South Chicago Dance Theater Travels to Colombia as Part of an International Collaboration with Chooma Dance Company and Casa Tumac

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    South Chicago Dance Theater, Chooma Dance Company and Casa Tumac perform in Colombia, South America in October 2023
    South Chicago Dance Theater, Chooma Dance Company and Casa Tumac perform in Colombia, South America in October 2023


It only took seven years for South Chicago Dance Theater and Executive Artistic Director, Kia Smith, to grow into one of Chicago’s premiere dance companies, performing to packed houses at some of the city's most esteemed venues and collaborating with local, national and international talent. After SCDT conquers Chicago, the next step is… THE WORLD!

Well, not exactly conquer the world, more like connect with the world through their Choreographic Diplomacy project, a four-year transpacific collaboration between SCDT and Seoul, South Korea’s Chooma Dance Company, directed by Joseph Kim.

How does a dancer from Chicago connect with a dancer from Seoul?

Smith’s introduction to Kim was on social media in 2018 after she reached out to the Korean National University of Arts seeking suggestions for a cross-cultural collaborator; they recommended Kim. After talking online for a few months, Kim invited Smith to Seoul. Their first meeting left both artists literally speechless. “The first time we worked together in Korea,” says Smith, “we sat down and talked with a translator, but soon we just got up and started moving together. It was like we were talking with each other.”

For Kim, the feeling is mutual. “Kia is like a soulmate. She gives me a lot of energy, and I can’t help but cheer up whenever we work together. We get along so easy, it’s hard to explain, but when we’re together it’s like being with a long-time friend.”

Together, they created new work, performed in Chicago at the Stony Island Arts Bank and Hyde Park School of Dance in 2019. Since then, they’ve sent SCDT and Chooma dancers to each other’s respective cities—twice!—and both companies traveled and performed in the Netherlands in 2022. Now, Smith and Kim have their sights set on a new venture.

In 2023, SCDT and Chooma traveled to Colombia, South America to join with a third collaborator, Afro-Columbian dance company, Casa Tumac, which, according to Smith, “looks like a mixture of West-African Dance and post-modern dance.” Not only do they dance, but they also sing and make their own music on traditional instruments. Together, the three companies had one day to put together a new work. Their one goal: Unity.

Dancers from SCDT and Chooma meet together on their first day in Colombia.


On October 15, both SCDT and Chooma touched ground near Bogotá. “The first day we got there we had a meal with the South Korean dancers,” says Smith. “The next day we had a rehearsal with [Casa Tumac]—we only had one day to put a whole piece together—and we made about a 15-minute piece.”

Smith comments on a major difficulty for Northern Hemisphere dancers traveling to the Southern Hemisphere, “One challenge was the altitude. Before we went to Columbia, we ran our piece back-to-back to get their stamina up, because the air in Columbia is really thin. I’ve been told you’re not to exert yourself the first couple of days in a high-altitude environment, but we’re dancing!  I was really nervous about that. I’m responsible for these people. But dancers brought altitude sickness pills and electrolyte-type products. We had oxygen tanks backstage in case something happened. We could feel it and it was really hard.”

In a video performance supplied to See Chicago Dance of the tri-company collaborative work, untitled, it is clear that they effectively created a unified mood while maintaining the distinctiveness of each group. The work begins with a loosely choreographed improvisation directed by Kim, structured around a woman from Casa Tumac singing a somber modal melody. Her voice sweeps the air and pulls the dancers towards her before directing them out and around, like a dust cloud on the wind.

The second movement, composed by Smith using a pre-determined structure, pulled members from every company and gave them suggestions of movement that they would then shape to their individual personalities. Accompanied by a Casa Tumac musician on a wooden xylophone-type instrument, the mixed group preened, pounced and paraded like birds playing under a water pipe during a rainstorm, frolicking under and over each other with arms and shoulders pulled back like flapping wings, feet tapping the floor in short, staccato bursts.

Closing bow for untitled work featuring all three companies.


The third movement, also by Kim, has Chooma dancers return as two Casa Tumac musicians lay out a syncopated beat on two sets of drums. Playful chickadees transform into birds of prey as the lighting turns an ominous red. Dancers leap and glide along the floor, repeating different short movement phrases; occasionally, dancers leap through the air, toes pointed and legs curved like an eagle’s talons.

The fourth movement, conceived by Casa Tumac’s director, Francisco Alexander, transforms the dancers back to humans, each swaying to their own meter, snapping their fingers with gratitude, rising from the ground at their own individual pace but determined to reach the climax as one. Overall, it felt voyeuristic to watch, like peeping in on an ancient ritual, and as they turn towards the audience at the end, your gaze is turned back upon you—now they see you!

Afterwards, the viewer is left with the feeling of witnessing something ancient through a time-traveling telescope, but also culturally universal and axiomatic.

Besides performing, dancers conducted workshops and masterclasses to appreciative advanced students and professional Colombian dancers. Smith found the student’s openness refreshing. “Like, you teach a Horton class [in Chicago] and people are like, ‘whatever,’ but it was so different and foreign to them that they got really excited and would go full out!”

Dancers from SCDT and Chooma also conducted workshops for local dancers.

Far from wanting to “take over the world,” Smith’s agenda is to create global-communal networks to help dancers and audiences connect with other cultures. “For me, the artistic work is secondary,” says Smith. “It’s more about building a global community and for people to see themselves as global citizens, and how our differences can help us to better understand each other, a positive that doesn’t need to be glazed over. Some people say, ‘I don’t see color.’ Why not! Culture and race are beautiful. We should see them! No matter where you are living in the world, you can be a global citizen and be empathetic, curious and build community.”

Smith and SCDT’s collaboration with Kim and Chooma was originally planned as a three-year project. Now in its fifth year, they’re already planning a sixth. Where will this journey take them? Who knows! Wherever they end up, rest assured they’ll bring something back home with them, to the benefit of Seoul and Chicago audiences.

South Chicago Dance Theater and Chooma Dance Company's Choreographic Diplomacy project is supported in part by the Mid Atlantic Arts USArtists International Grant, the Los Andes Cultural Center, and the Asia-Iberoamerica Cultural Foundation.

You can follow Smith and SCDT’s Choreographic Diplomacy project on their website,

For upcoming SCDT performances, click the link below.