Pass the Dance: Reaching Out and Giving Back

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By Rebecca Nieves
Edited by Angie Rentmeester

The choreographer leans forward, as if picking a flower. He executes a pirouette and offers the token to his reflection. Walking in a circle, the man considers his next move and a second later he is sliding on his knees, twisting back up and stepping foot over foot to the right. The choreographer is creating a dialogue, a private conversation. Sweat on his brow, he continues to move, expressing thoughts and feelings without words. This will go on for some time, the choreographer’s real body and mirrored self speaking in the language of dance.

Movement, the dialect of the body, is an ages old tradition of expressing oneself. History tells us that we danced in celebration, in rituals, in battle sometimes. We have always danced. Now, of course, all of these reasons remain though we have expanded. We are entertainers, professionals, competitors, artists. We have taken that thing inside of us that makes us tap our toe or shimmy our hips when we hear music and made it a grand spectacle. Not every one of us is that choreographer in the studio, however. That is where community outreach helps us inspire people and awaken them to the importance of this language.

Two major Chicago institutions, The Columbia College Dance Center and Hubbard Street Dance, make great efforts to step into our communities and engage them in dance. Through their efforts they hope to see a greater appreciation for the value of movement and an improvement in the health of our citizens (physical and mental.) I spent two years as a mentor for Redmoon Theater’s Drama girls. We used dance, drama, art, and music to broaden the girls’ views and help them appreciate the value of self expression. The transformation of these children and mentors alike was priceless. It is as if their eyes were only just then opened to a world of beauty with unlimited possibilities. They no longer had to kick and scream and hold in their emotions, they had a forum in which they could release through song and dance and drama, positivity that came naturally. This outreach is necessary.

The Dance Center of Columbia College’s Community Outreach and Education department offers several programs to the people of Chicago. Alycia Scott is the manager of the department. I was able to speak with her briefly and gather that the Dance Center was very much involved in not only bringing dance into the communities of our city, but also opening its doors and inviting the people in. Through Dance Masters, Family Dance and Community Outreach Events: Public Programs, The Dance Center is reaching countless minds and bodies and gifting them with an opportunity to experience contemporary dance firsthand.

Dance Masters is a program that takes dancers at an intermediate or higher level of experience and allows them the opportunity to meet other artists. Through these classes, which are open to the public, individuals are able to communicate with Columbia’s featured choreographers. What an incredible way to network and pursue the art of dance!

The needs of family quality time are addressed through interactive movement workshops. These are free and usually held on Saturdays. Families engage in dance exercises on stage, feeling what it is like to speak through movement front and center. They are then presented with a piece of a current company’s performance. The family spends an afternoon feeling the work and spirit that goes into creating a piece and becomes a part of a dancer’s story.

The public programs bring the Dance Center out into Chicago’s neighborhoods. Schools, parks, community centers and other such places play host to panels and forums. Dancers and directors from Columbia’s dance center share with the public the power of their work through discussion and interactive workshops. The faces of children often light up when allowed to dance and be “silly”but more so when they see that voice within them solidified into precise movement by a professional.

Being able to visit the Dance Center as an artist, a family, or just an individual with a hobby is without question a tremendous benefit. However, what is done by bringing dance into neighborhoods is, in my opinion, the greatest accomplishment. By doing this, they are reminding us of our roots-our most basic language and publicizing the need for our continued support of dance. One need not be a dancer to appreciate this form and want to keep it alive and thriving. Experiencing the grace of the professional dancer will last a lifetime with the children they are able to touch.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago offers a more educational approach. In their outreach they go directly to the schools of Chicago. They work in classrooms teaching children and offer after school programs. Chicago schools, about 25 at this time, go through an application process with the company to be a part of this program. Teachers are involved as well, taking classes on bringing dance into their classrooms themselves. With help from the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations, HSDC is able to share with our communities what the choreographer does with the mirror. Body by body stories are told and dance carries on a strong conversation with the world.

The choreographer leaps and lands, his body crouched, head down. He throws arms and head back and hears the applause. Only this time he is surrounded by the company that will follow the steps and share his message. They will be witnessed by an audience. The audience will tell their friends how they were moved. And communities will continue to dance and tell stories and speak with their bodies.

For more information on the Dance Center you may visit or contact Alycia Scott at

Hubbard Street Dance at
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Education & Community Programs
1147 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60607
t: 312-850-9744
f: 312-455-8240

National Endowment for the Arts at

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