Thursday, August 18, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn: Dance for Life at 20

Live and in-person on Saturday, Aug. 20 at the Auditorium Theatre—and now a WTTW documentary, too!

By Cindy Stern

It seems such a short time ago that my friends and I assembled with other volunteers in the lobby of the Organic Theater on North Clark Street the night of the first Dance for Life (DFL). We were there to do something to call attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that had taken so many of our loved ones’ lives in and out of the Chicago dance community. We did not know how many others would show up, but if they did, we were hell bent on selling them a T-shirt! Before we knew it, our stock was sold out, as was the house of 400. A slightly tipsy newscaster in a pretty party dress made a speech before Dean Richards introduced the first of several dance companies from a stage so small, you couldn’t be sure all the leaps would be properly landed. In the end, everyone was on their feet—wildly clapping, exhilarated, empowered to do more—raise money and consciousness, get others involved, start planning next year.

Fast forward to 19 more big August nights. Backstage and from perches in the Chicago Athenaeum, Skyline Stage at Navy Pier, Harris Theater, and now, the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University—ten times the size of our original venue—we still hope that our hard work, donations and applause can will HIV/AIDS away. The story may have changed, but millions of people, locally and globally, are still very much affected by the disease each day.

The idea that Keith Elliott, Harriet Ross, Danny Kopelson and Gail Kalver brought to life in 1991 has transformed, too. In fact, in an ironic twist, the more the DFL community has grown, the more intimate it has become. Committee members, dancers, choreographers, AIDS Foundation of Chicago staff and board, donors and more—once strangers—have evolved into close friends. Thanks to Diane Rawlinson, students at Wheeling High School have remained supporters through their college years and beyond. With their amazing finales, Randy Duncan and Harrison McEldowney have demonstrated that the limits of artistic collaboration are truly boundless.

I hope you’ll join us on August 20th.

If you’ve ever performed or otherwise participated in Dance for Life, you’ve most likely not only enjoyed the experience, you’ve understood, on a very profound, visceral level, that the event opens you up to a greater generosity of spirit: compassion, appreciation of and love for fellow human beings.

Cindy SternCindy Stern is a Chicago-based writer, event producer and creative strategist with 20+ years’ experience in cause-related marketing. She currently serves as coordinator of the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema and is completing her master’s degree in nonprofit management at Spertus Institute. She co-chaired Dance for Life in 2005-2006.

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