Meet me in St. Louis: Love Letters from Chicago’s Artistic Directors to Spring to Dance

* Note: This post was created as a special feature in collaboration with*

ST. LOUIS, MO — Dance St. Louis has changed Memorial Day weekend. While most Americans stuff themselves silly with burgers, hot dogs, and beer, for thousands of St. Louisians this weekend is about world-class dance performances. The Spring to Dance Festival started as a way to promote Midwestern dance by highlighting the home companies in St. Louis and bringing in a few regional companies through a curated application process. The three-day festival is produced in partnership with the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, a massive two-venue facility just outside the metro area. Think of Spring to Dance as the St. Louis version of the Chicago Dancing Festival, but bigger, with two shows per evening under the same roof. Patrons of Spring to Dance can see up to 30 companies over the three day festival for $15 a day, and since the beginning the place has been packed.

Word caught on that Spring to Dance was a success, and the breadth of companies represented in the festival has grown to include appearances from national gems like Pilobolus, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem. It’s unlikely that Dance St. Louis’ Artistic/Executive Director Michael Uthoff envisioned Spring to Dance to grow so big so quickly, but then again, maybe he did. When he first arrived in St. Louis, Uthoff was underwhelmed by the dance scene, and part of the objective in starting Spring to Dance was to push the local companies outside of their comfort zones and expose them to what was happening in other dance communities.

Over the years, Chicago has grown quite fond of this festival to the south, and this year our representation is stronger than ever. Many of our home companies return again and again, and collected thoughts and sentiments from a few S2D veterans on what they love about Spring to Dance:

Lucky Plush Productions | Photo by William Frederking
Lucky Plush Productions | Photo by William Frederking

“Spring to Dance has long been one of Lucky Plush Productions’s favorite venues. In particular, we are a huge fan of the Lee Theater, because its intimacy and proximity to the audience is perfect for our work. I applaud Michael Uthoff for cultivating such a curious and engaged audience at Spring to Dance. We have been delighted to share our work at the festival, and look forward to our performance on May 24!”

-Julia Rhoads, Artistic Director, Lucky Plush Productions


“Spring to Dance is an amazing experience, particularly because SO much talent is in one place at one time.  So many companies that we know by experience or reputation converge on St. Louis for three days of dance.  One of the things I love is how incredibly well Dance St. Louis treats the invited companies.  On-site physical therapist?  Check! Catered food available all day?  Check!  Wardrobe personnel who can mend a costume, or iron something that got wrinkled in transport?  Check!!!  What a luxury to be treated so exceptionally well.  

For us, it gives us a chance to be seen by an audience in St. Louis who LOVES dance.  And they show it.  The audiences are incredibly receptive and supportive.  They are there to experience as much variety in dance as possible, and they are open to all of it.  Which is awesome, because the variety of companies present is kind of amazing.  While we love sharing the bill with so many companies from all over the country, we are especially proud to be there with so many companies from Chicago.  Our city represents in a big way, with so much strength and so much depth.  We’re hoping to be a part of this for many years to come.”

-Mark Yonally, Artistic Director, Chicago Tap Theatre


“The Joel Hall Dancers love to participate in the Spring to Dance Festival for several reasons. First it is a wonderful chance to expose our company to new audiences who wouldn’t normally see our work. It is also an amazing opportunity to meet talented artists and companies from all over the country and to see their work and let them see ours. It’s also great to be a part of such an accessible show to the public, with tickets at only $15 quality dance is available for those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and we are honored to be a part of such a great program.”

-Joel Hall, Artistic Director, Joel Hall Dancers

Chicago Dance Crash | photo by Emily Coughlin
Chicago Dance Crash | photo by Emily Coughlin

“In addition to being an incredibly affordable, diverse, high quality program for each audience member, Spring to Dance is such an amazing networking experience for the companies performing. Each year we meet new companies we never knew existed, become closer with Chicago companies we rarely get to share a stage with, and relish in the opportunity to see favorite companies from across the states perform under one roof. Crash is a testament to the collaborations that this festival can cultivate. Two years ago, Jon Lehrer happened to see our performance in St. Louis and he began a conversation with the Crash dancers about the similar athletic and accessible nature between his company and ours. That conversation eventually led to Lehrer setting a new rep piece on us last year, which then led to myself and Lehrer deciding to do a collaboration on an evening length shared rep show featuring both companies. Crash will host the show this fall at the Athenaeum and Lehrer Dance will host us next season in Buffalo, New York. And that is just one example of Spring To Dance very literally bringing companies together and enriching their seasons through one another. We look forward to the experience every year not only to showcase our own rep but more importantly to expand our dance family and our awareness of the dance community around us.”

-Jessica Deahr, Artistic Director, Chicago Dance Crash


“DanceWorks Chicago is honored to be invited to return to St. Louis to perform in Dance St. Louis’ Spring to Dance festival. We will be performing Francisco Avina’s full company piece From Here to There, danced to music by Paul Wertico. In addition to the treat of performing on the beautifully spacious Anheuser-Busch Theater stage, the festival provides wonderful opportunities to connect with the dance community near and far. As an organization, DanceWorks Chicago has enjoyed making new friends (dancers and choreographers), welcoming new fans, and re-connecting with colleagues in the dance world. Similarly, we appreciate the opportunity for our dancers to build their personal and professional networks, which is an important part of their experience with DanceWorks Chicago. 

FUN FACT: DanceWorks Chicago will be performing From Here to There on our 7th birthday (May 23)!

AND, Francisco Avina will be represented as a choreographer on Friday when we perform his work, and on Saturday, he will hit the stage as a dancer with Lucky Plush.  Just like DanceWorks Chicago, Francisco Avina is always moving.”

-Julie Nakagawa, Artistic Director, DanceWorks Chicago

The Emerson Spring to Dance Festival produced by Dance St. Louis takes place each year on Memorial Day Weekend at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis, MO. For more information on the festival and Dance St. Louis, 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.

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