For 16 years now, Chicago's SummerDance series has played host to over 40 dance events around the city. Staying centralized in the Grant Park area between Congress Parkway and Jackson the 4,900 square foot dance floor is set up in the area known as Grant Park-Spirit of Music Gardens but has migrated to places such as Jackson Park Beach, Athletic Field Park, and Humboldt Boathouse. Offering lessons in various musical genres such as samba, reggae, swing, afrocaribe, ballroom and many more it is sure to unscrew the leftest of two left feet among us. Oh, and how could I forget the all too important fact that this Chicago Park District and Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events sponsored event is FREE! In a time where nothing is free but Jesus, and even he has his demands, I think it is important to celebrate any opportunity at keeping a full wallet.
It's hard to put a particular date on when this popular Chicago custom came about and it's even harder to put the action of the dance steps into words. Believed to be inspired by popular dances such as the jitterbug, swing and ragtime the dance didn't gain popularity until the 1970s when R&B, or as some natives call it "smooth jazz", hits like Jeffree's Love's Gonna Last began to top the charts and provided an excellent backdrop for the dance to flourish. The dance normally consists of a 6 count beat. It's official movements are characterized as consisting of one double rhythm and two syncopated triples but for most of us with only a general knowledge of the dance, usually equates to a few well timed shuffles and a quick spin for flair.
Arriving at the event flustered, confused, and late (I had walked to the wrong area of Grant Park. What even explorers mess up?) I just barely got in the last of Ken Watkins' enthralling stepping lesson and practice. After the lesson the practitioners gave the couples a short break before the real dancing began. I marveled for a moment at the immense crowd and the variation of people and faces. Young, old. All coming together to continue a Chicago tradition, fueling it, keeping our history alive. This fact probably unrecognized by most who at the heart of it all just wanted to get out and enjoy a beautiful Friday evening. Couples lovingly embraced, mothers danced with daughters, lifelong friends lounged out on foldable chairs while sipping spirits and laughing. It was a lovely time but don't just take our word for it! 4-Star was able to get a few interviews with some of the people in attendance. (We also have clickable links to their pictures!)
When asked how long she and her friends had been attending SummerDance Susan Smith Ross told us that they were no novices to the event and had been attending since the previous year's line dancing event. While making our way around the event we got one of the rare and sigh inducing opportunities of meeting the "perfect couple" not known separately but as a single entity, Shauna and Shawn confessed to not being the most avid steppers but wanted to take advantage of the free hour long lesson. Michael Hobson was more than enthused about the event. He and his wife were registered veterans coming out since the event's inception. He provided excellent insight into the evolution of the program. His list of event benefits were plenty but narrowed it down to the pleasure of seeing all the city of Chicago- Northside, Southside, East and West all come together under the power of music and dance. But he expressed his deep regret at the loss of House night at SummerDance and wished the program started early instead of mid July.
The sea of patrons danced off into the night and whether you were on the dance floor or looked on from the crowd there was a shared enjoyment of the whimsical melodies that played. But alas, all good things come to an end and the Stepping event marked one of the final SummerDance events. And like they say beauty and summer are fleeting. For more info on SummerDance click here.
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