Summer Nights: Dancing In Chicago

If you want to learn to samba, tango, waltz or get jiggy, all you have to do is wander into a Chicago park. The city of Chicago hosts the largest annual outdoor dance series.

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Do you want to learn the samba in Chicago, or perhaps the Lindy hop or the waltz? Maybe you want to know exactly how one gets jiggy. Well, all you have to do is wander into Grant Park in the summer, Chicago's Summer Dance is the nation's largest annual outdoor dance series. And for our series, Summer Nights, NPR's Sonari Glinton stopped by Grant Park for a tango.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Just after work on a Thursday evening, you can see crowds forming in the Spirit of Music Garden on the edge of Grant Park.

NETSA ROLDON: We would like to welcome you to the Chicago Summer Dance Festival. Tonight, as you know, we have Argentinean Tango.

GLINTON: That's dance instructor Netsa Roldon(ph).

ROLDON: Ready? Listen to the music. Ready? Three, two, one.

GLINTON: Every summer for the past 17 years now, there is a temporary dance shell, with dance floors and hundreds of people learning to dance every Thursday through Sunday.

ROLDON: In your arms, on your arm, (unintelligible) do whatever you want now. That's the way.

GLINTON: But not only do people learn dance steps, they learn culture.

ROLDON: The influence of the African culture in the tango is crucial, okay? Because this rhythm that you dance came from the blend of the cultures. Music, and do it.

GLINTON: What's the hardest part about teaching people how to tango?

ROLDON: The hardest part is to make them forget to think, you know. The hardest part is that they don't think that they can do it. My easiest part is when they feel it instead of thinking.

GLINTON: Molly Baker(ph) and Casey Gruin(ph) are doing a lot of thinking.

MOLLY BAKER: He's not very coordinated so it's pretty hard.

GLINTON: I hear you're having trouble.

CASEY GRUIN: I'm having some trouble.

GLINTON: What's your biggest trouble?

BAKER: I think our feet. We just kind of step on each other's toes a lot.

CARLOS PORTAVELO: My name is Carlos Portavelo. I'm the program coordinator for the Chicago Summer Dance Series and I work for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. People just go up to one another very casually and ask one another to dance and it's just a very beautiful thing to see.

GLINTON: There are almost as many spectators as there are dancers, like Charity Loven(ph).

CHARITY LOVEN: Well, I'm just resting and I'm just watching now because it's kind of crowded, so I thought I'd cool out. You know what, I'll get up, you know, when they start dancing and I'll just kind of like do a free thing.

GLINTON: What's a free thing? I mean, there's lessons right now.

LOVEN: I'll just be doing the dance that I know how to do, but I'll be trying to do the tango.

ROLDON: This is the place tango and samba that you can hear in this part of the country. So let's welcome (unintelligible) String Quartet.

GLINTON: After the lessons are over, a live band takes the stage and in the middle of a garden, along the busy street in a giant city, people pause to dance, including Charity Loven.

LOVEN: Everybody is together and the music is so lively, the music is always lively. And anytime there is music, people feel good. Well, I do anyway.

GLINTON: Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Chicago.

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