Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,
This week we focus on a virtual residency at Wesleyan featuring The Era Footwork Crew from Chicago.
I first saw The Era Footwork Crew perform in November 2019 at Links Hall in Chicago. The show, In the Wurkz, was an extraordinary combination of Chicago footwork, live DJs, spoken word, documentary film, and community spirit. I was struck by how The Era had been able to integrate every aspect of its ambitious artistic mission into one inspiring and beautifully crafted performance. The energy emanating from the audience, comprised of family, friends, neighbors, and children from The Era’s youth footwork summer camps, was palpable. The show was a love letter to the local neighborhoods which have supported The Era and a message of hope to the youth. This was a remarkable model of how the arts can truly strengthen and uplift a local community, and it felt urgent that Wesleyan students and the Center for the Arts audience be able to learn from this group of dedicated artists and community activists.
Footwork is an improvisational, competition-style form that encompasses music, dance, and a distinct Chicago culture. It is an inter-generational, community-based artform that is taught and passed down through dance battles, clubs, house parties, dance downs, and recently formalized through youth summer camps on the south side of Chicago. The Era is known not only for their incredible mastery and elevation of Chicago footwork but also for their social justice initiatives. The Era proclaims to anyone who will listen that “footwork saves lives.” They mean this in the most literal and non-hyperbolic sense possible. This saying is what drives an extraordinary partnership between The Era Footwork Crew and their non-profit, Open the Circle (OTC). OTC takes its name from crowded Chicago dance floors. When the floor gets overly packed, two people will lock hands and spin through the crowd–“opening the circle”–to make space for dancing. In this spirit, OTC is committed to opening tightly-knit circles of power and resources in society, re-centering them to benefit artists and youth in divested communities. The Era and OTC work hand-in-hand to promote dance education, document the development of footwork, recover and highlight women’s contributions to the artform, and elevate the visibility of footwork through performance. At Wesleyan, The Era and OTC will talk to students and our audience about how footwork has the ability to truly transform and, indeed, save lives.
The Era will join us this fall for a series of virtual engagements. On Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 7pm, there will be a documentary film screening, “Footwork on Film.” Dance filmmakers Brandon Calhoun and Wills Glasspiegel have been documenting the art and history of Chicago footwork for the last decade. They will share a series of short film clips from their archive, introducing the audience to The Era Footwork Crew, the cultural history of footwork in Chicago, and the rise of the dance form.
This event will be followed by a footwork technique workshop on Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 7pm. The Era Footwork Crew will give an introductory dance workshop, open and accessible to everyone regardless of dance background or experience, followed by a community conversation with the Hartford-based street dance collective 860MVMNT. The Era and 860MVMNT will explore differences in regional dance styles and how community culture can give rise to dance forms. They will also talk about their respective youth education initiatives and the impact they have had in the Chicago and Hartford communities.
Finally, on Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 7pm, Open the Circle will join members of the Wesleyan Dance Department for a panel discussion on OTC’s community engagement work and racial justice initiatives in the south side of Chicago.
Please join us for a dynamic series of virtual engagements that immerses our audiences in Chicago footwork and The Era’s racial justice work. We hope this introduction to The Era inspires you to join us again in fall 2021, when The Era will be in residence on the Wesleyan campus to perform In the Wurkz and engage with Wesleyan students and our regional community.
Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts
Center for the Arts