Inaugural South Chicago Dance Festival celebrates diversity of the South and West Side dance scenes

This year has probably been my most favorite year for dance in Chicago, mainly because a lot of it was happening down the street from my former South Shore neighborhood. The new Green Line Performing Arts Center, Sweetwater Foundation’s Thought Barn, Washington Park, Stony Island Arts Bank, Blanc Gallery, and so many other spaces were enlivened with dancers, musicians and artists based on the South and West sides of the city. As a fairly new Chicagoan, the deeply rooted history that is the South Side of Chicago—that is blackness—brings a fresh new perspective to my work, and deep respect for my new home.

In just its third season, South Chicago Dance Theatre (SCDT) will highlight dance companies, collectives, and choreographers based on the South and West Sides of the city during the inaugural South Chicago Dance Festival Oct. 28-Nov. 2. As a South Side native whose family first settled in Bronzeville during the Great Depression, SCDT executive artistic director, Kia Smith says that many of her peers have talked for some time about organizing a dance festival on the South Side. Thanks to a grant from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), she was able to curate South and West Side companies that had not only been doing work in these communities for years, but that were also foundational to her development as an artist. The festival will partner with Hyde Park School of Dance, Dyett High School for the Arts and King College Prep High School to offer master classes by artists such as Monique Haley, associate professor of dance at Western Michigan University; and Vershawn Sanders-Ward of Red Clay Dance. “[Haley] teaches an Afro-jazz fusion class which I knew would complement Sanders-Ward’s Afro-contemporary methodology well,” said Smith in an interview. “I knew the students would enjoy both artists.” 

The festival culminates on Saturday, Nov. 2 with a long roster of performances by professional and youth training companies including choreography by Joshua Ishmon with trumpeter Sam Trump, tap dancer Jumaane Taylor, Yin He Dance Company, UChicago Maya, Banks Performance Project, Simantikos Dance Chicago, Ground Rhythm Dance Project, Praize Productions, Kenwood Academy, Mayfair Academy, Hyde Park School of Dance, Kenwood School of Ballet, Dyett High School for the Arts, and, of course, South Chicago Dance Theatre.  

Destiny Young, artistic director of Ground Rhythm Dance Project, who will be presenting a work-in-progress called “A Dose of Love,” shared that the festival “is a powerful statement that speaks to community and genuine care about the arts and the city, and how it extends across communities. I feel very honored to be a representative of the West Side of Chicago, [and inspired] to go back to my community and inspire other artists to action. To say, ‘Look what’s happening on the South Side. We can do the same things here.’” 

Ressie Davis, founder and artistic director of Praise Productions, Inc.—whose youth company will be presenting a piece from their award-winning production titled “Smells Like Freedom”—echoed similar sentiments when she expressed that the festival is a great platform for younger artists to see the variety of dance companies in their community. “A lot of times when we think about the South Side, we don’t realize how many demographics we have [here]. Even though students from the Hyde Park School of Ballet are about 10 minutes away from my students on 70th and King Dr., they have different backgrounds. It’s important for us as teachers to make sure that our students see the other people in their community, especially since they are the future of [our field in Chicago].”

As leaders who developed and were influenced by artists based on the South and West Sides of the city, Smith, Young and Davis are doing their part to return and give back what they know to their communities, to the people. This tradition is what makes the South Side so unique. This is what makes Chicago what it is. I’m looking forward to adding the South Chicago Dance Festival to my calendar every year. 


The South Chicago Dance Festival's mainstage performance takes place Nov. 2 at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St. on the University of Chicago campus. Tickets are $25, with discount code available on the SCD event page below.