A New Year

Hello, friends of Chicago Dance History Project! My name is Maddie, and I have been working as an intern at CDHP since this summer through the Co-Op program at SAIC. Since 2015 has drawn to a close, I wanted to write a short account of my time with CDHP thus far, and offer my perspective of the project as a student and a member of Chicago’s dance community. It’s definitely been a fascinating whirlwind of a semester, but I’ve had some incredible experiences working with CDHP and I wanted to share them with you.

It’s hard to know where to begin, but I think one of the most interesting facets of working for CDHP was learning how to properly film interviews and events. I had some background in video documentation before joining the project, but learning how to use new equipment and adjust for a vast array of lighting situations and technical hurdles was definitely a challenge. There was a steep learning curve (and I’m definitely *still* learning!) but getting to be behind the camera during interviews was a fascinating process. I was struck by the unique challenges of filming former dancers — you never know when someone is going to start demonstrating a gesture, or just sporadically start moving! It was a privilege to be able to hear from so many important figures in the dance community firsthand, including Charlie Grass, Ruth Ann Koesun, Ayman Harper, Mitzi Hamilton, and Lar Lubovitch (to name just a few).

I also had my first opportunity to film a live dance performance — specifically, Kristina Isabelle Dance Company’s program at the Newberry which included two re-stagings of Sybil Shearer’s choreography. Both the untraditional space and the asymmetrical formations of Shearer’s work were really engaging from a filmic perspective, and I enjoyed the challenge of negotiating how to best showcase a live performance on video. I have a whole new appreciation for well-filmed interviews and performances after getting to see firsthand what is involved in the process.


KIDC at the Newberry. I’m at the camera in the corner.

Working with CDHP, I also learned anew how respectful and enthusiastic dance audiences are in Chicago. One of my favorite memories is of the table we set up for River North’s final show before director Frank Chaves’ retirement, at which we requested that audience members write down a message for Frank, a memory of a favorite performance, or some other appreciative words for RNDC and their director. We would then pin the message to a bulletin board and take their picture. So many people came by to write a message that even with multiple volunteers working at the table, we could barely pin the responses up quickly enough, and I was at the camera more or less constantly! The entire audience was so engaged with what was going on; and the energy was palpable. To be fair, this particular event was a special occasion, but again, I encountered a similar level of enthusiasm at other performances I attended throughout the semester. This also extended to people’s reactions when hearing about the project — more often than not, after explaining what CDHP was, they would respond with a personal anecdote related to Chicago dance history! The more I talked to people, the more I understood how deeply entwined CDHP’s mission is with the lives and work of everyone here in Chicago. As a performer, the dance community can start to seem somewhat removed from the world “out there” — but after this semester, I’m more inclined to suggest that a city’s dance heritage isn’t just one facet of its artistic landscape, but rather that it comes to inform the political, social, and economic workings of a particular place — even in the most subtle ways.


A Transcript-a-Thon dance break! Thanks to Anna Long for teaching a great 15-minute Gaga workshop.

Furthermore, getting to be a part of CDHP’s interviews — and consequently being more involved in the broader community surrounding dance here — has changed the way I approach my own movement practice. I’m so compelled by how relevant a particular city’s dance history can be for present-day members of an artistic community. Among other things, if I I hadn’t known about how Chicago shaped the careers of so many magnificent dancers, choreographers, arts advocates, et cetera; I probably would be placing my hand on the barre with less fidelity and doing my pliés without the constant affirmation that I am participating in such a crucial facet of Chicago’s cultural lineage. Even though I’ve been pursuing dance training in this city for the past six years, I am definitely leaving 2015 behind with a whole new appreciation for the technical and artistic caliber of Chicago dance, and I am constantly in awe of how multifaceted one city’s approach to dance can be.

I’ll be continuing my internship with CDHP next semester, so expect some exciting new updates — we have a lot planned for 2016! I hope you all have a lovely New Year’s Day. Cheers!


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