“We’re the bridge in to concert dance,” said Katie McCann, director of Dance in the Parks (DIP), a series of free summer dance performances at local parks throughout Chicago. Now in its 11th season, DIP will visit 14 parks during the month of July featuring many dance styles, nine professional dancers and eight area choreographers. “We’re not trying to change the dance community. It’s here. It’s awesome. We’re trying to be the ‘bridge’ and get more people into it,” said McCann. And, now that summer is finally here, what better way to spend an evening than being entertained with some stellar dancing – and perhaps a picnic – right in your own neighborhood?
Prior to moving to Chicago in 2004, McCann was dancing with a ballet company in Lexington, Kentucky. They piloted an outdoor dance program and she was surprised by how many people came out in the hot, muggy, August weather to see them perform. “They SHOWED UP! People loved it,” she said on a phone call in late June. “It was a very different relationship with the audience. Kids could come. Dogs could come. It was in a casual setting. There are no entrances and exits that can’t be seen, so it gives the audience a behind-the-scenes look at what we’re doing when we’re not on stage.” Once living in the Windy City, she noticed a lack of summer programming, even though Chicago has a big, well-maintained park system and a huge dance community; it seemed like everyone took the summer off. This was before the Chicago Dancing Festival (2006-2016). Millennium Park had just opened to the public, but wasn’t yet offering public arts programs. “I felt like we were missing an opportunity,” McCann said. “It took me a while to get my feet under me, but I thought, if no one else is going to do it, I guess it’s me.”
She “cobbled together” the first season, asking friends and colleagues to help for very little money, but McCann says there were always talented people wanting to participate. Struggles aside, she kept going and eventually DIP became a known commodity, so it was easier to fundraise and attract talent. In 2012, the Chicago Park District launched Night Out in the Parks, and everything changed. Now they were part of a bigger thing, a larger vision. “Now we have a standing company,” said McCann. “It’s our time. It’s our space. It’s our dancers. It’s a very controlled environment.” This season, the DIP company is comprised of seven professional dancers and two apprentices (who perform in every show, but also serve as the tech crew), as well as eight choreographers setting their work on the group. “We have two new dancers this year, and a mix of fairly well-established choreographers and some fresh faces.”
Each performance is the same, except DIP leaves a slot open each night for local youth partners to perform on stage with the professional dancers. Those lucky groups include Ayodele Drum and Dance, Design Dance, The Mayfair Performing Company, Piotrowski Park Dance Team, and Yim He Dance, among others. As McCann describes them, DIP’s 2019 choreographers include Paige Fraser (“a quintet and a trio about experiencing a loved one's illness”), Paige Caldarella (“a conversation about social media and real-life relationships”), Jessica Miller Tomlinson (“a fast and furious duet”), Becca Lemme (“so fun!”), Ela Olarte (“a larger piece about the importance of being busy”), Craig V. Miller (“pure jazz”), Todd Rhoades (“a theatrical look on love”) and a “big, sweepy interpretation of summer in the city,” in a finale by Joshua Blake Carter.
All performances begin at 6:30 p.m. In inclement weather, select performances may have an indoor alternatives. You can donate to Dance in the Parks or sponsor a dancer here. For more information and to view the 2019 summer season schedule, visit danceintheparks.org or click the organization page below.