Chicago — A dance performance by the Riverwalk made a huge crowd of families, strangers, and boaters stop to cheer for Chicago’s Black youth footwork dancers.
Art on theMART recently held a free show called “Dance Down by The River” with youth performers from Open The Circle, a nonprofit organization that helps underprivileged youth with creative projects.
Footwork — a style of house dancing with rapid foot movement — originated in the African American community on the West Side.
Open the Circle teaches footwork to over 200 kids during the summer camp and provides performance opportunities. Co-founder Wills Glasspiegel said that some venues are hesitant to let them host events with Black youth because of racism and fear.
“The youth get marginalized by the power structures of our society,” said Glasspiegel. “Youth often come up with some of the most brilliant ideas, culturally and artistically, in ways of organizing. You may think it just happens on the playground or it happens in a dance class, but what these kids can come up with is limitless.”
As footwork embraces its second generation of dancers, it’s become something different for those who love it.
“The relationship between Chicago and footwork is a love-hate relationship,” said Brandon K. Calhoun, footwork instructor and a co-founder of The Era Footwork Crew. “Being able to see it that big and publically is a win not just for the footwork but for the city as well.”
Tyshana Culberson, an 18-years-old dancer, was around footwork her whole life and got inspired by her little brother to learn the dance three years ago. She said dancing helps to keep violence levels down in Chicago.
“Dancing is my passion, it takes my mind off a lot of stuff and I love the fact that we can get a lot of kids off the streets and we all come together [on] events,” said Culberson..
Nineteen-year-old queer dancer Lazarus Gonzales, who is known as Hollywood around the city, started taking dancing seriously at 10 but joined the footwork team three years ago and has already been picked to perform in a trio out of hundreds of kids.
He said a lot of people in the footwork community do not accept LGBTQ+ people, but his dance team loves him the way he is.
“Just because I like the same gender doesn't mean that I can't do footwork like the rest of the boys,” said Gonzales. “So I want to prove to everybody that I can do it.”