Keisha Janae in delicate hold Credit: Courtesy Jane Jerardi

The view is divided by screens and mirrors in Jane Jerardi‘s delicate hold. Fragmentation by the frame creates incomplete views of arms and torsos, close and deliberate. You hear the squeak of the pencil, the rustle of paper—a voiceover, separated from the person dancing in the grass, says, “How can I expand my box?”

A circle of wooden flats on the northwest side of the parking lot behind the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville, where a flurry of flying feet makes intricate music in coordinated turns. After the tap jam, Bril Barrett takes you upstairs where even the walls of M.A.D.D. Rhythms’ home speak of resistance and joy in a visual history of tap dance.

A splash of water hits the window in The Sky Was Different, blurring the world outside, but the man inside does not flinch or get wet. 

The nearness, the pulse, the sense of living breath in a magnified perspective on Ayako Kato‘s articulate feet at Links Hall, the gaze floor-level, the view infinite. Just Being.

Kato again, teaching a Muppet-esque puppet how to say “excuse me” in Japanese, Spence Warren speaking poetry on the street, a remarkably present duet with Nora Sharp bridging Brooklyn and Chicago at Links Hall’s 96 Hours Festival.

Instagram Live and Zoom classes (many free, low cost, or by donation) by Lucky Plush’s Virtual Dance Lab, Common Conservatory, Aerial Dance Chicago, Chicago Movement Collective, Hubbard Street, Visceral, Deeply Rooted, Columbia College’s Dance Buffet, Ishti, individuals, everyone. 

This is a year of the body, the breadth and confines of which have been defined in ways that contract beneath and expand beyond the skin. Breath is a boundary we cannot see, a risk we can’t forego, a danger and a comfort and a need. Our faces and hands are costumed in armor that limits the expression of our mouths and opposable thumbs, perhaps, but at least we have our brows and eyelashes, our spines and toes, our shadows and silhouettes. 

This is a year of the screen, the pixel, the handheld, the hybrid dimensional, the technological, the small, the flat, the gargantuan, the optionally scaled, the incomplete, the modified, the optimized, the superimposed, the computer-generated, that reveal and conceal and control and invent an unexperienced present shared in an asynchronous future, dependent on the fickle whims of WiFi. 

This is a year of the home: refuge, workplace, prison. More passes with the vacuum than you thought possible. Those same drapes again. The subtle variations to the view suddenly altered by the unsubtle interjections of Chicago’s infinite seasons. The awareness that walls are only an illusion against an unprecedented onslaught of fireworks in the alien quiet of quarantine. (Dude shouting “Claudia!” in the street at night: Claudia does not want to speak to you.) Neighbors putting paper dolls and stuffed animals and handprints and rainbows in the windows. Neighbors’ kids doing backyard boogies in the year of the inflatable kiddie pool.

This is a year of loss.

This is a year of movement, the momentum of which stems from points tipped years or decades before, a long arc we hope bends towards justice, the curve of which we all ride, and which one might microinfinitesimally weigh down with the force of a foot at a time stepping down to march. Bodies and voices in the streets. Together. Apart. Are you here to protest and/or demonstrate and/or dance? 

This is a year of mutual aid, of community gardens and food pantries and checking in and taking care. 

This is a year of essential workers, who carry our bodies on their backs. 

This is a year of postponement, deferral, delay, and cancellation, of force majeure, of “acts of God,” which is what we say when we really mean the negligence of mankind, bad government, capitalism, and misunderstood Darwinism. 

This is a year of small comforts: warm tea, hot baths, houseplants, sunlight. 

This is a year of the technician, the magician who mediates the hand of the choreographer and the eye and ear of the viewer. This is the year where media stood in for matter, molded matter into new forms, made things matter, or at least marked time. 

This is a year of reimagining gathering: face in one place, feet in another. The kitchen as studio. The living room as studio. The park as studio. You can study anywhere! And yet many still sought the company of dancing together—in shared time if not shared space.

This is a year of rethinking production, with presenters becoming video producers and livestream experts. Links Hall beefed up their equipment, partnered performers with technicians to develop new works, and began preparing for the post-pandemic possibility of hybrid audiences, part on-site, part on stream. The Dance Center at Columbia College thought holistically, presenting performances alongside discussions and workshops. 

This is a year of reconceiving the difference between near and far, then and now, self and other, ritual, repetition, improvisation, invention. 

Words and Shout-outs from Others: 

“I was grateful to slow down. To be with my anxiety. To find pleasure in timeless being-on-the-floor explorations. To be humble in my privilege and commit to taking action where needed against racism and oppression in the many concentric circles of my community. I hope these changes will sustain and grow in 2021. I will continue to ask how can I serve.”—Kristina Fluty

“[Technicians] Giau Minh Truong and Jacob Snodgrass for getting artists online . . . Experimental Sound Studio for launching Quarantine Concerts”—Jane Jerardi

“Anyone who made a dance or a dance film or developed special dance events online or released an older work remade for the pandemic”—Winifred Haun

“World Refugee Day Chicago 2020 . . . was a pretty epic citywide and international collaboration this year.”—Shawn Lent

“Anyone who kept people dancing all year at home, in parks, in class, in virtual workshops!—kept spirits up, offered a movement practice, a processing, a regular place and ‘space’ to be with, without any product or goals.”—Erin Kilmurray

“All the teachers who taught class remotely or in person with masks or both at the same time. All the students who kept going. Anyone who tried something new.”—Ellen Chenoweth

Some Observations:

Knitting is dance.

Kneading is dance.

Baking is dance.

Breathing is dance.

Growing a garden is dance.

Building a union is dance.

Feeding the hungry is dance.

Action is dance. So is stillness. So is rest. 

Let us continue.  v