Dance in the Parks: the other free Chicago dancing festival… (Preview)

Eddie Eng/Eddo Photography
Eddie Eng/Eddo Photography

The idea is simple: good dance performed in Chicago park spaces, open to the public and totally free. The idea is simple, and brilliant. You might be thinking that the Chicago Dancing Festival conceived such a performance series, but Katie McCann had it first.

McCann first dreamed up Dance in the Parks (DIP) after moving to Chicago from Kentucky, where she had performed in an outdoor festival and found it to be an awesome experience for the dancers and the community. When she got here, she found summer to be devoid of dance concerts, and dancers primarily laid off for the season. Five years into DIP, Chicago is now teeming with summer festival opportunities, and contracts and cultural plans are extending dance further and further into the hot months.

That’s a good thing, but it certainly adds to the challenge of running a small non-profit based on a good idea that everybody agrees with.

Walking into Extensions Dance Center to view a run-through of the performance I fully expected fun, entertaining, watered-down dance.  After all, DIP is meant to engage a crowd full of kids and families and park goers, the likes of which don’t go see Zoe Juniper or *cough* PRODUCE

DIP founder and director Katie McCann, photo by Eddie Eng/Eddo Photography
DIP founder and director Katie McCann, photo by Eddie Eng/Eddo Photography

Anyway, the dances that make up DIP 2013 are indeed fun, entertaining, and relatively “trad”, but the dancing is technical, difficult, and anything but watered down.  McCann’s high standards are apparent in spite of the risk involved in putting on seven outdoor, pop-up performances, all the while dealing with the layers of bureaucracy at the Chicago Park Districts, and the results are surprisingly polished and professional. Personal favorites are the two quartets: one from Kalin Morrow and the other from Peter Carpenter, but each dance flows into the next to create a holistic evening that centers around playful interactions between the dancers, the dances, the audience, and our community.

Pack a picnic, call three friends, and go see some Dance in the Parks.

Dance in the Parks opens Tuesday, July 23, 6:30pm at Humboldt Park Boathouse, with additional performances in Irving Park (7/25), Berger Park (7/26), Bartlett Nature Center (7/27 at 6pm), Austin Town Hall (7/30), Tuley Park (8/1) and Nicols Park (8/2). All performances are free with the exception of Bartlett ($5). For directions and more information, visit


Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.