2020 alumna Lauren Blair Smith launches dance company in Singapore during pandemic

After graduating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, School of Dance alumna Lauren Blair Smith had to pivot from her original plans of moving to New York City. From participating in online dance competitions to teaching and choreographing in Singapore, Smith, a graduate of the contemporary dance program, continued to pursue her dreams in any way that she could over the past year.

One dream that happened sooner than expected was founding the Lauren Blair Smith Dance Company, which she describes as a “multidisciplinary, coming-of-age contemporary dance company based in Singapore.” 

We caught up with Smith to find out what she has been up to since graduating last spring and to learn about her plans for the future. 

What has kept you busy during the last year? What are you doing now?

I followed in the footsteps of many of my UNCSA faculty/instructors and became an American Ballet Theatre Certified Teacher last summer. I was a finalist in multiple categories in the International Online Dance Competition and won an Excellence in Choreography Award for a solo I created for the Star Dance Alliance Global Star Search. I was one of five students to receive the prestigious Artpreneur Grant Award in 2020 to support my creative endeavors post-graduation. 

My main focus over the past few months has been starting Lauren Blair Smith Dance Company, as well as the Company's inaugural live performance and a Pre-Professional Dance Immersion Program in Singapore. 

The pandemic had a big impact on the end of your time at UNCSA and the past year. How have you worked around the challenges that presented? What have you learned from that experience?

I originally planned to move to New York City immediately after graduation to pursue my Kenan Fellowship at the Lincoln Center, however it was postponed until later this year. After residing in California for a few months of virtual learning/graduation, I returned to Singapore in July 2020 and began dancing, choreographing, acting and teaching around the island. The biggest challenge of the past year was overcoming my own expectations of what my life was "supposed" to look like and learning to embrace all of the twists and turns along the way.  

One of the best surprises was returning to the Singapore American School, where I attended Pre-K through high school, and serving as a guest artist throughout the past school year; I've received so much love and support from the community and it's been a gift to work with the students/faculty members. There were many full-circle moments, where I was now at the front of the classroom passing down knowledge gained from experiences at UNCSA and beyond.

How do you find yourself applying what you learned at UNCSA in your work?

Skills I learned at UNCSA, such as time-management, self-motivation, organization, collaboration and creative problem-solving consistently impact my daily interactions. When I'm creating a new choreographic work, I hear my professors’ voices in my head and their invaluable lessons guiding me through the creative process. UNCSA taught me how to make the most out of every situation, whether ideal or less than, and to keep giving my best effort even when times may seem bleak. I learned the beauty of perseverance in the face of adversity, to look for the light in situations and how to effectively work with my peers to create work that we can be proud of.  

UNCSA was part of my training ground for the professional world. It was the place I could make mistakes, learn from them and move forward more knowledgeable than before. I frequently acted in short films, worked with the School of Drama, modeled for Wig & Makeup projects, choreographed to pieces by the School of Music and crafted work of my own. It was a place to safely step outside of my comfort zone and dive headfirst into new creative territory. In fact, I collaborated and used music by Algernon Robinson (B.M. Composition '20), a fellow UNCSA alum, for a piece entitled “Polaroids” in my Company’s inaugural performance.

"Bite Size"

Watch Smith's 2020 Pluck Project solo, filmed from home ahead of her UNCSA graduation.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment over the past year?

I never dreamed I would start my own dance company so young, not to mention directly after graduating from UNCSA! It's been a thrilling adventure, learning more not only about the artistic side but also the business side. I'm excited that we were able to safely present our first live performance in Singapore during a world-wide pandemic and continue to keep the arts alive and thriving. I was fortunate enough to work with beautiful, intelligent artists from an array of renowned training backgrounds, such as Taipei National University of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Singapore), New Zealand School of Dance and Juilliard. I cannot wait to see what the Company will accomplish once it is safe to travel internationally and live performances can host larger audiences again!

What is your ultimate career or artistic goal?

I would love to perform and choreograph works for a wide-variety of artistic media internationally. Whether that be for renowned dance companies, for film/animation or musicals, I aim to continually artistically challenge myself and to craft work that holds meaning for people of various backgrounds. Although I was born in San Francisco, I grew up in a melting pot of cultures in Singapore. All of those viewpoints continue to impact my movement vocabulary and personal style. Some dream companies to choreograph for include Nederlands Dans Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ballet BC. Collaborating with an artist as monumental and of such a high-caliber as Crystal Pite would be an immense honor as well.

I'm also extremely passionate about working with artists in training, so I would love to create work for students studying the arts in various university programs. All of this, plus continuing to build my own company's repertory and artistry! 

This pandemic presented many challenges, but the arts will continue to persevere and so will you. Onwards and upwards.

Contemporary Dance alumna Lauren Blair Smith

If you could say thank you to one person at UNCSA, who would it be? Why?

I've been lucky enough to have many wonderful teachers guide me along the way. Brenda Daniels helped me solidify my technical foundation, as well as taught me how to effectively and kindly lead others. Her belief in my potential allowed me to find confidence in my unique movement style and take full ownership of my artistry. Ming-Lung Yang mentored me throughout my choreographic journey in school and his lessons continue to help me make informed, productive choices about my work. My peers also graciously allowed me the freedom to create in various contexts and were excited to collaborate on projects - for that, I learnt the most and am eternally grateful.

With the benefit of a year's worth of reflection, what is a piece of advice you would give yourself (or other graduating students) at the end of your senior year?

Every day is a new learning experience, and taking one step at a time can be more valuable than by becoming overwhelmed by the entire "expected" trajectory of your journey. Taking time to reflect before responding may assist in making the right decisions for you. This pandemic presented many challenges, but the arts will continue to persevere and so will you. Onwards and upwards.

by Melissa Upton-Julio

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May 05, 2021