Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor



Randy Duncan: The passion of dance
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 7050 times since Sun Jun 1, 2008
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

One cannot talk about the local professional dance scene without mentioning Randy Duncan. This esteemed individual—who trained under the legendary Joseph Holmes and who has created works for dozens of companies, ranging from the Joffrey Ballet to the Bat Dor Dance Company of Israel—has been consistently recognized for his work, including being a three-time recipient of the prestigious Ruth Page Award for Outstanding Choreographer of the Year.

Duncan recently talked with Windy City Times about Holmes; the biggest misconception about dancers; his involvement with the annual HIV/AIDS benefit Dance for Life; and the movie Save the Last Dance ( for which Duncan choreographed the ballet scenes ) .

Windy City Times: Last year, you were named chair of The Chicago Academy for the Arts' dance department. In what direction are you taking the department?

Randy Duncan: Well, it's very interesting because I've been there for 14 years, and Anna Paskevska, who was the department chair, passed away last year—and I was actually asked to chair a few years ago, but I wasn't looking for that position because I knew it entailed a lot more than teaching classes and choreographing. There are the administrative duties, meetings, roundtable discussions, etc. However, I knew that I didn't want the dance department to change too much because we had a good thing.

It seems like, every year, a dancer or two graduates and goes to a professional company. Also, those who go on to college go to the colleges of their choice, so obviously we're doing something right—and I didn't want to stray too far from that. However, I did want to start creating a spot where the young dancers could learn how to create. Each year, we have to start teaching new choreography to the kids for their shows, whether it's the student-choreographed or faculty-choreographed show. With that, I decided to start a repertory program, which means that these students could continue to learn repertory that has already been presented and that we know works, and it's coming from professional choreographers, including the faculty and myself. When people ask us to perform in venues, we will have something ready for them. So that's one of the big things we want to do.

The other thing is to have a global exchange program. Next month, I'm going to Singapore to teach at an art school for a couple weeks; it's modeled after our school. I'll teach and I'll audition their kids who are coming in for the next season. What I'd like is to have an exchange program with students in Europe [ as well as what is here ] in America. I started something a few years ago with the Milwaukee High School of the Performing Arts, which is a public school; they've come down here but we've never gone there. They've seen our kids perform, and are very interested in what our kids are doing. They can't believe that [ the Chicago students ] are the same age because they're so highly developed in terms of training; that's why they're able to audition for professional companies straight out of school.

WCT: The global exchange program you mentioned certainly allows for cultural exchange. You can pick up certain elements [ in one place ] and take them back home.

RD: Well, that's a reason—and it's also to get the name out there. They can do it with French and German classes; why not do it with the arts classes? [ Laughs ]

WCT: In general, do you see dance headed in a certain direction?

RD: What I'm seeing is that they have melded ballet, modern, jazz …

WCT: A lot of fusion.

RD: Yes, 'fusion' is the word. And when you see things like [ the TV show ] 'So You Think You Can Dance,' you can see where they've fused things together. And my own style has always been a fusion of that, anyway, but you see a lot more of that going on now.

WCT: Speaking of your own style, how has it changed since [ your 1983 composition ] , 'Aretha'?

RD: [ Smiles ] God—you remember 'Aretha'? I wouldn't say that my style has changed so much; it's just that I've evolved because I've been able to work with ballet companies like Joffrey, where I was able to work with classical dancers versus those grounded in modern-dance or jazz techniques. It was easy to get along with them because, when I did choreograph 'Aretha,' the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre was well-versed in ballet as well as modern and jazz. You [ could tell ] that the dancers had ballet backgrounds when you saw them. And because of the individual artists I work with now, my eyes have been opened to so much more.

WCT: Joseph Holmes will always be this iconic figure in the world of dance. Give me some sense of what he was like.

RD: He was a tall man who carried a big stick—literally. [ Laughs ] He was a funny guy and wonderful to be around—outside of the studio. [ Laughs ] Inside the studio, he was very strict; he knew he wanted a dance company that was very similar to Alvin Ailey. He had gone to New York and studied for several years, and came back to Chicago to start a new company; he had one before he went to New York that was a West African dance [ troupe ] . [ In New York, ] he studied at the Ailey school, the Graham school and the Dance School of Harlem, but he always intended to come back to Chicago. As a matter of fact, the second company of Alvin Ailey—Alvin Ailey 2—came into being because of Joseph Holmes, and I heard this from Ailey himself.

But, yes, Joseph Holmes, was very strict. As far as technique, Martha Graham was his idol. What she did was [ bring ] ballet to a whole different level. Her technique is structured from ballet, but it starts on the floor, and it's done without shoes and there are these other elements like parallel position and kneework that you wouldn't get from traditional ballet. She wanted to be closer to the everyday man, as opposed to kings and queens in the ballet world. [ So, ] as elegant and eloquent as Martha was, Joseph modeled himself after her. His training and discipline, as well as bringing Harriet Ross in from New York, helped make the company what it was until we disbanded in '93.

WCT: Let's talk about Save the Last Dance. How did you come to be part of that film—and how hard is it to teach actors to dance?

RD: Harriet, who is my manager [ as well as my friend ] , called me and said that Paramount Pictures was looking for me. They said that they were looking for someone who could choreograph the movie as well as train the lead actress, Julia Stiles; at that time, I had no idea who Julia Stiles was. So I met the director and he was so impressed with what I had to say about working with dancers and actors. The next thing you know, they said, 'We'd really love to use you.' When I said I had no idea who Julia Stiles was, they suggested I rent [ the film ] 10 Things I Hate About You, so I did. Towards the end of the movie, she dances on the table; she could move, but there's a difference between freestyle and ballet.

I said I still needed to see here, so they flew her in the next day. She had taken a couple ballet classes before she met with me. My approach with her was so different than her previous teachers; she said, 'Wow. No one's ever treated me like this before.' Basically, I treated her like any other student.

She was really very interested in working hard for this role, and I told the director I needed a month with her, three hours a day. After two weeks, the director came in and said, 'Oh, my God. Wow!' Then, her parents came in after she told them I was her guru. [ Laughs ] She had a double, but she had to learn everything; when the camera came in, [ the viewer ] had to know it was her. She was lovely to work with. She had no attitude.

WCT: Have you been involved in any movies since?

RD: We did the pilot for the TV series 'Save the Last Dance' a year after the movie came out. There was a different cast. But it's still on the backburner. In the meantime, they came out with Save the Last Dance 2, which none of us was involved in.

WCT: And after Save the Last Dance, there were all of these other dance movies, like Step It Up …

RD: Oh, yeah. They all came out. But [ Save the Last Dance ] was the first time that there was a fusion like that, of ballet and hip-hop—and the movie became a phenomenon.

WCT: I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't kept calling.

RD: Well, I live here in Chicago and they want you to be there; Save the Last Dance was filmed here. They're like, 'Can you be here now?' Also, I've been doing a lot of musical theatre as well as concert dance, and if I seriously want to be in the movie market, I would have to be out on the West Coast.

WCT: You're known for being an advocate regarding HIV/AIDS, taking part in activities such as Dance for Life. What spurred you to become such an activist?

RD: I saw that Keith Elliott, who was a dancer of mine at Joseph Holmes, was doing such a great job with Dance for Life [ which Elliott helped create ] . I wanted to know how I could help, and I decided to go to different dance companies and put together a finale for Dance for Life—which I think would be quite phenomenal because a lot of these dancers have never danced together before. Well, of course, the response was incredible. So, I never audition people for the finale; I handpick them.

WCT: Complete this sentence for me: 'When it comes to dance, it is most important to … '

RD: To have passion—which is number one—and technique. If you don't have one without the other, you're looking at a mess. I tell the kids at the academy that if they're not hungry or if they're thinking of something else to fall back on, this isn't the place for them. And, certainly, talent is important.

WCT: What's the biggest misconception about dance or dancers?

RD: [ Laughs ] That they all eat like birds, and that they're all vegetarians or vegans. The girls might amore [ healthily ] , but I've seen guys chow down on a burger or two, or have seen dancers smoke cigarettes or drink. But a lot of dancers think that smoking helps keep their waistlines small. But your body is an instrument and, like a Stradivarius, you have [ to take care of it ] ; you don't want to leave it out in the rain.

WCT: Is there anything you want to add about yourself or dance?

RD: Dance is like chocolate: You don't why you like it so much—you just do. Dance is like the endorphins secreted when you eat chocolate.

For more about Randy Duncan, see . For more about The Chicago Academy for the Arts, see .

This article shared 7050 times since Sun Jun 1, 2008
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

DANCE Hubbard Street season to resume with 'In Any Event' 2021-02-25
- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's (HSDC's) 43rd season will resume Thursday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m. with a virtual world premiere of new work by choreographer and former HSDC dancer Penny Saunders. The piece will also be ...

Gay News

New dance film features 46 dancers from 20 countries 2021-02-17
- Films.Dance—a global film series produced by and under the creative direction of LA-based Jacob Jonas The Company—continues with Match, the single most expansive collaboration in the 15-film series. Match features ...

Gay News

Queer musician Ari Gold dies at 47 2021-02-14
- New York City-based dance artist Ari Gold has died at age 47 after a long battle with cancer, according to Gold—who was also known as Sir Ari and GoldNation— released seven albums as a part ...

Gay News

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago names new artistic director 2021-02-04
- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) announced that former company member Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell has been named artistic director of the contemporary dance company, effective March 1. A native of Baltimore, Fisher-Harrell ...

Gay News

Joffrey Ballet artists create video installation 2021-02-01
- The Joffrey Ballet announced that a dynamic video installation featuring members of the company will animate the acclaimed 150 Media Stream public art exhibition at 150 N. Riverside Plaza as the inaugural output of Action Lines. ...

Gay News

Chicago Dancemakers Forum announces the 2021 Digital Dance Grantees 2021-02-01
--From a press release - CHICAGO, IL, 2/1/2021 — To support the growth of local Chicago dancemakers in the era of COVID-19, Chicago Dancemakers Forum is pleased to grant $10,000 each to ten dance creators and their collaborators for the development ...

Gay News

LGBTQ+ Americans greet the Biden-Harris era with hope, hesitancy 2021-01-22
Kate Sosin, - To many, the moment marks a new dawn, the end of deeply distressing four years. Others are simply exhausted. A lot of kids spend their teenage years worrying about dates and dances. Eli Bundy has spent ...

Gay News

Joffrey Ballet announces Feb. 12 world premiere of 'Bolero' 2021-01-19
- The Joffrey Ballet announced the world premiere of Bolero—named after the acclaimed orchestral piece by composer Maurice Ravel and choreographed by Joffrey company artist Yoshihisa Arai—on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. Bolero, to be performed by ...

Gay News

Chicago Dance History Project's Interview Marathon on Jan. 31 2021-01-13
- Chicago Dance History Project (CDHP) has confirmed the lineup and schedule for its Interview Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 31, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Interviewees will appear live from international locations and ...

Gay News

New Joffrey Studio Series offers interactive virtual season 2020-12-08
--From a press release - The Joffrey Ballet is pleased to introduce the Joffrey Studio Series, a comprehensive roster of virtual programming — from livestream performances and company rehearsals to ...

Gay News

Hubbard Street Dance presents surrealist film online Dec. 3, 5 and 6 2020-11-19
--From a press release - CHICAGO — Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) continues its 2020/21 43rd season with a virtual premiere presentation of new work from former Hubbard Street dancer and acclaimed choreographer Jonathan Fredrickson ...

Gay News

Theater community to offer online plays, musicals, dance, comedy for holidays 2020-11-10
--From a press release - Chicago, IL (November 10, 2020)— The Chicago theater community will produce a wide variety of online festive plays, musicals, dance and comedy offerings this Holiday season. Theatre venues in Chicago and across the world remain closed ...

Gay News

Joffrey Ballet to offer virtual Nutcracker 2020-11-03
--From a press release - CHICAGO — With the cancellation of The Joffrey Ballet's annual engagement of Christopher Wheeldon's critically acclaimed version of The Nutcracker in 2020, the Joffrey is pleased to announce a myriad ...

Gay News

Hubbard Street piece to examine Chicago's racial disparities 2020-10-12
- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's (HSDC) 43rd season (2020-21) will begin Thursday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m. with a virtual premiere presentation of new work from former Hubbard Street dancer and acclaimed choreographer Rena Butler. The piece ...

Gay News

Joffrey Ballet halts season, launches digital series, '25 FOR 25' initiative 2020-10-01
--From a press release - The Joffrey Ballet announced the cancellation of all remaining performances for the 2020-21 season, including the world premiere of Cathy Marston's Of Mice and Men and the Joffrey premiere of George Balanchine's ...


Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.