Put your dancing shoes on, Chicago. The City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is once again collaborating with community organizations in various neighborhoods for their annual Chicago SummerDance program, which runs through Sept. 10. 

Chicago SummerDance, a free festival, consists of workshops with over 40 dance lessons by professional instructors and other creative activities. Taking place downtown and in five neighborhoods, participating community organizations — such as The Firehouse Community Arts Center, Front Porch Arts Center, Aao Mil Bathen, Free Street Theater, Plant Chicago, and the Ada Park Advisory Council — will help teach different genres of dance to people of all ages and skill levels, making the events fun for the whole family.

“The program has been around for 27 years. Chicago’s first cultural Commissioner Lois Weisberg and others were inspired by Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing program, and wanted to create a free, more accessible version in a beautified Chicago park space,” said John Rich, the dance and theater coordinator for DCASE. “It started downtown and a little over 15 years ago, it began to move into the neighborhoods as well.”

In the early days of SummerDance’s expansion into the neighborhoods, the event followed the same model of dance lessons and live bands as downtown. Then, it evolved in 2006 to include DJ events as well.

“The evolution now, with [SummerDance] in the neighborhoods, is actually to focus on co-creation,” Rich continued. “So that’s why we work with The Firehouse, for example, and find folks there to help feed the ideas.”

 

The Firehouse Community Arts Center is an organization that serves as a safe haven for young people and coordinates various events and programs dedicated to violence prevention. On Aug. 23, from 4:30 P.M. to 7:30 P.M The Firehouse will host SummerDance’s North Lawndale activation in Douglass Park. The event will showcase works from artists from the Firehouse program, as well as provide an interactive art experience for attendees  in which visitors can draw and write what unity means to them

North Lawndale native Lakena Young, is the Director of Operations for the Firehouse. With a doctorate in Theology, and a passion for mentoring the youth, Young will have a chance to uplift the community, while shining a light on the Firehouse through the SummerDance program. 

“I’m excited about the event. This is our second year, working with SummerDance,” Young said. “I want to always continue to unite us as Black and brown [people], and so we are infusing Latin with hip hop, with some of the old school [dance], making sure everyone knows the history of the dances, while still merging Black and brown together.”

A staple in this beloved summertime tradition is the Spirit of Music Garden, which is held in Grant Park. This installation will happen throughout the month of August, and will feature live music from many different genres like Cumbia, Swing, Big Band Jazz, Afrobeat and more. 

“You can come to people watch, or to learn a few steps. I have a feeling that everybody who comes is going to move a little bit. I look forward to that every time” Rich said. 

Looking to learn a few steps, or just enjoy summertime Chi? Here is the schedule for the remaining events for Chicago SummerDance:

is a culture correspondent with The TRiiBE.