Courtesy Matt Karas

“I keep saying, in this moment, I think we may be one of the best-kept secrets,” says Nicole Clarke-Springer, the artistic director of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. 

The critically acclaimed Chicago-based dance company is beloved for its spectacular storytelling and world-class performers, but still, it’s often flown under the radar. In 2019, WTTW theater critic Hedy Weiss questioned why the company, which she described as “thrilling,” wasn’t more famous, informing readers, “If you haven’t caught up with this company, now is the time.” 

Soon, though, Chicago’s best-kept secret will be secret no more because in 2023, Deeply Rooted is poised to break out in a major way: In addition to producing innovative performances, they’re building a new 30,000 square-foot state-of-the-art dance center at 5345 S. State and increasing their educational programming.

Nicole Clarke-Springer

“Everyone needs to know who Deeply Rooted is,” says its executive director, Makeda Crayton. “We’re looking to elevate the status of the company and increase the visibility of the company in the city.”

Deeply Rooted was cofounded in the mid-90s by Kevin Iega Jeff and Gary Abbott with LaVerne Alaphaire Jeff, Diane Shober, and Linda Spriggs and made its public debut in 1996. The company has since performed around the world; in 2013, it became the first U.S.-based dance company to perform at Africa’s leading contemporary dance festival, JOMBA!, which is held in Durban, South Africa. 

The company stands out for uniting modern, classical, American, and African American traditions in dance and storytelling. Much of its work centers the Black experience, but its themes are universal. 

“We tell our stories, but we tell them so well that they become human stories,” Clarke-Springer says. “We’re all human. We have all those feelings of love, envy—anything that you have going on there’s something there you can identify with.”

Deeply Rooted is currently in the process of raising capital for their new facility, South Side Dance Center. Their plans include six studios—one of which will double as a black box theater—offices, and green space. They hope the center will be used by several dance organizations, dancers, and artists from across the city. 

“I wanted to help develop some institutions that would help to develop little Black girls and boys like me coming from the south side,” Crayton says. “I wanted to do it in the neighborhood or in the community that poured into me.”

As Deeply Rooted set its eyes on elevation, it’s connected with like-minded organizations. In 2019, the company joined the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project, an initiative housed at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts that seeks to eliminate inequities within Chicago’s dance landscape by providing funding, operational support, and performance opportunities to some of the city’s most revered Black dance institutions.  

Following the Black Lives Matter movement, Crayton says that there’s been an increased focus on the inequity of resources and funding within the arts industry, making the mission of the CBDLP more important than ever. 

“There’s been a shift in society,” Crayton says. “What came out of that time period was the realization that equity of resources in many different sectors [has] been lacking.”

Makeda Crayton

The collective nature of CBDLP has felt special, Clarke-Springer says. After years where some of the city’s Black dance institutions, unfortunately, felt siloed from one another, coming together to amplify Black dance has been a positive change. 

“Before CBDLP, there has never been an intentional opportunity for a true sense of collaboration or a space for us to come together as the Black companies in the city to feel as if we were one entity,” she says. “Funding inequities siloed many of our organizations as we each worked to move our companies forward.”

Along with receiving funding, the companies within the cohort have performed together several times, the significance of which Clarke-Springer says cannot be understated. Last summer, the company performed in a CBDLP-hosted event at Millennium Park, which drew more than 7,000 people.

“I think performances like the Millennium Park performance, and people being able to come and see all eight of these companies, are important,” Clarke-Springer says. “That’s pretty impactful, whether we realize it or not, to see Brown bodies doing ballet, Horton, Graham, West African, and tap all in one space.”

Deeply Rooted has several of its own exciting events coming this year. It’s currently hosting auditions for its six-week dance intensive that kicks off June 5. Then on May 6, the company will honor Jeff and Abbott at its Annual Dance Education Spring Showcase. And this summer, the company will perform in the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks outdoor arts series. 

As Deeply Rooted prepares for those upcoming events and performances, its leaders continue to foster community and provide opportunities for local dancers while centering the importance of storytelling through the art of dance. 

“Part of the reason why the organization was founded as Deeply Rooted Productions is because there was always a greater vision than just a dance company,” Crayton says. “There was always more work to this, and that’s ingrained in everything that Deeply does. The dance is the vehicle, but what we’re here to do is to help people.”

The Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project is a program of the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. Their current cohort of local dance companies includes Chicago Multicultural Dance Center & Hiplet Ballerinas, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Forward Momentum Chicago, Joel Hall Dancers & Center, M.A.D.D. Rhythms, Move Me Soul, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, NAJWA Dance Corps, Praize Productions, and the Era Footwork Collective.

For more about CBDLP visit, and Tickets to CBDLP events can be purchased here.