The second annual Stomping Grounds series, a celebration of Chicago’s percussive dance community, comes to a close this weekend with the last of six performances. The series, presented by Chicago Human Rhythm Project, turns the spotlight on rhythmic dance and its continuity across diverse communities.
Lane Alexander, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Chicago Human Rhythm Project, said Stomping Grounds is another iteration of the work the group has been doing for 25 years: connecting people through percussive dance.
“[We] bring people together who don’t live next door to each other…and sort of gently focus on the fact that we have more in common that we do that’s different,” said Alexander. “We do that through rhythm.”
The six free events tie together diverse cultures through dance and rhythm at cultural centers across the city. The series has showcased rhythmic dance styles from Africa, Ireland, Spain, Japan, Mexico and America in venues like the Chicago Cultural Center, Irish American Heritage Center, and Garfield Park Conservatory.
“[There’s] a huge variation from culture to culture in the way people have figured out how to use their feet,” Alexander said. “The vocabularies really are different.”
This year, Stomping Grounds aimed to sharpen its focus on creating community, including food trucks, art, and dialogue at many of the shows, as if to create mini-street fairs. The dancers also stopped and engaged with the audience during the performances, answering questions and discussing the work.
“This is not a formal concert,” Alexander said. “This is an informal experience.”
Each performance brings its own culture and style from around the world to local Chicago audiences. Companies involved include Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre, Mexican Folklore Dance Company of Chicago, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Trinity Irish Dance Company, and Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s ensemble BAM!.
The goal is to bring dance to the people in a way that has been forgotten, reminding audience members that dancing is an inherent part of human history.
“I think it touches a very deep, primal nerve,” he said. “Western dance tradition has taken a pretty hard right turn towards formalizing everything; there’s a separation between the performer and the observer, and that’s not what dance used to be…we want people to not feel like they have to sit quietly.”
Alexander said the companies are primarily groups he’s worked with in the past—some for decades. Most importantly, these companies share the same mission of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project of an intention behind the work in building peace and community.
Along those lines, this year’s Stomping Grounds program includes educational programs at 16 local schools. Alexander does much of this work himself, spending time in the community and exciting kids about dance.
“I really believe strongly in the ignition moment…there’s a lot of value in these ignition moments where they see something they haven’t seen before,” he said. “Their minds are open to that possibility.”
The last performance takes place May 21 at DuSable Museum of African American History at 7:30 p.m. The show features Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, as well as performances by Mexican Folkloric Dance Company and BAM!.
The series culminates with all the companies sharing the stage during Chicago Rhythm Festival on June 4 at the Auditorium Theatre.
“[With contemporary and ballet, it’s often] very conceptual. You have to think a lot,” Alexander said. “Sometimes people just want to feel….When they see this ecstatic, passionate, percussive dance, they just feel it. It’s a really powerful experience.”
For more information, visit chicagotap.org.