beneath them to make their dreams come true. Or they think you’re sexually available, or simply take you less seriously. Double standards are another huge barrier, many of which we saw play out in the 2016 election against Clinton. Women are criticized for many of the same behaviors that characterize men as “successful,” yet taking the opposite tack only draws further criticism. To fight the patriarchy, I try to actively recognize and reverse my own underestimation or competitive feelings with other women. There is room for everyone who wants to take on a leadership role — we may need to create our own opportunities sometimes. I certainly have.
The more women and non-binary people we can lift up into leadership positions, and the more all genders can be supported to share traditional “women’s work”, like parenting and housekeeping, the better. Then I think the bias can start to change.
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/larawlsntown
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