"Dancing for peace" may sound like a 1980s charity single, but it's the fundamental idea behind Chicago Human Rhythm Project's Stomping Grounds festival, which has been bringing percussive dance to communities around the city for four years to put on free or low-price performances. Organizing dance companies representing a variety of international cultures demands a level of collaboration that inspires and excites CHRP founder and director Lane Alexander.
"Getting people to say 'we're for peace' isn't that difficult," says Alexander. "But then there's getting everybody to go to meetings and plan schedules 18 months in advance. Working with seven different venues and Chicago public and private schools for our lecture demonstrations. There's a bunch of moving parts, and everyone is stretching their capacity to make this happen."
Stomping Grounds began in early April at the Chicago Cultural Center and continued through the next two months at various venues around town. The grand finale will be June 7; the city has donated the Pritzker Pavilion stage for the occasion. This free public event spotlights the full festival lineup, which includes new additions like Chicago Dance Crash and Natya Dance Theatre. Cultural diversity is key to the festival's success, and Alexander believes that the universal language of rhythm connects people on a spiritual level.
"The most ancient practices of percussive dance were always sacred rituals," says Alexander. "We're divorced from communities gathering daily or weekly to dance together, but it can't be separated from the practice. When people go to see percussive dance and they come away feeling energized, it's because it's rooted in spirituality, and nearly every first community shared that practice. That unifies us in a way that makes the message really resonate." v