Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Credit: Todd Rosenberg

Dance For Life, presented by Chicago Dancers United, celebrates its 30th year of bringing Chicago dancers together to raise money for The Dancers’ Fund with a performance on August 26 featuring ten dance companies and a new work by Randy Duncan. 

Founded in 1991 in response to the AIDS crisis by Keith Elliott, a dancer with Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, with Todd Kiech, Harriet Ross, Danny Kopelson, and Gail Kalver, Dance for Life and the Dancers’ Fund offer financial aid for dancers with critical health-care needs. Last year, the fundraiser shifted online with a series of videos from past performances and continued its tradition of an annual premiere with the presentation of a dance for camera for 23 dancers choreographed by Hanna Brictson. This year, for the first time, the event takes place outdoors at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park—and admission for the general public is free, with reserved seating for those donating $300 or more to the fund. 

“This year, it’s about celebrating our 30th anniversary and being part of the dance community, being supported by and being able to support the dance community for 30 years,” says Mark Ferguson Gomez, one of the cochairs of the event. From over 30 submissions from dance companies in the city, Ferguson Gomez and others on the committee selected works by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Joffrey Ballet, Giordano Dance Chicago, DanceWorks Chicago, Movement Revolution Dance Crew, PARA.MAR Dance Theatre, South Chicago Dance Theatre, Trinity Irish Dance Company, Visceral Dance Chicago, and a film by Winifred Haun & Dancers. “Our general criteria are that we like group pieces—we want the stage to be as full as it can be. We like for [works] to be uplifting, happy—we’re looking for lively, upbeat, celebration.” For some companies, including Hubbard Street and the Joffrey, the event also marks a return to the stage for the first in-person performances since 2020. 

Formerly a dancer with Giordano Dance Chicago, Joseph Holmes, and River North Dance Chicago and a Chicago resident for 40 years, Ferguson Gomez has fond memories of the solidarity and camaraderie he experienced while performing in the event. “I always believed in the community of dancers,” he says. “To be backstage, seeing all the different dance companies backstage watching each other and supporting each other, there’s nothing like it. It’s magic. That’s always been my experience in the dance community. Everybody wants everybody to do well.” 

Dance for Life
Thu 8/26, 6 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph,, free (premium reserved seating available for $300 donation).

That spirit of generosity continues to characterize an event where performers and companies donate their time and talent for the cause. “Everybody is so willing to be part of it, so willing to do their share. Everybody works together to create this event,” he says. “The artists give their time for the evening performance. The companies generously provide the rehearsal time that the dancers need. It’s giving on many levels.”

In a year of heightened health-care concerns and financial anxiety for many dancers, Chicago Dancers United has increased opportunities for dancers to receive grants for critical costs. “During the pandemic, we set aside special monies to help the dance community in this time of need,” says Ferguson Gomez. People for whom a primary source of income is derived from dance—including instructors, technicians, and administrators—can apply online at Chicago Dancers United for the fund, which covers bills related to medical care, mental wellness, dental fees, insurance premiums, and other health-care-related costs. The existing Critical Health Need Grant, limited to $4,000 annually, is now supplemented with the General Health and Wellness grant, limited to $500 annually. The website for the fund notes, “Awarded applicants will not receive any payments directly. The Dancers’ Fund will pay the healthcare provider, utility provider, landlord, or other appropriate vendor(s) for the incurred and approved expenses on behalf of the awarded applicant.”

Chicago Dancers United declined to provide the number of grants awarded in 2020, but board member Sandi Cooksey notes, “There was a 111% increase, from 2019 to 2020, in the number of grants awarded.”

“We would like for more people to apply that need money,” says Ferguson Gomez. “One hundred percent of the people who qualified for the grants were paid. We’ll continue to provide assistance to the dance community, as long as we’re in this pandemic and there’s a need for it. There is money available if you need help.”