“I was doing some online research for dancers to photograph when I came across the Divas of Compton”, explains the LA-based photographer Nico Therin. In his latest photographic series, Nico captures the energetic dance troupe that is not just a place for young girls to learn to dance but “a community for them to support each other, learn from each other, work hard, have fun, and express their feelings through dance”.
Nico’s intimate and energetic series reflects just this. It celebrates the “strong and beautiful girls who thrive within their supportive community.” Though they come together through the primary mode of dance, the series also expands on the wider lives of the collective that upholds such strong community spirit. In the series, shots of the girls dancing are littered throughout powerful portraits of wider events taking place in their Compton-based lives. The series acts as a panorama of the troupe and its founder Coach Kehli which echoes “her strong sense of purpose as she dedicates her life to helping others. She provides an example, and an environment for these girls to train, learn, explore and become leaders in their community.”
The photographer, who is originally from France, first came to know the troupe through visiting a practice session. After this initial meeting, Nico started attending more practices as well as birthday parties, proms and parades, thus developing a close relationship with the Divas. The girls and their communal values have since impacted greatly on the professional and personal life of the photographer, “they continue to be a big source of inspiration in my work and life,” he tells us.
Nico recalls a particularly fond memory spent with the troupe: “In France, where I grew up, we don’t have a prom. So my first prom with the Divas was a pretty unforgettable experience! It felt like a Hollywood movie, everybody was getting ready together and taking pictures and there was so much excitement.” Not only does Nico photograph such milestones with a spirit reflecting the vibrant event, he noticeably surmises that “the best part was just being there to experience it!”
The series additionally emulates Nico’s personal ethos of photography. “I like that photography is accessible to the viewer,” he says. “It has the ability to connect people through both familiar and unfamiliar moments. I also like how I can quickly make choices that result in my own depiction of reality.” This is particularly seen in the intimacy of the Diva’s shots. Nico’s personal attachment to the group is seen through the variety of events he documents which forms a well-rounded overview of the lives of the young girls; going beyond their dance practice to gain a deeper insight. The photographer adds, “having a camera in my hand is a great excuse to spend time with people and talk to them”.
Ultimately, the essence of Divas of Compton — as both a photography series and a dance troupe — can be encapsulated through Coach Kehli’s statement about the girls. She asserts: “Amidst the chaos in the city of Compton, beautiful and delicate roses of all colours and varieties grow from the concrete… These girls are more than the statistics and stereotypes placed on them, they are divine, innovative, virtuous angels (Divas) who have a story to tell. Using dance as their form of communication, the Divas of Compton deliver a message about their life experiences they face as teenage girls finding their way in the community and their place in the world.”
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