Student, teacher, dancer, choreographer, writer, curator, tech crewmember: She's all of those things and more. Lauren Warnecke is a jill of all trades. This busy lady teaches group exercise at the University of Illinois at Chicago, works on the tech crew for shows at The Dance Center of Columbia College and writes for numerous publications, and enjoys traveling, cooking and crafts. In what little spare time she has, she also dances, choreographs and curates independent performances around Chicago.
Warnecke, 31, grew up on the West Coast, but moved to Chicago's northwest suburbs in third grade. She wanted to take gymnastics, but a physician recommended ballet and she was hooked. After bouncing around to a number of dance schools, she landed at Barat College in Lake Forest. "I decided to go into dance in college because I really didn't know what else to do," she said. After two and a half years, the school closed and she transferred to Columbia College in the South Loop. "It was a completely different environment, I love ballet, but I had the realization pretty early that I didn't have the build for it as a professional dancer, so I sort of forced myself to enjoy modern and learn more about it," she said.
After graduating with a B.A. in dance, Warnecke apprenticed with Luna Negra Dance Theater, but was soon sidelined with a foot injury. She couldn't afford good insurance, so the injury was recurring and she eventually left the dance world, albeit temporarily. A stint at nursing school led to a new career opportunity. "What I liked about nursing school were all the classes leading up to it," she said. "I loved the sciencesbiology, anatomy and physiologyso I tried to find a combination of all the things I like about nursing and all the things I liked about dance." The result was a master's degree in kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Her master's project turned into her website, Arts Intercepts, a platform for Warnecke to engage the community in dance-based discourse. The site redesign launches this month. For the site, she translated scientific studies about injuries into language that dancers could understand. "I felt like my role in the project was to take all the sciency stuff and all the dancers and have them meet in the middle," said Warnecke. "Especially at the student level, I wanted dancers to have a place to go where they could get accurate information."
While pondering her post-college life, two major things happened. One involved coming out of the closet. "A group of friends of mine at Columbia accused me of being gay before I actually knew that I was," she recalled. "It was very offensive, but they were right." Warnecke now lives with her girlfriend in Edgewater.
The second major development was that her dance-writing career took off. She started reading dance blogs, particularly Dance Advantage, commenting regularly. The editor took note and asked her to be a contributing writer in 2010. She now also writes for The L Stop, 4dancers.org and The Huffington Post as well as her own site and her blog, One Crafty Lady ( www.craftylauren.com ).
For the past two years, she's co-curated an experimental artists' lab with a live audience called Produce. With the aid of two Russells (Tim Russell in 2011 and Russell Weiss in 2012), they pick local music and movement artists from an open call audition and pair them up in different combinations to see what will happen and then ask the audience for feedback. The goal is to create artistic mash-ups of people that otherwise would never meet. Warnecke said, "We thought, wouldn't it be interesting if we could get an audience in real-time to say what they're seeing, what they like and what they don't.
"There are so many choreographers that say they don't care what the audience thinks or they don't want them to understand, that they want them to form their own opinions. People don't do that; they want to understand. They go to the The Nutcracker because there is a story and it's accessible. This format gives the artist a chance to say that to the audience and the audience can choose to say 'that's really cool' or 'that's really lame, you should let us in more'."
Expect another round of Produce in 2013.
Looking forward to the coming year, Warnecke states her goal simply: "to keep my shit together." She will be participating in a collaborative dance show with Francesca Bourgault and other artists this spring. It will be a re-working of a nine-minute piece she created last May.
"I'm just getting into the studio to finish that piece," Warnecke said. "I used to be a firm believer in cranking out material really fast and I have the ability to do that, but I think as I've matured and my opportunities to present work have grown, time-wise, I've grown more patient and able to revisit things that are older and still be inspired by them. I'm excited to have a reason to work on it again."