Getting Inspired with Contemporary Dance: Creativity in Motion


On Thursday, March 26th, Urban Gateways presented two packed performances of an original matinee performance for students called Creativity in Motion. The show featured four incredible Chicago dance companies on the stage of The Dance Center at Columbia College. Though there is value in just exposing students to high-quality dance, we wanted to use this performance as a chance to go a little bit deeper.

In our Touring Performances, a program area I’ve been managing since late 2007, we ask our artists to help audiences learn how to appreciate the arts. We want the artists to give context to a piece, and help to make the art form more accessible. Considering most adults have a hard time with something like contemporary dance, if we don’t guide young students through their first exposure to more abstract art forms, they may forever be turned off from them. This is exactly what we seek to fight with our Touring Performances, and developing Creativity in Motion allowed us to offer students an educational perspective of what contemporary dance looks like and how they can enjoy it.

The stars truly aligned to make this show a reality. Each year, we apply to local Target stores for small grants, which we use to provide free Touring Performances in schools and communities. When we received the State Street City Target’s grant, we were simultaneously challenged and inspired. Many of the schools in the Loop are smaller, often without a performance space to host a show in their own building. When we considered the challenge of how we might be able to reach these students, we were inspired to go bigger and bring them to a performance. We contacted The Dance Center at Columbia College, located in the South Loop, and they agreed to support the project by giving us access the beautiful space. Given that this stage is made for dance, it gave us the initial direction. With the wonderful concert dance companies we have on our touring roster, we knew that this would be the chance to help make a wide range of contemporary dance accessible for many students from multiple schools all at once. We decided a common theme through everything would be inspiration: what ideas spark creativity and how that translates to a finished product – in this case, a dance.

Four incredible dance companies signed on to be part of the show: Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Elements Contemporary Ballet, Piel Morena Contemporary Dance, and Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre. These companies represent a wide range of movement styles and approaches, which was the perfect way to begin creating this performance. I then developed questions to ask choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors between the dances, to help students understand where ideas for creativity can come from, and how each person’s process is different. The interviews also helped guide the students to interpret movements or look for symbols that the choreographers had used in the dances. It’s fair to say that given the abstract nature of much of the movement, these conversations helped to make the dances more accessible for everyone in the audience.

Once we saw the show coming together with 5 different pieces and onstage interviews, we had the idea for how to end the show. The finale we envisioned would be a brand new piece inspired by the students. Through a pre-show worksheet, students told us about dreams they’d had, their favorite memories, music they like, and even shared their drawings and poems with us as well. Elements Contemporary Ballet agreed to take these forms and turn them into a dance (video below), which actually featured a reading of a poem written by Micah, a 7th grade student from Marcus Garvey School. This dynamic and exciting dance was one of the highlights of the day for everyone in attendance, especially Micah. I could not imagine a better way to help students understand inspiration than by being it themselves!

With the work of so many outstanding partners, we were able to present an incredible hour of dance featuring some of the most versatile dance companies in Chicago. We could not be more proud of the end result and that almost 500 students from 4 different Chicago schools were there to witness it. I’d like to believe that we have created some future dance stars through this experience, but at the very least I know for sure that we’ve fostered the development of future arts audiences.

Video of “Cloudlight”, the Creativity in Motion Finale by Elements Contemporary Ballet:

Photos of Creativity in Motion by Lucas Anti:

Thanks to Target for making this program possible!