Teenagers practicing the nearly martial onslaughts of Touch of Soul Credit: After School Matters

It’s no surprise that audiences generally mob Chicago Dancing Festival events: they’re free and good. But this year the CDF will be packing ’em in onstage, too—at least for two dances. The fest commissioned New York-based choreographer Nicholas Leichter to create a piece for 36 kids age 14 to 18, enrolled in the hip-hop culture program run by Chicago nonprofit After School Matters. Set to Estelle’s “Wait a Minute (Just a Touch)” and Manu Dibango’s 1972 proto-disco song, “Soul Makossa,” Leichter’s Touch of Soul herds teenagers into nearly martial onslaughts. Yet there’s no herd mentality here. The final section features the whole group in a veritable avalanche of personality and talent.

Touch of Soul performs on the opening night of the festival at the Harris Theater, where tickets are wait-listed, and then again the following Saturday at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, where all you have to do is show up. Those same nights you can catch the CDF’s other stage-thronging event: Bolero Chicago, featuring some 80 Chicagoans of all ages and set to Maurice Ravel’s greatest hit. Larry Keigwin of New York’s Keigwin + Company has been setting his Bolero on locals around the country since 2007, adapting it so as to hold up a mirror to each place.

All told, this year’s fest includes three evenings of performance by a dozen amazing groups, a day of dance films at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a panel discussion on the state of dance in Chicago, also at the MCA, and salsa and mambo dancing under the stars in Grant Park. Check the CDF website for details.