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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Joel Hall Dancers, Center in dire financial situation
by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer

This article shared 9149 times since Sun Jun 8, 2014
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In 1974, U.S. Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch worked with the then-National Gay Task Force to introduce a Federal Equality Act with the purpose of banning employment and housing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The bill never made it out of the House of Representatives.

That same year, Joel Hall opened a studio under the name of the Chicago City Theatre Company/Joel Hall Dancers in the Pakula Building on South Wabash Avenue. His mission then—as it is today—was to offer anyone who wanted to try, instruction in the art of dance regardless of age, sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, ability, racial or economic background or body type.

As far as Hall is concerned, discrimination of any kind simply does not exist on his dance floors. "Everyone who comes in here does so on an even keel," he told Windy City Times in a recent interview. "Everybody starts out as an artist and that's where we come in with our faculty and mentoring to take them to the place they want to be."

That place encompasses the desires and dreams of those who want to express themselves through movement via jazz, ballet, street or any number of dance forms all to be nurtured rather than squelched in an environment completely insulated from the inequity of the world around it. For those who can't afford class fees, Hall offers scholarships—sometimes from his own pocket. His staff works tirelessly often only rewarded by seeing their students leave taller than when they arrived, no matter what the background they came from. "I cannot turn people away," Hall said. "I cannot say 'No, you cannot do this, because you don't have the money to do this.'"

Over four decades, the organization—which became known as the Joel Hall Dancers and Center—has seen thousands of dancers, from those just taking their first steps to those who had always dreamed but never dared to put on a pair of dance shoes until later in life. Hall's company has performed nationally and in Europe and Russia among other countries. Many of Hall's students from the LGBTQ community have gone on to successful careers as national performers and choreographers, teachers, business owners, even activists emboldened by his method of lifting their spirit and inspiring their confidence.

African dance is replete with the freedom to express and a history of survival. According to jazz dance historians Marshall and Jean Stearns, for captives dragged in chains to the New World, movement on bare feet kept them bonded to the naked earth of home. Hall's organization has moved more than a half dozen times—surviving both a disastrous fire in 1993 and the recent economic downturn that put an end to arts organizations across the United States—yet it always retained the marrow and inherent fortitude of African culture. In its vibrantly colored home on Clark Street in Edgewater, African art covers the walls along with messages designed to encourage each of the artists who enter to leap to heights they have never before imagined.

According to Hall, the center now faces its biggest test of survival yet—one that he asserts it may not live through unless the community it has served since 1974 steps up to help.

"We have lost funding," he said. "Part of that has been due to internal problems. We put ourselves in a place where we needed to reexamine the organization and our funders realized that." He added that the center's visibility suffered as a result of a 2009 move from the heavy foot traffic and tourism in the heart of Andersonville to its current location. His enrollment numbers have declined steeply as a result. Currently Hall says the center has a third of the numbers it needs.

"We need a bounce in our student enrollment and our donated income," Hall said. "In the late 1990s, most of our income was earned. Now it's shifted the other way, where we have become dependent on outside funding. When that started to deteriorate, it became clear that we did not have the income needed to sustain the organization."

He admitted that part of the problem was a loss of focus on the center's mission. "The minute you step outside of the mission, you lose the essence of the organization and it begins to fail," he said. "That is what happened. We lost our view of the mission to make dance available to people who wouldn't normally have the opportunity to experience it in training, in terms of moving into the profession and visually."

Hall maintains that he has taken steps, both personally and within the organization to refocus on that mission while improving business operations. He has engaged in a board recruitment drive to increase governing membership from four to at least 10 people who are connected in the community and invested in the organization's mission. At the same time, he has implemented disciplined and rigorous financial accountability and started to build an infrastructure committed to the growth of the center.

"We have formed teams who are members of the company and the student population," Hall explained. "These teams are taking ownership of the organization and I am their fearless leader. However, the board still plays a vital role in any decisions we make."

Meanwhile, Hall is looking for the community to come and support the center. "I'm speaking specifically to the LGBT community," he said. "Because that's my community and that's who I am. We need donations and contributions. We need the community to come and take classes here at the studio and support our performances."

Hall said the building's landlord has been exceptionally gracious but that the organization's time is running out. In a matter of four months, Joel Hall Dancers and Center will enter a critical phase. "My intention is not to ever have my doors closed," he insisted. "I've been through a lot of stuff in forty years, but I keep pushing because collapsing is not in my DNA."

Hall simply wants to continue to open the eyes and educate people as to what is possible. "I am repeating myself in other people," he said. "Everybody should be educated, everybody should have a chance. Arts and culture is in the bloodstream of who we are. If we do not have that, we become dead."

For more information or to make a donation, go to .

This article shared 9149 times since Sun Jun 8, 2014
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