BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
One of Chicago’s most beloved events, Dance for Life, has a new venue this year for its 30th anniversary taking place August 26th, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. For the first time in its history admission is free for all.
CDU President Michael Anderson, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer, shares, “We are thrilled and excited to be presenting Dance for Life this year at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. It allows us to give this unforgettable evening of dance in a beautiful setting and make it accessible to everyone. Of course, this has always been and will continue to be a fundraiser, but now it is open to anyone who wants to see the show, whether or not they can make a donation.”
Created in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, the multi-company performance has proven that no one better celebrates Chicago dance in all its multiculturalism. One just has to see it to believe the love generated for participating companies from across Chicago, which unite to support their peers by donating their time, energy, and artistry. The result is Lollapalooza-level excitement combined with the spirit of allegiance to the community.
The participating dance companies include DanceWorks Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Joffrey Ballet, Movement Revolution Dance Crew, PARA.MAR Dance Theatre, South Chicago Dance Theatre, Trinity Irish Dance Company, and Visceral Dance Chicago. Randy Duncan has choreographed a world premiere finale and the program includes a film by Winifred Haun & Dancers.
Longtime Chicago Dancers United board member Julie Burman Kaplan, a former dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, co-founder of River North Dance Chicago, and currently a teacher at Ruth Page Center for the Arts, says, “We are beyond excited. When we last performed in person at the Auditorium Theatre, Dance for Life had 3,100 people giving a standing ovation. Offering free tickets this year was exactly what we wanted to do.”
“The dancers are cheerleaders for one another, but this is not just for dancers—the whole Chicago community will want to participate,” she adds. “Dance for Life is unique to Chicago and captures Midwest roots and values. It is all about dancers helping other dancers.” Dance for Life raises money for The Dancers’ Fund, which provides Chicago dance industry professionals with financial support for preventative healthcare and critical medical needs. Throughout its history, Dance for Life has presented nearly 40 Chicago-based professional dance companies representing a variety of genres, sizes, and histories along with numerous choreographers, artists, and designers.
“Our fundraising is all about focusing on health care not just for dancers, but for choreographers, costume designers, lighting technicians—all who work in the field. We offer wellness grants and fund a wide variety of services including mental health and dental bills. Many of our dancers don’t have insurance and private insurance is so costly,” Kaplan explains.
Kaplan, like the performers in Dance for Life, says that dance is what motivates her now more than ever. The Highland Park native began dancing at a very young age and majored in dance in college. While working at the Illinois Arts Council as an arts administrator, she took a class from the legendary dancer and choreographer Lou Conte, who founded Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 1977, and was asked to join the company in 1980. “I was not in the original group of four but in the group of six that followed,” she shares. “He always had the ability to move people and knew how to walk the line between arts and entertainment. He has the amazing ability to create dance that is accessible for all.”
The dancer describes the art form as her God-given ability and her greatest joy: “I love to move to music and try different techniques—it can release all different parts of yourself like therapy. As a teacher at Ruth Page now with adults 20-75 years old for decades, I find that something soft and lyrical is good for when you are down, hip hop when you are feeling happy.”
Dance for Life offers a little bit of everything, from uplifting energy to more poignant moments. Co-chairs for its 30th anniversary celebration are Jennifer Edgcomb, Mark Ferguson Gomez, and Tom Ferguson Gomez. Optum is the presenting sponsor of Dance for Life, with additional beneficiaries AIDS Foundation Chicago and American Cancer Society.
The performance will take place at 6 pm on August 26th. Lawn seating is free for all with bowl seating available for a $300 minimum donation. For more information, visit chicagodancersunited.org.