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•  Dancing Under the Stars

Dancing Under the Stars
Jennifer Campbell

Summer in Chicago—when the living gets easier and lots of cool stuff is free. For instance, you can dance under the stars in Grant Park at the SummerDance Festival without handing over a cent. The music is live and Mother Nature supplies the ambience.

The ninth annual dance festival, sponsored by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, kicked off this year on June 15th and will continue until August 28th. The festival takes place in the Spirit of Music Garden at the southern tip of Grant Park, across the street from Columbia College at 601 S Michigan Avenue (between Harrison and Balboa Streets). This small oasis, located just a few feet away from the hurried traffic of the city, is the perfect setting for the festival. Behind the lush foliage, festival goers step into another world. A specially designed 3,500-square-foot dance floor allows dancers to show off their latest dance moves. Local bands jam from the large platform stage.

The first hour of the festival is devoted to teaching dance steps. Lessons are provided by professional dance instructors, also free of charge. This is done to recorded music. Live music and the energy of the dancers supercharge the last two hours of the evening.

The festival is held in the evenings from Wednesday through Saturday, making it a great way to destress from the worries of the workday. Wednesday is the only day of the festival that does not offer dance lessons. Wednesday nights’ proceedings begin at 6 pm and end at 9 pm. Lessons start at 6 pm on Thursday through Friday. There is a 30-minute break after the lessons. The live music and dancing commence at 7:30 pm, ending at 9:30 pm. On Sundays, lessons begin at 4 pm, and live music and dancing runs from 5 pm until 7 pm. There is no break between the lessons and the evening’s entertainment on Sunday.

Each day of the festival focuses on a different dance motif. For the second year in a row, Wednesday’s schedule features the spinning of twenty-two popular local and international DJs. A few of the DJ artists participating include DJ Mazi, DJ Joe Smooth, and DJ Farley “Jack Master” Funk. Fans will enjoy three hours of techno, electro, broken beat, afrobeat, and other styles of house music. The dancing is freestyle.

Thursday night focuses on folk dancing and world music. Some of the dances taught include African dances, the Puerto Rican Bomba, and Serbian and Macedonian folk dances. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are set aside for the more “popular” dances and music such as the samba, western line dancing, the fox trot, and the jitterbug. There are thirty different styles of dancing so all participants will find something that suits their taste.

One of the great things about SummerDance Festival is that it is an event that can be shared with the whole family. The festival appeals to all ages and ethnic groups. I attended on salsa night. The featured band was Carpacho y Super Combo, an award winning local Latin band. Couples of all shapes, styles, and colors mingled on the floor. Unsurprisingly, it was an elderly couple who stole the show.

If you can’t, or won’t, dance, the music can still be pretty worthwhile; a few of the bands featured during the festival include Chicago Afrobeat Project; Barry Winograd’s Alternatives Big Band; Foghorn Stringband; and Nancy Hays and The Sawyer Brothers Band. Convenient park benches are situated around the dance floor but bring your own to be safe, if you can. There are also picnic tables located further back from the dance floor. The SummerDance grill is set up for all those who get thirsty and hungry after all the exercise.

The summer has been hot and dry but the nights are cooler. The park is right off Lake Michigan, which furnishes the eveningswith refreshing lake breezes. Summer takes forever to come to Chicago and ends much too soon, so free city festivals make the season worth it. Check out Chicago SummerDance—you’ve got nothing to lose but a few pounds and your inhibitions.

The following is a schedule of the festival from July 15th to August 28th. There is also no program scheduled for Sunday, July 24th. If it rains, performances are cancelled. For updates and more information, call the Chicago SummerDance hotline at 312-742-4007 or visit or

Friday, July 15
6 pm: Mambo dance lessons with Andy Cruz
7:30 pm: Sammy DeLeon y Su Orquesta

Saturday, July 16
6 p.m.: Merengue dance lessons with Manny Lopez-Marquez
7:30 pm: Chuchito Valdez Afro-Cuban Ensemble

Sunday, July 17
4 pm: Tango dance lessons, Bob and Penny Urbon
5 pm: Dick Sarlo Orchestra

Wednesday, July 20
6 pm: DJ Mark Grant, DJ Oscar McMillan

Thursday, July 21
6 pm: African dance lessons with Amaniyea Payne
7:30 pm: Chicago Afrobeat Project

Friday, July 22
6 pm: Swing/Lindy Hop dance lessons with Big City Swing
7:30 pm: Barry Winograd’s Alternatives Big Band

Saturday, July 23
6 pm: Steppin’ lessons, Dawud Shareef and Lura Satterfield
7:30 pm: P-1

Sunday, July 24
No program

Wednesday, July 27

6 pm: DJ Superpitcher, DJ Mazi

Thursday, July 28
6 pm: Argentine Tango dance lessons, Tango Nada Mas
7:30 pm: Raul Jaurena’s I Love Tango

Friday, July 29
6 pm: Hustle/Funky Swing dance lessons with
7:30 pm: The Business

Saturday, July 30
6 pm: Square Dancing dance lessons, Paul Tyler
7:30 pm: Foghorn Stringband

Sunday, July 31
4 pm: English Waltz dance lessons, Kris and Ela Kasperowicz
5 pm: Mike Whelan Big Band

Wednesday, August 3
6 pm: DJ Andre Hatchet, DJ Joe Smooth

Thursday, August 4
6 pm: Puerto-Rican Bomba dance lessons, Tito Rodriguez
7:30 pm: Bombazo: Africaribe and Nuestro Tambo

Friday, August 5
6 pm: Country Line Dancing dance lessons, Marva Childress
7:30 pm: Nancy Hays and The Sawyer Brothers Band

Saturday, August 6
6 pm: West Coast Swing dance lessons, Tommye Giacchino and Gregory Day
7:30 pm: New Millennium Swing Orchestra

Sunday, August 7
4 pm: Cha Cha Cha dance lessons, Miguel Mendez
5 pm: Teddy Lee Orchestra

Wednesday, August 10
6 pm: DJ Marshall Jefferson, DJ Jesse Saunders

Thursday, August 11
6 pm: Bhangra dance lessons, Shamila Khetarpal
7:30 pm: Funkadesi

Friday, August 12
6 pm.: East Coast Swing dance lessons with Big City Swing
7:30 pm: Thomas Gunther Jazz Band

Saturday, August 13
6 pm: Polkas, Waltzes, Kujawiaks and Obereks dance lessons, Paul Collins
7:30 pm: Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push

Sunday, August 14
4 pm: Fox Trot/Jitterbug dance lessons with
5 pm: Linda Tate Swing Street Big Band

Wednesday, August 17
6 pm: DJ Ron Trent, DJ Rich Medina

Thursday, August 18
6 pm: Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian Folk dance lessons, Gaila Milocheva-Kuo and John Kuo
7:30 pm: Orchestra Izgrev

Friday, August 19
6 pm: Salsa/Bachata dance lessons with Latin Rhythms
7:0 pm: Edwin Sanchez y su Orquesta featuring Jesus Enriquez

Saturday, August 20
6 pm: Smooth-Style Swing dance lessons, Margot McGraw-Toppen and Riley Wines Jr.
7:30 pm: Burgess Gardner’s Well-Oiled Jazz Machine

Sunday, August 21
4 pm: Jive dance lessons with Kris and Ela Kasperowicz
5 pm: Dick Judson Orchestra

Wednesday, August 24
6 pm: DJ Farley “Jack Master,” DJ Terry Hunter

Thursday, August 25

6 pm: Punta and Paranda dance lessons, Miriam Suazo-Moore and Felix Gamboa
7:30 pm: Garifuna International Band

Friday, August 26
6 pm: Fox Trot/Swing dance lessons with Arthur Murray Dancer Center
7:30 pm: Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band

Saturday, August 27
6 pm: Zydeco dance lessons with Louie Stallone
7:30 pm: C.J. Chenier and The Red Hot Louisiana Band

Sunday, August 28
4 pm: Samba dance lessons, Tina Mangos
5 pm: City Lights Orchestra

Listings associated with this Feature:

Columbia College Grant Park

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