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Joffrey Ballet Community Engagement teen dancer Makari Patterson aims to inspire Chicago youth

Since being with Joffrey, Patterson has been able to channel her creativity and reassure herself of her accomplishments thus far.

Dance is more than a form of expression for 18-year-old Makari Patterson; it’s how she bridges her admiration for the arts to her future.

The native South Sider from the Roseland neighborhood started dancing at just six years old when her mother enrolled her in dance lessons at a local studio in an attempt to get her daughter to take up a hobby.

Since those early days, Patterson’s appreciation of the arts has grown over the past 12 years into a central part of her life, continuously encouraged by her grandmother.

“My grandmother was always at every recital, every performance,” Patterson says.

“Whenever I needed tap shoes, ballet slippers or a leotard she was there. She always wanted to dance growing up but couldn’t due to financial reasons. That’s why she’s always rooting for me.”

Resources play a vital role in dance, and this is something Patterson has taken notice of over the years now that she dances as a member of the Joffrey Ballet Community Engagement.

“There’s not a lot of resources sometimes in certain areas,” Patterson explains. “I didn’t train in areas where I lived. Joffrey is downtown so that is a little ways away. It’s been an inspiration to be exposed to that. It makes me want to keep it up and to continue to have a positive outlet. I have been given the chance and I feel blessed.”

The goal of the Joffrey Ballet Community Engagement is to reach out to Chicago’s youth and connect them to high-quality arts learning and dance education. Since being with Joffrey, Patterson has been able to channel her creativity and reassure herself of her accomplishments thus far.

“I feel like the best version of myself when I am dancing,” Patterson says. “When I am moving my body I am able to best express myself, and I hope everybody finds something like that for themselves even if it’s not dance. Just any medium that you do what you love and express what you love.”

Patterson’s love of dance has been challenging to channel at times during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This past year has been a lot,” Patterson explains. “It took me physically out of the studio. Dance is a very intimate and disciplined activity and to not be in front of a mirror with fellow dancers and instructors has pushed me to do more improvisational and interpretive style.”

COVID-19 has also pushed Patterson to submerge herself further into dance and music as not only a form of distraction from current events, but also as motivation to do more to evoke change.

“There has been so much racial tension in the country and it was really heavy for me,” Patterson says. “Being a person of color and a woman in society, it was a lot to take in. I was able to dive into something as stress relieving as dance. It allowed me to block out the negativity.”

Patterson also wanted to express her sentiments by providing herself and others with a creative escape through the arts.

“I put together a video that included a lot of poetry, art, dance and music from a lot of young people throughout Chicago who expressed how they feel about everything going on from the Black Lives Matter movement to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” Patterson says. “It was a very powerful way of expressing how you feel. The arts have the power to do that, even during these times.”

Patterson hopes to carry on this type of work as she builds toward her future career. As a freshman studying marketing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Patterson wants dance to continue to be a big part of her life.

“I have two separate goals,” Patterson explains. “In terms of dance, I want to keep it in my life in a major way. I would love to dance commercially. I am also in school studying business, majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship. My ultimate goal is to open a marketing company that caters to women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. Everyone deserves resources to fuel what they love. The arts have taught me that”

Francesca Gattuso is a writer for the Sun-Times marketing department.