It’s Chicago Dance Month. What does that mean in an age of social distancing?

This is the sixteenth monthly column I’ve written for See Chicago Dance. In the opening paragraphs, I typically offer some cheap metaphor about the weather or time of year we’re in. On particularly busy months for dance, I try to convey my giddy anticipation about how many nights I’d be spending at the theater, and aim to implore you, the readers, to join me in experiencing dance, live and in person.

April is a particularly special month for Chicago dance. Big national tours typically roll through town in March; April is prime time for local companies, whose spring shows keep theaters of all sizes filled on a nightly basis. It was a trend See Chicago Dance picked up on in 2013, when we first organized Chicago Dance Month.

This annual celebration of local dance has evolved from year to year. But what none of us could have anticipated is that the 2020 edition of Chicago Dance Month would be a month devoid of performances, pop-ups and flash mobs, open studio sessions, panel discussions and parties.

As a global pandemic rages, lobbies, theaters, studios and offices sit empty. We ask ourselves, how do we persevere as the bottom falls out from an already fragile industry? How does art reimagine its role in people’s lives when platforms for distribution are no longer possible? When life returns to “normal,” is that normal radically different from the normal we once knew? Will people still value a night at the theater? If they do, will they feel safe gathering there?

Most of the answers are unknowable right now. Looking too far down the road is perhaps an exercise not worth the anxiety it generates.

In the past three weeks, I’ve talked to more than a dozen institutional leaders. If I had to name any trends about what dancers, arts administrators, arts policy makers, crew, designers, dance teachers and choreographers are going through, I would point only to the dance community’s unwavering optimism, creativity and resilience.

With state-wide stay-at-home orders currently extended until April 30, you can’t go to a show in a theater during Chicago Dance Month. 

But you can take company class with Hubbard Street Dance ChicagoCommon Conservatory and Visceral Dance Chicago on Instagram, or join in for classes with Aerial Dance ChicagoJoel Hall Dancers, or Lucky Plush Productions. A&A Ballet is hosting a choreography competition for young dancers. Hip hop cyphers are happening online as the B-Series moved to Instagram. Chicago Tap Theatre hosts weekly book clubs on Zoom with distinguished guests like Rusty Frank and Brenda Bufalino. Nico Rubio launched a new podcast called The Real Talk Tap Talks, which begins with an extensive two-part interview with local legend Martin “Tre” Dumas III. You can watch a vast number of full-length performances from The Dance Center of Columbia College, or get daily doses of history from the Auditorium Theatre’s social media channels. The Auditorium is live-streaming Sunday evening performances on Facebook live, including members of Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater on April 12.

And there’s so much more. Indeed, theaters are empty, but somehow there’s still more dance happening than any one person can take in. And that’s a good thing. Dance institutions may not be “essential” in the way we understand that word during a global health crisis. But the arts are critical in immeasurable ways. Knowing that, artists will find ways to keep going.

When sickness and fear subside, as they inevitably will some day in the future, dance will be different. Everything will be different. For my part, I’ll never again take for granted how powerful an experience it can be to sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers and witness something beautiful, together.

Wishing you a safe and healthy Chicago Dance Month at home, from the writers of See Chicago Dance.