Meet Denver’s Collabratory Complex, a South Broadway, membership-based “collaborative laboratory” for dancers and artists

Cancer, a dashed reality show and the decline of the competitive dance scene injected chaos and perspective into mother-daughter duo Katrina and Jasmine Lairsmith’s lives over the last two years.

As befits mom Katrina’s entrepreneurial bent — she’s founded and run multiple Denver-area dance studios and troupes over the last three decades — those things only motivated them to work harder. That includes finding, leasing and building out a 2,500-square-foot space on South Broadway in a little over two months, with an opening date set for May 1.

The project? The Collabratory Complex, a membership-based “collaborative laboratory” for dancers and artists. It sits just west of a patch of asphalt off a stretch of South Broadway better known for its weed dispensaries and antique shops than the performing arts..

“When I was a kid, all I would do is take a bus and up and down Broadway,” Katrina, 50, said as she stood on the reclaimed basketball-court floors at the mini arts complex. “I’d go to Cinderella City Mall, right there at Broadway and Hampden. We didn’t have any money so I’d just walk around. My grandfather also used to read tarot cards at (South Broadway venue) Herman’s Hideaway.”

That makes the Lairsmith’s new building at 1974 S. Acoma St., just steps away from a pair of massive residential construction projects, especially meaningful, she said. So far she’s sunk about $100,000 into renovating the one-story space, a slim but solid structure with a tricked-out lobby/would-be cafe, photo studio and a spacious, high-ceilinged studio soaked in natural light.

“I’d much rather work behind the scenes,” said Jasmine, 26, who left a competitive dance career in Los Angeles to return to her family in Denver. She maintains a thirsty, fashion-forward Instagram account with more than 20,000 followers. “I’d like to work on building out a music studio here, and we’ve already got rentals coming in.”

The Lairsmiths hail from the spangled, eyeliner-ed world of competitive dance, and their insistent self-promotion has served them well over the years — at least until the pandemic hit. Once that world froze in its tracks, they were forced to look elsewhere to make money. They applied for and were accepted onto an HBO reality show called “My Mom, Your Dad,” which follows a group of single parents “who have been nominated by their college-age kids for a second chance at love,” according to HBO.

However, when the results of Katrina’s contractually obliged bloodwork came back, producers told her she needed to consult a doctor. She assumed it was COVID, having just finished a two-week quarantine before filming was set to begin last summer.

“They knew I had cancer and wouldn’t tell me,” she said. “And when I found out, it was literally 12 hours after my father had passed.”

That was on July 2, 2021, Lairsmith said, and the timing of his passing from colon cancer was a message to her. Her father had always encouraged her to follow her most ambitious dreams, including a test version of the Collabratory Complex that sprouted up in Curtis Park just before the pandemic. He wanted her to use her inheritance for such a project, she said.

Fortunately, Lairsmith’s own cancer diagnosis — an uncommon blood-cell cancer called chronic myeloid leukemia — was caught in stage 1 before it could spread, she said, and her ongoing treatment extends to taking a daily pill. She feels incredibly lucky, motivated and clear-headed, she said, and the timing of everything has continued to be meaningful to her.

She signed the lease for the Collabratory Complex on Jan. 26, which is Lairsmith’s father’s birthday.

Thanks to her father’s cash infusion, the pair has big plans for the space in the coming months. It’s already hosted capacity crowds of 150 for national dance sessions from Justin Bieber’s choreographers, who swung by when he was playing his Ball Arena concert on March 16, and TikTok dance sensations Cost n’ Mayor.

They envision a $150-per month membership that gives creatives access to the photo and dance studio/black-box theater, the cafe-esque co-working space, regular yoga, and other evolving programming, in addition to space for whatever creatives might be hanging around. In relative terms, it’s tiny for an arts complex. But if the model bears out, the Lairsmiths want to copy and paste it in more cities. There’s potential because it’s open to everyone, they said, not just dancers.

For the May 1 opening, they’re holding a 12:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting, yoga, free classes and performances, an open dance lab, and a mini-party with local vendors and drinks. It wraps up with a dance class from Katrina, who hasn’t taught “in more than a year, since all this (stuff’s) gone down.”

“It should be very emotional and exciting,” she said as she sat behind the space’s welcome desk, flanked by pink neon signage and a glass-doored mini-fridge of energy drinks. Outside, a new, street-facing mural by artist Pat Milbery proclaims BE HERE NOW — one of Lairsmith’s father’s favorite phrases. “That’s the spirit of it. Live, now.”

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