Chicago's dance renaissance

January 8, 2011
Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


This July, Dance/USA will hold its yearly conference here in Chicago, the largest annual get-together of dance professionals in the U.S. Though modest by convention standards and here for a variety of reasons, some of them logistic, the coming of the all-important confab is cause enough for civic chest-pounding by a community long thought slack when it comes to dance. For years, the Second City struggled to make it onto the list of Top 5 American dance cities. Milwaukee boasted a bigger ballet company.

But no more. Andrea Snyder, who's stepping down this month after 10 years as executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Dance/USA, now puts Chicago in a tie with the Twin Cities for third place in American dance, after New York and San Francisco.

"We would only pick a city where there's enough activity going on to make the conference exciting," Snyder says. "There has to be art to show, or it won't be worthwhile."

While the arts in general still contend with the recession, it has been a good year in a good decade here for dance.

"Chicago was probably the first city that systematically took a look at building audiences and moved on it," Snyder says, referring to the Chicago Community Trust's multiyear research and funding initiative in the middle of the last decade. "It was a broad effort to move dance to a new playing field and raised national eyebrows that Chicago was doing something other cities haven't even considered."

Across the spectrum, local dance professionals, with companies large and small, enthuse over the city's vibrant scene.

"When I came here in 1999, Chicago was a food destination, an architectural destination, a theater destination," Bonnie Brooks, chair of the Dance Center of Columbia College, recalls. "My dream was to see it become a dance destination, and, you know what? I think it's happening."

"I think this scene is fantastic, thanks to all the companies who are putting out terrific work," Glenn Edgerton, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, says. He spent time in the Netherlands and in LA before coming here, but finds Chicago "a rich environment, a well for creativity and new work." Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, hails the expanding accessibility for dance and the arts.