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You Are Invited

I recently attended the Chicago Dancing Festival kick-off party, and you couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming, enthusiastic invitation to come join the festival. The kick-off party took place at Benchmark, the Old Town bar and restaurant on Wells Street, just a block or so south of The Second City.

Downstairs, patrons must have heard the great music, the waves of laughter and the wild applause coming from the upstairs venue and been both curious about what was happening up there, and envious they weren’t a part of it. If only they could have not only heard but seen what we lucky folks were hearing and seeing: three pairs of dancers, the first two hoofing their way through a rollicking tap number, followed by a couple from DanceWorks Chicago pulsing piece called “Beat in the Box,” and ending with a sensual duet from Luna Negra.

Dance has this reputation for being exclusive or elitist, which has always baffled me because in my twenty-plus years working with dance companies, I’ve not found a more welcoming, expressive, communicative and collaborative bunch of people, anywhere. The CDF kick-off was a wonderful little microcosm of this extraordinary community; it welcomed me with open arms, offered me a glimpse of something special through those three wonderful performances, and made sure I felt invited and welcomed to experience the myriad aspects of the festival when it begins its run in downtown Chicago on August 22. Now celebrating its fifth year, the Chicago Dancing Festival brings in dance companies from all over the country to share the stage with some top Chicago troupes, and presents a spectacular series of shows for Chicago audiences in venues all over downtown. For free.

Think about that. A week’s worth of amazing dance and great music, featuring some of the best dancers and dance companies in the country, and all you need to do is pay for parking, cab fare or a train ride. Not a bad way to spend a night, or a week, when summer’s slow and money’s tight.

The kick-off party reminded me of a notion that’s popped into my brain over the years since, which is that, if you think about it, we’re all dancers. Or at the very least, we’re all movers. We’re all natural rhythm makers. Our hearts beat, we tap our toes, we walk with a certain tempo. We not only feel the urge to move; if we’re sedentary for too long, we start to feel antsy, stir-crazy and just plain wrong.

We communicate non-verbally all the time, at least as much as we talk and listen, if not more. The simple nod of a head, the way we take someone’s hand, the way we catch someone’s eye across a room and perhaps even find the courage to approach them – these are all steps on the road to dancing.

And when we move together, be it on a dance floor, on a walk by the lake, on a basketball court, or in bed, it can be exhilarating. Even if we’re just figuring out how to do it – even if we’re extraordinarily clumsy at it – the sheer attempt is festive.

We’ve always seemed to understand that here in Chicago, which might be why we’re not only an international dance mecca but also the City of Dance Festivals. This is stuff we celebrate all year round, and we’re about to start celebrating again.

The CDF kick-off party had one message: Chicago, this festival’s for you. Whatever kind of dance you like, and whether you like to watch in an indoor spot like the MCA or the Harris, or on a picnic blanket under the stars at Millennium Park – we’ve got it for you, and you’re all invited.

I will look forward to seeing you there. You did get your invitation, didn’t you?

For more information, check out the Chicago Dancing Festival website:
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