Preview: Never been stronger; Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project presents "Reclamation" at the Pritzker Pavilion


A comprehensive 2019 report by Candid, Sustain Arts and See Chicago Dance, titled “Mapping the Dance Landscape in Chicagoland,” shocked members of the dance community with several startling statistics: From 2002 to 2016, the number of dancemakers in Chicago had increased by 23%, but two-thirds were making less than $15,000 a year, and roughly half were people of color. Furthermore, only three out of eighty-seven nonprofit dance organizations received more than half of all philanthropic funding despite an increase of 46% in institutional philanthropic funding for dance.

Shortly after that report was released, the Logan Center, with support from the Joyce Foundation, hosted the first convening of the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project composed of delegates from eight of Chicago’s leading Black and African diasporic dance companies. The statistics made it clear that these companies would have to create their own philanthropic support.

Nearly three years later, on Saturday, August 27, CBDLP presents “Reclamation” on the most public stage in Chicago, the Pritzker Theatre at Millennium Park at 6:30pm for a performance featuring the members of the CBDLP cohort and a few new additions. Several styles of dance will be on display — African dance and drumming, jazz dance, modern dance, tap dance, Chicago footwork, hiplet (a combination of ballet, hip hop and more).

At the helm of this milestone is the new strategic program manager of CBDLP, Princess Mhoon, who brings  with her more  than 20 years of experience as a dancer and administrator.

Mhoon is the Founder and Director of the Princess Mhoon Dance Institute in Washington D.C., but has deep Chicago roots — Mhoon grew up in the Chatham neighborhood not far from 79th Street and King Dr. “I’d always planned on coming back to Chicago and document this work, so it made sense to me, the timing of everything,” Mhoon told See Chicago Dance in an interview. “It’s a labor of love, but it’s also a way to give back to those who really helped lay the foundation for myself and my career.” Mhoon’s connection goes even deeper; her parents were both founders of Chicago-based Najwa Dance Corps and Muntu Dance Theater, two companies with long, prolific legacies and who will also be performing on Saturday.

The program, which is subject to change, includes an abundance of classic and contemporary work by some of Chicago’s, and the world’s, most prominent choreographers and dance companies.

“Incarnation 1” choreographed by Du’Bois Akeen and performed by Red Clay Dance, tells the story of a proud matriarch who is asked to give her all, body and spirit, a haunting metaphor of the trials and tribulations of life.

Ayodele Drum and Dance presents “HerStory II Tell: Femmes de Pouvoir,” described by the company as “a journey of three young people to understand the PowHer of warrior women who challenge the status quo.”

There is also an opportunity to see “El Gato Negro,” a masterpiece of classic jazz dance choreographed by Joel Hall and performed by Joel Hall and Dancers. If you missed Najwa Dance Corps’ exuberant “Guinea Fare” at this year’s Dance For Life event, here’s a rare second chance to see it.

Muntu Dance Theatre presents choreography by Regina Perry Carr and Asiel Hardison, titled “Summer Breeze at Casa de Abuela Gui,” evoking the vibrant atmosphere of 1920s Havana, Cuba.

Also on the program is a pre-show performance by Forward Momentum Chicago, a performance by the Hiplet Ballerinas, the multi-disciplinary performance ensemble from the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center and directed by Homer Bryant, Chicago footworking crew, Creation, and tap dance company M.A.D.D. Rhythms performing the time-honored “Hoofer’s Line”.

Mhoon expressed excitement for another piece on the program by Ulysses Dove (1947 – 1996) whose work is described on the Alvin Ailey website as being “marked by its relentless speed, violent force, and daring eroticism.”
Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre will perform excerpts from Dove's work titled “Episodes,” described by Mhoon as one of the pinnacle works for Black dancers. “‘Episodes’ is performed by the Ailey Company and maybe one or two other companies in the U.S. that got permissions,” said Mhoon, “so this is a big deal that a Chicago company is doing this.

Equally excited about the prospect of performing excerpts from Dove’s “Episodes” is new Artistic Director of Deeply Rooted, Nicole Clarke-Springer, who in an interview spoke of the reverence that Deeply Rooted has for the work. “We were able to have out [Ulysses Dove’s] brother and executor of his estate, Alfred Dove, join us last year to help set the work. We’re excited about it, and to have it shown at the Pritzker Theater in Millennium Park is an honor and a privilege.”

But performance opportunities, even as grand as this one, are only one of the pillars of CBDLP, and like an iceberg, what you see on the surface is only the tip of a much larger network of support and collaboration. Archival documentation and the dissemination of history is also at the forefront of CBDLP’s mission. “We view Black dance as a part of American history,” said Mhoon. “You go to a museum and see artwork, you go to a library to open a book, those words live forever… this project is memorializing and celebrating our tradition of Black dance, which we consider as part of American history.”

Emily Hooper Lansana, Senior Director of Community Arts at the Logan Centre, is equally passionate about documenting and sharing the stories of the influential Black Chicago dance artists. “There are so many important foundations of Black dance in Chicago,” said Lansana in an interview, “and that includes people like the great Katherine Dunham, who was a student at The University of Chicago, and whose legacy went on to impact the entire world, but a lot of people don’t know her connection to Chicago and the technique and impact that she had was really important.”

While the present and the past are being cared for, Mhoon and CBDLP are already looking forward to the future. “This cohort of companies is coming to it’s three-year cycle close, so this is kind of the finale concert,” said Mhoon. “This Fall, we will be opening up applications and invitations to a second cohort. This is a great opportunity for companies who were not featured or could use the capacity and support to come on board, or at least apply.”

One of the things that is important about the story of Black dance in Chicago is the way in which prominent artists and companies have nurtured and supported the next generation of dancers, many of whom are now themselves leaders in the industry.

Nicole Clarke-Springer came up through Deeply Rooted, and now is their Artistic Director; Princess Mhoon, the CBDLP program manager, came up through Najwa and Muntu. In every case, both the artists and the organizations get a substantial return on their initial investment and have secured for themselves a significant amount of capital in the dance landscape. CBDLP draws on the strength of eight mighty organizations, soon to be more, and thanks to their efforts the Chicago dance scene has never been stronger.


Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project’s “Reclamation: The Spirit of Black Dance in Chicago” will take place at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (201 E Randolph St) at 6:30pm. Get FREE tickets on the CBDLP website,