In my fifteen years covering dance in Chicago, I’ve witnessed our city evolve from being the best place in the Midwest to see dance shows on the regular to one of the great global centers of dance, performance art and physical theater. Chicago today is a magnet for U. S. premieres by internationally renowned companies at world-class theaters, fertile ground for under-the-radar experimental performers in DIY spaces and home to countless companies and artists everywhere in between. This is true year-round, but April in particular is a time to celebrate the richness of our dance scene, dubbed Chicago Dance Month, featuring free performances, workshops, special events and deals on tickets to shows running monthlong. If you’re the type who finds themselves saying, “I mean to get out and see more dance,” now is the time.
Chicago Dance Month was conceived by SeeChicagoDance, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the art form, as a way to draw attention to the truly remarkable depth and variety of dance happening in our city. This year, SeeChicagoDance added a new feature: a Day of Dancer Health on April 22. I spoke with Heather Hartley, executive director of SeeChicagoDance, about this year’s focus on dancer health and wellness, as well as performance highlights.
How did the Day of Dancer Health come about?
The official title is the Dance/USA Day of Dancer Health. That organization started this back in 2015 as a pilot program looking at specific health issues and needs of dancers. Dancers place very high demands on their bodies and usually don’t make high paychecks. There’s a disparity between physical demands and ability to pay for self-care. I go to the national conference every year and folks in other service organizations in other cities were talking about it—San Francisco, Boston. It was important to me with Chicago having a major dance community for it to happen here. How do we make our organizations stronger and how do we make our dancers stronger? We did a survey in October at our quarterly convening of the dance community: here’s a couple things we’re thinking about doing in 2019, what do you think? Across the board everyone said, “Yes, more info on healthcare.” We knew the community wanted and needed it. As we’ve launched into the project, we’ve found that it creates a network of healthcare providers who form a cohort, it not only has benefits for the dancers, but it creates a more informed network of specialists—acupuncturists, physical therapists, mental health professionals.
What services will be offered?
We’re partnering with the Menomonee Club’s Drucker Center in two of their studios. Dance/USA offered a template, a screening process. Dancers will check in first, do a wellness check in with an M.D., then move through the stations with specialists—physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons—and get assessed at each one. They’ll look at issue areas or areas for improvement. One station focuses on ankle strength. Six out of eight dancers in the United States get an ankle injury at some point. We’ll have counseling on nutrition—how do you build a healthy meal plan on a tight budget and when you’re rehearsing till 10pm? Then dancers will meet with an M. D. at the end, and if anything needs greater medical care, then provide referral or follow-up opportunities. We hope they’ll walk away with more knowledge about their strength and weaknesses.
What does follow-up care look like for attendees without health insurance or on tight budgets?
One of our sponsors is Dance For Life. They’ll give out information on micro-grants. David Hinkamp is the co-director of Health in the Arts at University of Illinois Chicago. Within their sports medicine department, they have a healthy arts program. The natural progression is that if someone needs deeper care they would get a referral for free or deeply discounted care at David’s program.
Who do you hope will attend the event?
We hope it’s a broad cross-section of the dancer community, anyone who feels they could use better care or don’t have a general practitioner. We imagine it will be younger dancers or those affiliated with smaller, pickup companies that don’t have access to resources or artists in a freelance point in their career. But everyone is welcome. We’re open-minded about who can show up.
Are there highlights from the Chicago Dance Month programming you’d like to mention?
There is a bounty of activity: seventy-two events listed throughout the month. There’s a little bit of everything, something to appeal to everyone. The range of activities happen at every venue I’m familiar with, from the Joffrey at the Auditorium to Winifred Haun and Dancers at Links Hall, to Chicago Human Rhythm Project. I’m excited about the event we’re hosting; we always do a kickoff. It’s April 1 this year, a free performance at the Cultural Center at 4:30pm. Six dance companies perform under the Tiffany dome. It’s a great opportunity to come together as a community and see the range of activity.
April 30 we have a scavenger hunt for site-specific performances along the Riverwalk. It’s fascinating to see companies in that architectural setting. We encourage patrons to find companies with written clues and collect stamps. There are fabulous prizes for visitors who collect all their stamps. It will wind up at City Winery where we put down a dance floor. Patrons twenty-one and over will be invited to have a glass of rosé. Last year we had gorgeous weather and had people doing participatory hip-hop and boats pulling up to watch. It’s great fun.
Chicago Dance Month is celebrated at venues across Chicago throughout the month of April. For a complete list of events visit seechicagodance.com.