When it comes to the underground dance community, there are a lot of troupes trying different and innovative tactics to get crowds out to their shows and see something you won't normally find on the bigger stages. One good example is ArtsOfChaos, and SLC-based group who collaborate with DJs as part of their live shows, making them not just background music but a part of the creation itself, which then brings out a unique performance catered to whatever those two entities hashed out. Today we chat with the founder of AOC, Lizzy Oakley, about her career and starting the group up, as well as her thoughts on the dance scene. (All pictures courtesy of AOC, bulk of the pictures by Todd Collins and Jeff Larsen.
ArtsOfChaos on Facebook
Gavin: Hey Lizzy, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Born and raised in Utah, Went to Highland High, graduated from the UofU with a degree in Photography. I currently do photography as one of my jobs, as well as work at The Grand America, The Hotel/Club Elevate and run ArtsOfChaos. I obviously love dance and music and there isn't a day that goes by where I'm not thinking of the next AOC idea. I like hanging out with all my bad girls, I love my nephews and niece, I hate mushrooms and peanut butter, and I eat a lot of candy. My nickname is Fraulein and I'm obsessed with disco balls.
Gavin: What first got you interested in performance art and what were your early influences?
I think my mom was probably my biggest influence. She was also a dancer and told me I would thank her one day for forcing me to dance. We would often go to ballets and plays when I was young and I always wanted to be up there on the stage with them.
Gavin: Did you start off dancing early or was it something you picked up later in life?
I started dancing in daycare when I was really young, then my mom put me in ballet when I was about 5-years-old. I hated every minute of it. I stopped for a while then picked it back up when I was 13, danced throughout high school and was in a few different companies in college until I started AOC. I discovered that ballet was not my style and I preferred hip hop and modern dance.
Gavin: You attended the University Of Utah and studied art and photography. What made you choose the U and what was your time like there?
Just growing up in SLC and living close to the U, it only seemed right. I didn't go there thinking that I was going to major in photography, It actually started as sociology. But after taking a few art classes, I decided reading and writing hundreds of papers was not for me, and having the freedom to be creative sounded more exciting. Not to mention the weirdos that you come across in art school, super entertaining.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the local dance community at that time and performing around SLC?
I found myself in a really unique position because all of my friends are DJs and/or producers. Constantly being out at live music shows with all them, they were able to see my vision and willing to give it a try. One of our very first performances was at Urban Lounge for Dirt First. I had no idea what the outcome was going to be but the crowd was so into it and the amount of support we got from that one performance was all I needed to keep it going. After that, I continued to explore different ways of collaboration with different DJs.
Gavin: How did the idea for ArtsOfChaos come about, and where did the name come from?
The idea was always playing around in my head since I started going to shows at the age of 21, but it didn't get put into motion until I went to my first music festival in 2011. I met this girl there who we became friends with while at the festival. She thought since I was a dancer, photographer and had really crazy curly hair that my name should be "Arts of Chaos." After she had given me that nickname we went over to one of the stages and I saw these dancers performing, and they were really good, later to find out they were a group based out of LA called Zen Arts. I immediately wanted their job and was obsessed with their performance art and wanted to create something like that in SLC. The only style of dance that SLC had seen at live music events were Go Go dancers and to me it was often boring to watch. I can respect Go Go dancing, but I was determined to enhance the level of dance at live music events, by creating a different dynamic and something that was more visually stimulating to watch.
Gavin: What was it like for you finding your troupe and coming together to form a cohesive unit?
This takes it back to the good old W Lounge days. The W Lounge was like a second home to my friends and I. I met most of the DJ friends there, specifically the Nightfreq crew. I remember going to a show there and Al Cardenas, MSTR Shredder, at the time, was playing a set. I told him about my idea and he told me his girlfriend Sterling Becker was a dancer and I should tell her about it. We literally met on the dance floor and she has been my right-hand woman through all of it, and AOC wouldn't have come this far without her. Elena Dern is also one of the core members who I also met on the dance floor at a Nightfreq house party. There have been a few girls that have come and gone but I really just find dancers by talking to girls at shows, online, or going to dance classes and talking about AOC.
Gavin: One of the things that separates you from other performing groups is that you work directly with DJs or producers and incorporate them into the show. How do you go about choosing who to work with?
It just depends on whats going on or what event is scheduled. These DJs and producers are my friends, and whenever they have a show they are playing Ill either ask them to dance or they will ask me. We have danced with Nate Lowpass more than anyone else I think. I like working with Lowpass because he will basically plays whatever I want, we have the same taste in music so It works out perfectly. And he is just a cool dude and supports AOC 100%. Also, my girls Nicole Jaatoul, Choice. She has put together numerous mixes for us to dance to and then DJs that mix live during her set, which is a different approach to collaboration. Dirt First producers are also big supporters of AOC and when we can, we usually perform a routine at their shows.
Gavin: What's the process like in creating a new routine, from the music and concept to final performance?
When I have an idea or a song in mind it's really cool seeing it actually come to life. There is so much hard work and time that goes into all of our performances. We recently opened up for a sold out Tokimonsta show at Urban Lounge. Yokchi Chang, founder of Nightfreq sent me this video of these two girls Voguing and said that he wanted the AOC routine to be like this one for that show. We then Collaborated with Ofa Vahe who created a voguing routine for us. We had the idea of pop art makeup, red satin gloves, and long ponytail extensions for our costumes. It turned out exactly how I imagined it. This routine also turned into a sexy space alien music video which, landed us a gig last weekend in Denver CO, with Team EZ entertainment. So Its cool to start with an idea and have it become something successful.
Gavin: What's the reception been like from both audiences and the dance community to your shows?
The crowd seems to love AOC and what we are bringing to these live music events. We have so many supporters and fans who truly believe in what we have created. It's a really good feeling knowing that this little dream I had is coming to life and is taking off. There have been many times where I have wanted to give up, but it seems after every time we perform, I see the strength and energy in the crowd grow and we as dancers just keep getting better and learning more.
Gavin: Over the past three years you've incorporated new styles and worked with a number of talented individuals. What would you say are some of your favorite performances to date?
Definitely the Tokimonsta show, that was a lot of good exposure for us and it was also a style of dance none of us had really done until then. We performed a 12-minute routine with CHOICE at Sketch Cabaret's show Beast
. Sterling Becker, and I have always had a love for Moombahton music and we wanted to dance to all our favorite Moombahton songs dressed liked animals. So that's what we did. We had all different styles of dance throughout that routine and we just had a lot of freedom as well. Also our first, Dirt First performance. Elena Dern and I wore ski masks during our hip hop routine and it has just kind of stuck since then. Because girls dancing in ski masks is super sexy and the Dirt First shows always end up more grimy than any other performances we do.
Gavin: As you move forward as a group, what do you hope to build this into as it grows bigger and performs more frequently?
AOC is an ever-growing collaborative and I hope to find more members who are as passionate as I am to take this to the next level. I hope to find more DJs and producers who also see my vision and want to work with us. I hope to be able to travel to music festivals and live music events, to perform on big stages and represent what AOC stands for.
Gavin: What's your take on the SLC dance scene these days and the work coming out of it?
The SLC dance scene is bigger than people realize. There is so much talent that comes out of SLC, and I have had the opportunity to dance with a lot of talented individuals and take classes from some very inspiring teachers as well. Millennium Dance Complex, which just opened last year, has a lot of different style dance classes which SLC hasn't ever seen before, so the work and talent is ever-growing.
Gavin: Being involved in the community, who else do you admire or love to see perform outside of AOC?
Underground Crew. I have had the pleasure of dancing with some of the members and they are by far the most talented crew here in SLC. Kate Overholt, one of AOC's dancers is also a member of Underground. Ofa Vahe, Diego Ballesteros who have choreographed for AOC, are members of Underground as well.
Gavin: For those looking at this group who may want to become involved, how can they do so?
I'm always looking for new members, all you need to do is contact me if you are interested. You just need to have a background in dance, such as being trained in ballet and hip hop. You also need to be involved in the live music scene or want to be. We are always performing at clubs or bars late at night and that isn't for everyone.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and ArtsOfChaos over the rest of the year?
Well, our next performance is May 9 at Urban Lounge for Dirt First. I'm also going to be focusing on making a few music videos and after that we hope to be off traveling to more out-of-state gigs. We also really hope to expand our project into different venues and clubs here in SLC, working with different DJ's who we haven't worked with. We really want to keep pushing the project locally until we have a well-known name around SLC, and so whenever we do a show a large group of people to get excited to come see us perform because they know they will see something fresh, and different, and exciting!