PORTLAND, Maine — They appear in Congress Square three times a week, in all kinds of weather. Freezing cold, torrential rain or blistering heat, it doesn’t matter.
Holding heart-shaped signs high above their heads, they twist and turn, dancing to pounding rhythms blasting from a boombox at the corner of High and Congress streets.
Calling themselves The Love Factory, the handful of energetic hoofers are on a mission to spread love, peace and joy through movement and music.
Hundreds of cars passing the group on Friday at lunchtime honked their horns. Motorists hung out their windows, waving, flashing peace signs and yelling encouragement. Tourists snapped pictures. A few pedestrians even joined in for a while.
Smiles were abundant.
“There’s so much darkness and division and negativity. It gobbles up our attention, constantly,” said Love Factory founder Krista Donoghue, “and ringing this bell for a love that’s truly for all — for everyone — is something I can give, instead.”
The group is loose knit. The Love Factory has no meetings or dues, though it does have Facebook and Instagram pages. It isn’t affiliated with any particular spiritual practice or religion, other than love, itself.
It all started on Valentine’s Day night, 2012.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and this vision-inspiration came to me,” Donoghue said. “It was about using everything we’ve got — music, dance, art — to draw attention to love.”
Clockwise from left: Krista Donoghue, founder of The Love Factory, holds a heart-shaped sign above her head while dancing in Portland’s Congress Square on Friday, July 16, 2021, at noon; Jill Koufman holds The Love Factory’s heart-in-eye-in-heart symbol high above her head while dancing; Passing motorists wave at The Love Factory’s dancers. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
She sees herself as a kind of court jester, someone willing to look a little silly, dancing on a street corner, if it gets the job done, brightening someone’s day. It’s all about the courage it takes, daring to smile at strangers, while holding a giant, cardboard heart.
The dancing started out as an occasional event, with a few friends. It grew into a more regular, three-times-a-week thing during the pandemic. Now, Love Factory dancers can be found in Congress Square for 60 minutes on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., Fridays at noon and again on Saturdays at 3 p.m.
Jill Koufman, who danced on Friday, started joining in over the winter.
“It’s given my spark back — and maybe to the whole world. The ripple effect is hopeful,” she said. “It feels good and it definitely brought me out of a COVID depression.”
Around the same time she started dancing, Donoghue started leaving tiny artworks around the city. Most show the Love Factory logo, a vibrant heart, within an eye, within a larger heart. Giving the art away has the same goal as dancing: Spreading love and joy through the element of surprise.
Donoghue said she’s lost track of exactly how many artworks she’s left around Portland.
From left: Love Factory dancers move to the beat in Portland’s Congress Square on Friday, July 16, 2021; Krista Donoghue, founder of The Love Factory, holds two heart-shaped sign while dancing. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
“Thousands and thousands by now,” she said. “I leave them all over the place: Trees, window sills, telephone poles, bathrooms.”
Drenched in sweat, Love Factory dancers were feeling the heat and oppressive humidity on Friday but kept it up for a full hour. Afterward, they gathered in the shade to talk and cool down.
Joy Taylor has been a regular Love Factory dancer since last year. Taylor said she knows what keeps her motivated, even during scorchers like Friday.
“Love,” she said, “seeing people’s faces lighting up, seeing people — even for a few moments — letting go of their tension, having a moment of wonder.”