Like many Chicago organizations, Greeks & Friends gives college scholarships. What sets Greeks & Friends apart is how it raises funds: one step at a time.
Make that one line dance step at a time.
On the third Sunday of each month, Greeks & Friends takes over a banquet room at Mr. G’s Supper Club, at 87th and Ashland. A (mostly female) crowd travels from Gary and North Chicago and from everywhere in between to spend five hours line dancing to R&B music. With each grapevine and cha-cha step, money goes into the scholarship coffers.
The idea for Greeks & Friends came from Dr. Loretta Martin, a retired Chicago Public Schools educator. Giving is just a part of who she is. Since the early 1980s she has provided scholarships through a family foundation, the Hall-Martin Legacy Foundation.
Dance always had been a part of her life, so Martin started taking line dance soon after her retirement in 1999. She wasn’t planning to teach again, but when the instructor for their class left, a friend told her, “You have to take over.” She did, and continues teaching line dance.
“God was leading me where he wanted me to go,” she says.
This form of dance – often called soul line dancing – is an outgrowth of the steppers scene in Chicago, according to Martin. Stepping generally is couples dancing. At steppers’ sets, DJs were including line dances for those who came on their own.
That’s the beauty of line dancing. You don’t need a partner, but you aren’t alone. Instead, you’re moving in sync with an entire dance floor. Talk about community!
The Chicago line dancing scene started with seniors, Martin says, and it trickled down to baby boomers and now younger dancers.
But back to Greeks & Friends. Martin began hosting once-a-month parties at Mr. G’s with the idea of putting that money to scholarships. She had steppers doing their thing in one room and line dancers in another. And she was serving food, a big undertaking for one person. Plus, the weekday parties weren’t drawing enough people.
“I did need help,” she says. “It was too much.”
She teamed up with a couple Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters, got a DJ and with that, Greeks & Friends was born; the first party was Father’s Day, 2011. People could bring in food — mini potlucks, so to speak. Food problem solved!
Two of the original organizers dropped out, so Martin recruited another pair. The disc jockey moved on too, and with that DJ Chico – someone who really knows how to get people up and moving – came on board, and the Greeks & Friends parties “really blew up,” says Martin. Each monthly party has an attire theme (in August, dancers wore white) and draws about 150 dancers. (Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door.)
During the first hour, different instructors teach a few new dances. With so many instructors in the house and willing to call out steps, even newbies feel comfortable on the very welcoming dance floor.
The parties weave a supportive network, too. At each party, everyone having a birthday that particular month joins in a special dance. Local entertainers often stop by and show off their talents. Partygoers are encouraged to share what’s happening in their lives so the others can offer applause when it’s good news and prayers when it’s not.
One step at a time, a wonderful community has grown and continues to give.
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