Perhaps the overbearing stereotype of the typical UChicago student rests in the image of a huddled body in the Reg, running purely on caffeine and panic over a midterm paper. And perhaps that is the truth—but it doesn’t always have to be. The University brims with performing arts, and the diverse styles of dance are no exception. From total beginners to the next Eleanor Powell, RSOs provide myriad opportunities for all.
The University Ballet (UBallet) is an obvious choice for lovers of the classic aesthetic. Welcoming students from all over UChicago, UBallet offers free classes weekly for the curious-at-heart, the long-time masters, and everyone in between. Here, one feels free to embrace the beauty of pantomimes—the embodiment of silent imagery speaking louder than words—or finally fulfill a dream of completing the perfect pirouette. The company typically performs two full-length ballets each academic year at Mandel Hall, previous shows including La Esmeralda and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Sleeping Beauty.
In a celebration of the contemporary and the modern, UChicago Maya fuses several dance styles to create masterful choreographies uniquely their own. Their minimalist look perfectly juxtaposes the extravagance of their performances, ranging from exploratory jazz to the examinations of the limitations of rhythm (e.g. “Dance without facing the audience”). Their message literally shouts freedom, and each dancer clearly demonstrates and soars through their performances, including previous performances like Haiku Lab at the Logan Center for the Arts, and Threshold.
For those who grew up watching Fik-Shun, 1MILLION Dance, or Quick Style, Excolatur Dance Crew (previously known as PhiNix Dance Crew) delivers exhilarating hip-hop choreography, hosting dance sessions and classes every week at Bartlett Dining Commons with professional urban dance choreographers. A competitive RSO, EX crew participates in events such as World of Dance Chicago, but does not hesitate to welcome amateur dancers to their free workshops. Even for the mere observer, do not miss their annual Revival, showcasing myriad performers, including other RSOs such as UChicago Maya and the original choreography of student dance crews and professional Chicagoan dancers.
Explore the beauty of South Asian music through RSOs such as Bhangra and Raas. Bhangra puts on energetic, fast-tempo performances that take pride in Indian culture. Donning colorful traditional clothing, the dancers often take a political stance through their choreography—a declaration of the power of foreign cultures in America—which shines at events such as the annual South Asian Students Association (SASA) show. Raas impresses with a tremendous quantity of leaps, jumps, and delicate footwork that holds onto rapid rhythms, but perhaps their brilliance is made most obvious through their handiwork of the spinning of the dandiya, or decorated wooden sticks. Both teams are competitive, having graced the stage with their presence at competitions such as Nachte Raho, Nasha X, and Naach Nation XV.
Rhythmic Bodies in Motion (RBIM) is the largest dance RSO on campus, and it is no surprise that it teems with perhaps the widest range of dance styles in one organization. Representing K-pop, modern/urban, Bollywood, and hip-hop—along with many others—RBIM teaches and hones the skills of students of every dancing background. Every spring at Mandel Hall, the RSO puts on a showcase that celebrates the variety of dance they offer, and the intensity every member brings is laudable and contagious.
Consider RSOs such as the Chicago Swing Dance Society, Tap That!, and UChicago Ballroom & Latin Dance Association (BLDA) for the romantic soul. Swing Dance began at C-Shop, but recently relocated to Ida Noyes Hall to accommodate its tremendous popularity. Offering classes ranging from Beginner Charleston to Blues Dancing, Swing Dance holds lessons for absolutely free. For the daring who wish to learn the spinneroo, consider giving their weekly Java Jives a whirl any Saturday—featuring DJed open dancing. Tap That! is one of UChicago’s newest dance RSOs, but they won’t hesitate to bring the nostalgic era of the ’30s–’40s, instructing members of all levels the precision of the step-heel heel-step or the single buffalo. And, as a perk, each new member receives a pair of tap shoes to practice away with, maybe even in their dorm. BLDA captures the amorous feel both competitively and casually, with no prior experience necessary to join. They offer over 19 different styles of dance, including salsa, bachata, and samba—so feel free to waltz right over!
Can’t have enough of performing arts competitions? A chance to see the many choreographies that have been composed, revised, and showcased by students? Several of these dance troupes compete in the Where Fun Comes to Dance competition every spring, hosted by the UChicago Dance Council, the overseer of all dance RSOs on campus. Cheer on friends, vote for the best performances, and, of course, if excited, sign up to participate in front of an encouraging and ever-enthusiastic crowd.
After all, some exhilaration and artistic endeavor trumps the doom and gloom of a concrete library any day.