Something Good in the Neighborhood – Chas Kilker-Greener

When a chandelier fell apart, Chas Kilker-Greener took some of the pieces and made solar lights for her backyard. Her extended family saw her creation and had one question for her: Why did you do that?

It was cool, she told them. It created an ambiance. The real answer, the one she didn’t know, came one night during a dress rehearsal for a dance performance.

She slid to the floor and felt a sharp pain in her hip. When she tried to get up and simply couldn’t, she knew something bad had happened. She put up with the pain until the show was over, then she went to a doctor, expecting bad news.

But it was worse. Her hip was so shredded that it looked like a cooked crab leg that had been split apart, she says. The orthopedist replaced her labrum with cadaver tissue in 2019, and after 10 months of recovery, she was ready to dance again.

Kilker-Greener had danced her whole life to the point where it was her life. She got a degree in dance at Colorado State University, and although she knew she wouldn’t be performing “Swan Lake” at the Met or dancing alongside Lady Gaga, she was good enough to make it a career. She began teaching dance at Mountain Kids in Fort Collins and discovered a knack for business as well as being a dance instructor.

A solar chandelier crafted by Chas Kilker-Greener.

She soon became the dance director at Mountain Kids and started four dance companies for different ages as well as dance camps. She herself danced with High Performance Dance Theatre in Fort Collins in addition to teaching.

At the end of her 10 months of rehab, Kilker-Greener was eager to get back to it. Doctors, instead, discovered a mass in her breast. She found out she had cancer and would undergo 33 radiation treatments, though she could skip chemo. When she was done with radiation, her repaired left hip felt great, but her right one started to hurt. That one, it turns out, was torn too.

Kilker-Greener had danced her whole life with a clean bill of health, and suddenly, she was facing blow after blow. She was approaching 50 and decided to listen to the mantra she preached to her students all the time: Listen to your body.

“Maybe the world was telling me I needed to not work any longer,” she says.

Tinkering for a living

Her family’s jokes that she was weird, even crazy, influenced her to keep that tinkering side under wraps, despite her brain never giving her a break from the kooky ideas. She once made a wind chime out of old silverware left to her by her grandparents.

The teasing was lighthearted. They’d even compare her to her grandfather, who used to make handy-dandy things all the time. But it all gave her a complex.

“They said I was weird and crazy, and well, if they saw me that way, I thought the rest of the world wouldn’t want [the crafts] either,” Kilker-Greener says.

Then fate intervened again, but in a more positive way. In 2014, she stumbled upon a website called Hometalk. The site is much like Pinterest, with users, mostly regular people like herself, posting crafts and home projects. She started posting on the site in 2015, and Hometalk immediately took notice, liking her work enough to feature it. One post got a lot of attention: It was a plastic pumpkin she drilled a hole through and installed a solar light in to guide her kids, Brielle and Collin, on the path to their house on Halloween night.

Chas, Collin, Brielle and Jim

She began posting other ideas, and those were successful too, so much so that Hometalk began featuring her regularly and flew her out to New York City for a consultation along with a few other successful contributors.

When she arrived, they told her she was going to do a live session on Facebook, and she made a wreath. She was declared the winner of a contest she didn’t know she was competing in, and that’s when it dawned on her: All those things she was making weren’t so weird after all.

Her kids always enjoyed her little crafty ideas, and her husband, Jim, thought they were cool too. Plus, companies were now paying her to create them.

“The crazy things I make aren’t that crazy,” Kilker-Greener says. “But it was never something I thought I’d share with the world.”

So, she built a website and started a YouTube channel called Chas’ Crazy Creations, relishing a bit of the irony.

Kilker-Greener’s business helped her family go on vacation without sweating the cost. It was fun money. She even thought it could keep her busy when she retired. She didn’t foresee that retirement coming so soon, but then she slid across the stage and felt something in her hip again and, after three years of maladies, decided to retire after nearly 25 years of teaching dance.

A busy brain

Kilker-Greener is now 51 and lives in Windsor with Jim. Her kids are grown: Brielle is 23 and Collin is 19. At an age and situation when many find it hard to stay motivated, she can’t stop thinking about her next crazy idea.

“My brain is always working that way,” she says and laughs.

She keeps her brain busy with Chas’ Crazy Creations and makes money off ads on both her website and YouTube channel. She has more than 21,500 followers on Instagram and nearly 16,000 subscribers on YouTube, with features such as “Craft or Crap” that allow viewers to decide if a project she does is…well, you know.

Going out on her own gave Kilker-Greener the confidence to let her brain run wild. She now uses the business sense she gained from running Mountain Kids’ dance program for a second venture, Site Consulting Services, where she coaches business owners on things such as e-mail marketing and newsletter creation. Both sites make money, enough for her to live comfortably along with Jim’s job as an electrical engineer.

The cancer is gone and her hips are fine, but Kilker-Greener knows she can’t teach anymore. She’s too involved in her midlife swerve. She misses the kids, but she can still dance. Her daughter dances with her.

“Let her do the hard stuff,” Kilker-Greener says. “I’m having fun.”