#175: A Waltz on the Roof

June 10th, 2013

A white van marked Metra stopped suddenly by a Family Dollar on the stretch of South Side 71st named after Emmett Till.

The driver leaned out the window by the intersection with Patton and stared.

A tow truck driver stopped in the middle of the street, not even waiting for the intersection. He stopped by the train tracks that split the east- and westbound lanes of “Honorary Emmett Till Road.” He stared too.

They both drove off as a tall, muscular bald man crossed the tracks south so he can turn and look too. He stood by two women who had gotten out of a car by the Family Dollar to gape. One of the women pulled out a phone to catch it all on video. The Metra van returned, cruising slowly from the direction it left toward before circling around to stop by an empty lot to stare again.

The six women in orange continued to dance on the roof.

Over their orange leotards (or salmon? coral? I’m not good with colors), the women wore layers of pastel mesh netting, oranges and reds and in one fetching case a bright blue you could follow as their fevered choreography whipped them into a crowd of red-yellow. Over that, they wore a loose net of ropes.

In ropes and tutu, they danced on the roof of a South Shore body oil shop on a strip of BBQ joints, beauty supply shops and shuttered dollar stores.

They danced for the crowd gathered then and for one laughing woman earlier who stood by the Family Dollar doing swoops of emulation.

This was the Wake Up Waltz.

The Wake Up Waltz was a series of choreographed dances that ran from May through early June at public spaces in South Shore, Uptown and Logan Square’s Haas Park. The morning public dance to brighten the day of commuters and other passersby was the brainchild of artist and performer Josie Davis.

“I came down here and started talking to the Chamber of Commerce and they pointed me to Robin Boyd who owns the Scentuary,” Davis told me as we walked with my waiver to Boyd so I could join the dancers on the roof of her store. “Robin’s a great conduit or liaison for the community down here.”

But permission to run a ladder to a rooftop and six paid professional dancers acquired is not enough. The program took about a year to organize, with sponsorships, foundations, community involvement and the paperworking muckymuck that doesn’t seem apparent as the orange women whirl.

Davis, a New Jersey native, started on the project after she moved to Chicago from Argentina.

“I was inspired by the architecture and I just had the idea for doing this work and stuck it out to make it happen,” she said.

Each site — South Shore, Uptown and Haas — had its own choreographer. For South Shore, it was ice skater Katherine Hill who created the dance that scattered the women over the Scentuary roof.

“Concert dance movement, modern dance and ballet, you’re seeing it in the rehearsal space and on the stage. It’s so rarely out in the open,” Hill said. “Your hip-hop is all over the Internet and music videos and is so readily seen by your community, so it’s really exciting to be able to bring a different movement where people can see it.”

After an hour, the dance broke up for the day. As the women laughed and tried to change out of orange and into street clothes away from the eyes of the passersby and me, dancer Aerica Siegel, 22, talked about the short time commitment and modern movement that drew her to the Wake Up Waltz.

“Also,” Siegel said, smiling a bit. “Dancing on rooftops.”

Callie Croom, 23, dances with Elements Contemporary Ballet, which is off right now. She wanted some pick-up work and this, as she said, “really fit the mold.”

“I think the way that dance is going, it’s not going to be in a theater exclusively for much longer, so I think this is a great way to start, on a rooftop especially,” she said.

And where is dance going?

“I don’t know, but I want to be wherever it is when it goes there,” she said, as the wind over the South Shore roof ruffled her orange just a little bit.

Art by Dmitry Samarov - Click to enlarge

Look at photos from the waltz

Read about the Wake Up Waltz

Read about a very difference dance

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