Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, long a home for Black dance, comes to the South Side

The company, now 25 years old, has begun offering workshops at the Mayfair Arts Center in Calumet Heights.

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Nicole Clarke-Springer, the artistic director for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, during a lesson with student Taylor Myles of the company’s Emerging Artist Ensemble at the Mayfair Arts Center, 8701 S. Bennett Ave in Calumet Heights.

Nicole Clarke-Springer (right), the artistic director for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, conducts a dance lesson with student Taylor Myles of the company’s Emerging Artist Ensemble at the Mayfair Arts Center, 8701 S. Bennett Avenue, in Calumet Heights.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Kevin Iega Jeff grew up in New York City, watching old musicals starring the likes of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and the Nichols Brothers.

So it was no surprise he fell in love with dance.

“All of those incredible male dancers inspired me so much,” Jeff said.

In his early teens, he joined then-New York City mayor John Lindsay’s “Teenage Performing Arts Workshop” program. It exposed a whole new world to him, he said, showing him it was possible to have a career in the performing arts.

‘We don’t have many institutions that uphold the traditions of Black dance or Black theater. So those traditions can quickly fade away if we don’t grow institutions to hold the information and to pass it on.” Kevin Iega Jeff, Deeply Rooted Dance

He went on to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center and The Juilliard School and later performed on Broadway.

In the mid-1990s, Jeff was hired as the artistic director for the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre. Around the same time, he decided he wanted to create a new space to show “the power of dance and how it can entertain audiences but also transform lives.” So he co-founded Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

For 25 years, it’s been a company where he says the Black aesthetic can thrive through Black dancers —combining modern, classical, American and African American traditions in dance and storytelling.

Kevin Iega Jeff, co-founder and creative executive director of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

Kevin Iega Jeff, co-founder and creative executive director of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, started the company 25 years ago in hopes of upholding the traditions of Black dance and theater.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

“We don’t have many institutions that uphold the traditions of Black dance or Black theater,” Jeff said. “So those traditions can quickly fade away if we don’t grow institutions to hold the information and to pass it on.”

Deeply Rooted Dance is based downtown at 17 N. State Street, but most of its programming has been on the South Side. Now, the company has begun offering workshops at the Mayfair Arts Center, 8701 S. Bennett Avenue. in Calumet Heights on the South Side.

The aim, according to Jeff, is to help create interest in one of the company’s major goals — opening what will be called the South Side Center for Black Dance and Creative Communities in 2024.

Deeply Rooted Dance

TO SIGN UP


Registration for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater’s new workshops running through April 25 at the Mayfair Arts Center, 8701 S. Bennett Avenue, in Calumet Heights, is now underway.

Fees for various dance workshops start at $15.

Registration is online at deeplyrooteddancetheater.org.

Classes at the MAC will cover introductory ballet, modern, hip-hop and African-based dance techniques. While some workshops will be led by Deeply Rooted Dance instructors and company members, there will also be guest choreographers.

The new workshops will include three youth programs, for kids 3 to 6 years old, for those 7 to 12, and for teenagers.

Deeply Rooted Dance also is expanding what it calls its Mature H.O.T Women program — which stands for “health-conscious, optimistic and triumphant” — providing technical and strength training for dancers 25 and older, a program that’s been popular at the company’smain location.

Susan Trice, 68, started doing that program seven years ago. Her husband recently had died, and it was a hard time for her. She said she found a sense of community in the dance program.

“It is just a way to be seen,” Trice said. “It’s something that we can embrace into our own experiences in life and be able to then express in our dance.”

Tracey Franklin, who is Deeply Rooted’s dance education director, said the women’s program is for “the community to know that being expressive and being an artist doesn’t stop when you’re a certain age.”

The company also has started a new “Men Moving” workshop, artistic director Nicole Clarke-Springer said, to offer a “safe space” for men who want to dance.

“There is a stigma, if we were going to be quite honest, with men dancing, especially among the African American community,” Clarke-Springer said. “Making this art and this technique of modern dance and ballet accessible to young African American men is exciting to me.”

Nicole Clarke-Springer, artistic director for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

Nicole Clarke-Springer, artistic director for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, says the company’s new “Men Moving” workshop at the Mayfair Arts Center aims to help erase the stigma some have about men dancing.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Breaking that stigma is exactly why Jeff came up with the Men Moving workshop. He said even though “our culture pushes men away from dance,” when he went to South Africa he saw close to 50 young boys “dancing their heads off” in a school gymnasium.

There also will be male mentorship opportunities for kids 10 to 17 years old and a program called Creative Communities, led by Jeff, that will include singing and acting workshops as well as dance.

Deeply Rooted also plans to send writers out into the community to collect people’s stories and use those to create a performance.Jeff said he’s done similar programs around the country and aims to build ties with people that might help foster community development.

“I just hope it opens up the possibility of human engagement and expanding one’s scope for their own lives and that it really helps to enhance the community’s health,” he said. “When you’re working through the arts, you’re being challenged to engage with people in a way where you have to problem solve, and, in that process, find solutions where we can become better people together.”

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times throughReport for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and the West Side.

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