Smile Politely

Urbana Dance Company builds confidence and connection through dance

Kate Insolia came to Urbana to join the Dance at Illinois MFA program. With a completed degree and a dance studio space of her own, Insolia has made this town her home, and, her laboratory for change. 

I recently had the chance to visit with her in the airy, naturally-lit secod second floor studio where Urbana Dance Company moves, grooves, and uses the language of dance to foster community, confidence, and to do the challenging work of understanding each other, and coming home to ourselves 

Photo of Kate Insolia, Urbana Dance Company’s artistic director, courtesy of Insolia

Smile Politely: Let’s start with your founding of the Urbana Dance Company. What was your inspiration? How did the concept of a shared studio/public event space come about?

Kate Insolia: I had a dance company called Urbana Dance Company that started maybe six years ago through an Urbana Arts grant that I got.  We performed at the Landmark Hotel. And I love that piece. It was an evening-length work and that kind of started the idea of creating a space that was really welcoming for all ages and beginner levels to advanced levels. It would be more of a community center and a place for all different kinds of people to bump into people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different ways of thinking

I started the Urbana Dance Company because I wanted a place to do my artmaking. My friend Latrelle Bright [the theatre director] and I decided that if we were going to stay in town we were going to make it the arts scene we wanted it to be. And we made that commitment to each other. And from that came this. I was ready to spearhead the dance studio, and she is an artist-in-residence and uses the studio about once a week.

SP: Tell us about the Urbana Dance Company mission. What are your goals for the space? 

Insolia: My tagline is `The Urbana Dance Company builds confidence and connection to others through dance and artmaking.’ So that’s a goal. For people to be able to come and connect with each other. Another goal is to back Native existence and leadership in the community. We also have a commitment to eliminate racism, and to think about young people. Those are the three main goals. In all the programming I do, I try to think about how to move the community in that direction.

SP: What’s a typical day like?

Insolia: Lots of things happen. Earlier in the day there’ll be youth programming. I have a creative movement class for 7 to 11-year-olds and then I have a teen class. Adult classes happens most evenings. There are also people who rent out the studio for rehearsals. And I do private lessons. I teach workshops. I also teach at the public schools.I sometimes teach at the library.Yeah, I’m really busy. Probably too busy.

I also do support groups. I currently have a monthly Native/raised white support group for people who were either born Native but raised in foster homes, or have Native blood but were raised white. It’s part of the coming home work for Native people. Almost all Native people, we’ve been so assimilated or taken away from our culture. It’s for us to build a community of people who were raised similarly, and we get to think about our Native heritage, and the goal ultimately is to back Native-raised people and shift the effects of genocide on this continent, or work towards that. Helping folks decide not to hide, and to lead.

Photo by Debra Domal

SP: What do most want us to know about this place? What advice would you give to new students? What would surprise people the most? 

Insolia: I would tell people to come to class and let them know that they’re wanted. And that I can’t wait to be with them. And I think people are surprised at how it’s a very kind environment, and fun, and loving. And you’re not gonna get criticized or humiliated. I think the other surprise in my Contemporary class, and my Move and Groove {class} we dance about different concepts and ideas. I’ve had entire classes where we think about care of the environment. I’ve had classes that were mostly women where we thought about sexism and male domination, and our relationships with our fathers. And we would dance about that. We would share our ideas about our experiences with sexism and male domination, and then we would get to dance it and talk about it. So I think that would be the surprising thing for people new to the studio. Especially in my Contemporary Dance class, we put our mind on issues that are deeply connected to our hearts and our experiences of being in the world. It’s a nice way to learn about how these particular issues effect different people. It grows us together. You have a woman who’s from India, you have an older person, you have a 20-year-old. All these experiences of the same form of oppression coming together to talk about it. It’s really enlightening.

SP: That’s what the arts should do. They should bring people together.

Insolia: A few weeks ago I had this class that was mostly men and we talked about personal goals. And we got to dance each other’s goals. We got to make our own theme song and dance it. It was a lovely class. To think about deeply personal goals for ourselves and share them with each other and get help thinking about them and reflections about our lives using the language of dance. It’s just another language. We have talking, and writing, but your body language is huge.

Photo by Debra Domal

SP: What’s next for you and for the Urbana Dance Company?

Insolia: I’d also like to start a “special-time” class for young people where the young person gets to try things, to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt them or others, or the environment. And their adult allies, parents, or guardians just follow their lead and encourage them. They (the adults) follow the kids’ minds. It’s an opportunity for adults to really back their (kids) thinking and their experiments for an hour and a half. It can get really wild.  Some of the young people want to have you roll on the floor for an hour, or put putty in your hair. And in line with that there’ll be support for the parents to go off into groups and talk about what it’s like to watch your child really go for it. So I’d like to get that started. And I’m also hoping to work with other local artists.  I love to create evening performances and to work outside the studio.

Shortly after this story goes live, Insolia will kick off the first session of her Dance Arts Leadership Program

“In the Dance Arts Leadership Program students will learn how to be bold leaders as well as back each other’s leadership, cooperate, create and reach for their biggest visions for themselves and their community. 

These goals will be achieved through play, dance, games, peer counseling, and conversations.  We will embrace a Native American perspective of belonging to this earth, caring for it and all its creatures, living in love and harmony while never losing our sense of humor!  I come to these perspectives from my Lakota heritage and work in my native community.”

For updates on events, follow Urbana Dance Company on Facebook or Instagram. You can also check out its Vimeo page. 

Better yet, take a class, take a chance. Discover something about your community, or yourself.

Urbana Dance Company
122 W Main St, 2nd Floor

Top image from Urbana Dance Company Facebook page

Arts Editor

Related Articles