The consortium of professional instructors at Fred Astaire Dance Studio, which was cofounded by legendary toe tapper Fred Astaire himself, shepherd students of all ages and skill levels through lessons that span the style spectrum. Patrons can learn how to cavort through classic waltz and fox-trot romps or swivel through the modern steps of salsa, swing, or mambo. For dancers hoping to hoof it up in a social setting, the Summer Dance Open House provides a one-night extravaganza of instruction, demonstrations, and amateur firewalking. During the event, guests sip complimentary glasses of white wine and nibble on snacks as they take mental notes during rumba and swing classes. Professional performances will set a fleet-footed example as guests practice steps with new and familiar partners and shimmy the night away. Apprentice foot flashers can develop their skills and confidence in three group classes, during which they'll trip the light fantastic with fellow students without tripping on the light itself.
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.
Gorilla Tango Theatre is committed to hosting colorful, diverse entertainment—though some of their shows involve more clothing than others. Home to Boobs and Goombas: A Super Mario Burlesque, A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque, and the series of similarly cheeky and geeky shows they inspired, GTT's burlesque series has drawn audiences to its two venues since 2010. There's more to Gorilla Tango than burlesque, though. The theater maintains a flexible rental schedule, welcoming producers to bring improv shows, new plays, and films to life in their welcoming space. Gorilla Tango’s intimate confines host several rows of stadium-style seating, as well as bistro-style tables on the floor where patrons can sip on wine and beer.