Bursting with two fully equipped dance studios and a philosophy of noncompetitive learning, Dance Center of LaGrange brings skilled teachers and a miscellany of dance types to the feet of dancers both young and old. Tykes can twirl toward the 45–60 minute summer-session classes to introduce tentative toes to preballet and creative movement (ages 3–4), learning new moves and gaining confidence while composing a rhythmic symphony with their 10-toed orchestra. The Storycise class (ages 3–5) combines storytelling and exercise to produce a hybrid fitness adventure filled with heart-pumping moves and poses that spell entire novel chapters. Teens can hit up the modern/jazz class for a medley of Broadway-style shimmying, and grown-up steppers can twist into adult tap, lacing up specialty shoes to conquer rapid routines and drum out grocery lists onto the hardwood floor.
Chicago Elevated, run by effusive improv veteran Margaret Hicks, leads curious charges on eclectic group, private, and custom tours of the city. Jaunts lead natives and tourists alike through the city’s oft-overlooked nooks and crannies as Hicks’s jovial voice narrates every step, shedding light on secret areas and easily overlooked historic sites. Her pedway tour sojourns into Chicago’s tiled subterranean antecity, where retailers, restaurants, and mole people mingle. Tours explore sites of famous disasters, visit the ghostly red-light district that once stretched below what is now Printer’s Row, and gaze at downtown’s ornate architecture from the riverwalk.
Stationed in Wrigleyville after college, Hicks accrued the healthy sense of humor and comedic timing that pepper each tour at Second City, iO, and other theaters. Though she attempted a move to New York City, Hicks soon discovered she couldn’t stay away from Chicago’s majestic skyline or the skyscrapers’ subtly receding hairlines. A stint in the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s docent program, as well as acting as a tour guide for six years, arm her with insider’s knowledge that soon transfers to listeners’ brains.
Chicago Sinfonietta was already markedly different from its counterparts when it played its first notes in 1987. Its founder and conductor Paul Freeman wanted to create a symphony that actually reflected the community in which it existed. The ensemble he formed brought together musicians from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, who interpreted both classical pieces and forgotten compositions from composers of color. His concept proved successful—the symphony toured Europe, played the Kennedy Center twice, and produced 14 albums, all while tunefully demonstrating the universality of music.
Today, Chicago Sinfonietta continues to perform unique programs, and supports music education and professional development opportunities for members of underrepresented communities. Freeman retired from his post at the end of the 2011 season, passing the reins new music director Mei-Ann Chen, but his legacy lives on in the music of performers he helped get started, including classical-music legend Yo-Yo Ma.
The Chicago Actors Studio encourages imagination and emotional exploration as it educates aspiring thespians in the dramatic arts. With affiliates in New York and Los Angeles, the studio welcomes students of all ages and experience to hone their skills through practiced scene study and individual monologues. The 10-week Acting as a Craft class showers a broad curriculum of skills upon actors-in-training, teaching them the nuances of acting onstage, on camera, or on top of a speeding train. Classes cover cold readings, as well as the initial steps toward becoming a master manipulator of voice and movement. Students ready to share their skills can benefit from expert wisdom in the Audition Power class, where instructors teach the tiny tricks necessary to quickly build relationships with scene partners, handle callbacks, and dress appropriately for the role.
Inside Visceral Dance Center’s old brick warehouse on Elston Avenue, dancers prowl, leap, and pirouette their way to fitter frames and flawless technique. Founder and artistic director Nick Pupillo and his agile instructors lead students through steps in myriad dance styles⎯including ballet, contemporary jazz, hip-hop, modern, and movement and improvisation⎯teaching them to dance solo or perfect a waltz with their shadows. Each Visceral Dance Center instructor specializes in one or two methods of dance, and they impart their expertise to students ranging in age from 2.5 years to adulthood during weekly classes. The space also hosts performances by the training center’s progressive-house company, Visceral Dance Chicago, and the Visceral Studio Company, a group of 15 youth dancers from the greater Chicago area.