In The News

The Chicago Dancing Festival’s Jay Franke

This story originally appeared in the blog 4dancers

Tuesday, May 20th both Jay Franke and David Herro will receive the 2014 Public Humanities Award from the Illinois Humanities Council. Both have been deeply involved with the Chicago Dancing Festival, which takes place again this year from August 20th to the 23rd.

The Public Humanities Award has been given each year by the IHC since 1984, and it recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the civic and cultural life of the state through the humanities.

4dancers was able to send some questions over for Jay Franke about the CDF and its development, and we’re happy to be able to share his reflections on it with you here today…

You are very involved in the arts in Chicago. Can you talk a bit about your own background in dance?

I began dancing at the age of 11. I wanted to be Gene Kelly and my parents told me I could attend dance classes with my sister in the small town of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma where I grew up. I was the only boy in my town who wanted to dance instead of play football, but I fell instantly in love with movement–it was kinetic! My sister stopped dancing soon thereafter. She told my mom “that I was getting better than her”…oh well, the end of her dancing career was the beginning of mine. I finally escaped OK for the Performing Arts High School in Dallas and then went on to study at Juilliard School when I was 18, graduating with my BFA in Dance. I then went on to dance with Twyla Tharp Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.

How did the idea for the Chicago Dancing Festival first come about?

CDF began almost as an experiment to establish a world class FREE dance event to help nurture and cultivate dance audiences. Lar Lubovitch, a world-renowned choreographer and Chicagoan and I founded the festival on the principal that art belongs to the people, and we felt by organizing an evening of well curated dance companies in a public setting we could help grow the art form by making it accessible. Our first year we had over 8,000 people who attended and we were off and running.

What was the festival like the first year and how has it grown and evolved over time?

Since our inception:

  • The festival has grown by adding more programs in different venues of Chicago becoming more of a city-wide event.
  • We have hosted lectures, film series and open rehearsals to give our audiences a chance to discover other types of work related to dance.
  • Some of our most proud moments have been our ability to commission works for local dance companies such as Gus Giordano, River North Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Joffrey Ballet. This way when the curtain comes down on the festival in April–Chicago dance companies have the opportunity to have a CDF commissioned work in their rep for their season.

How have you been able to keep this festival free for the public and what role do you think that plays in expanding the dance audience here in the city?

The festival is kept free through the generosity of many private individual donations, foundations and corporate sponsors who are aligned with our views on presenting world-class dance to Chicagoans.

What has been the biggest challenge in terms of this festival?

Our biggest challenges are almost blessings in disguise. The demand for tickets to the festival seems to grow each season and it is always our hope that everyone feels included in what we are presenting…but getting a ticket can be the most difficult part for our audiences. (And of course, there is always room for growth when it comes to funding the festival.)

What has been the best part about the festival for you personally?

My favorite part of the festival is watching Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds fall in love with and be inspired by dance. This is what makes me most happy.

What is coming up this summer for the festival?

This summer we are commissioning a new work for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago by choreographer Kyle Abraham, and I am thrilled that we are able to make this happen. The new piece will premiere at the Harris Theater on Wednesday, August 20th. Don’t miss it! Also, we are excited to present some new companies on our stages; Rennie Harris’s work, Stars of American Ballet–and to have the Juilliard Dance Ensemble back.