Windy City National Steppers’ Congress at UIC Forum | Concert preview
Concerts, tournaments and workshops elevate dance and bridge generations.
Here’s good news for those opting out of Pitchfork and avoiding Rahm’s redux Taste of Chicago: Your weekend’s freed up for a far more interesting fest. The UIC Forum opens its doors to the Windy City National Steppers’ Congress, a dance-centric event combining concerts, contests and classes representing a wide range of African-American and Afro-Caribbean music and movement.
The event was conceptualized by Jerome Montgomery, executive director of Collaborative Dance Entertainment. The 13-year veteran of the salsa scene became inspired after attending salsa congresses around the world. Since the late ’90s, these events, which combine performance and party elements of a festival with workshop and presentation elements of a conference, have thrived internationally (this month alone congresses are scheduled in Las Vegas, India, Hungary, Puerto Rico and Cyprus). “I loved what it did for the community and the art of the dance,” Montgomery explains, “and I knew it could go beyond salsa.”
Growing up in South Shore, Montgomery learned about the traditions of elegant African-American couples dancing known as stepping. Coming of age in the ’80s he was also witness to the amazing dance culture that developed parallel to the birth of Chicago house music. He was confident that Chicago could get behind an event that featured sounds and steps that bridge insular dance communities. The Steppers’ Congress debuted last year to modest success. The expanded event this year features more than 70 workshops in different styles of dance, the finals of national tournaments in a number of local and regional dance traditions including Detroit urban ballroom and Texas swingout, a full slate of live performances and DJ sets, and separate party rooms dedicated to R&B, house and salsa.
Montgomery expects the demographics each night to be determined by the headliners. Friday 13’s stars Joe and Howard Hewett should appeal to the steppers crowd (with CeCe Peniston performing live during the house-music party); Saturday 14’s neo-soul–skewing bill of Dwele and Chrisette Michele aims to bring in a younger crowd; and true old-schoolers will be drawn to the Whispers’ show on Sunday. Even those who come only for the concerts should expect something a little different. Though sight lines from the seats will be unobstructed, there will be full dance floors during every concert, as social, interactive elements of music are emphasized over passive spectatorship.
Because this congress (which benefits Project VIDA, an organization focused on HIV education and care for underserved communities) is a new concept, Montgomery understands people can be overwhelmed by its scope. However, he hopes Chicagoans will realize how much something like this can elevate dance and bridge generations. But even if loyal steppers, flamboyant house nationals and inspired salsa dancers don’t mix, that’s okay with him. “If someone wants to expand their knowledge of different dances, learn about health benefits, hear something new, they can,” Montgomery offers. “But if not, we have so much programming that if you only want to step, you can step all night!”
The Windy City National Steppers’ Congress runs Thursday 12–Sunday 15 at UIC Forum.