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  WINDY CITY TIMES

DANCIN' FEATS Dancer's long road back; Joel Hall marks 40 years
by Lauren Warnecke
2015-08-12

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For nearly a quarter-century, Chicago dance in August has been perhaps best known for the annual Dance for Life gala and benefit concert. Dance for Life brings together many of the city's premiere dance companies, who donate their performances to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and funds for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and The Dancers' Fund.

The Dancers' Fund was originally designed to provide emergency financial support for professional dancers dealing with HIV/AIDS. Perhaps lesser known is that The Dancers' Fund supports a spectrum of critical health issues for any individual drawing his/her primary income from dance. Potentially, musical accompanists, arts administrators, production crew and full-time dance instructors, in addition to company-contracted and freelance dancers can apply for The Dancers' Fund to receive assistance for any medical or health crisis.

When Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer David Schultz was diagnosed with testicular cancer, it didn't occur to him to apply The Dancers' Fund despite having participated in Dance for Life for several years. It was suggested to Schultz at a birthday brunch for Giordano Dance Chicago dancer Joshua Blake Carter, where he happened upon a few Dance for Life board members. After a relatively easy application process, Schultz was sending his medical bills directly to The Dancers' Fund, relieving the burden of meeting a high deductible on his surgery and follow-up appointments.

Schultz was diagnosed in October 2014 at the age of 27, but knew something was wrong about a year before. Initially, Schultz's doctor didn't suspect cancer. "I just knew," he said in an interview with Windy City Times, "but I had a doctor that went every other avenue." After several months of "other avenues," his doctor performed a scan and found a cancerous tumor; an orchiectomy was performed three days later. The slow-growing nature of Schultz's cancer was rather unusual, and fortuitous considering the amount of time between symptoms first appearing and his surgery. Presently, there is no sign of cancer.

After undergoing surgery and changing doctors, Schultz opted against any chemotherapy or radiation treatment, but is proactive about detection in case any cancer returns. "I'd rather not poison my body if I don't have to," he said, and explained that the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation as a preventive measure are the same as waiting until cancer is present. Schultz's recovery period from the surgery aligned with a foot injury that had already sidelined him during Hubbard Street's fall series in 2014, so he views the timing of his diagnosis and surgery in a positive light despite the delay. After a few weeks on the couch, he was back dancing again. "Getting back into shape was a little hard," he said. "That was the most time I had taken off dancing since I was, like, five."

Through the support of the whole dance community, from his colleagues at Hubbard Street, to his company insurance policy, to the support of The Dancers' Fund arising from a serendipitous brunch, Schultz is able to continue dancing for years to come with relatively little financial and emotional trauma. He encourages others, particularly dancers who have more knowledge of their bodies, to trust themselves but to trust science too. "As dancers we are pretty aware of our bodies, but we also believe in our invincibility. Youthful dancers, and especially the audience… they think we are super humans."

Dance for Life is one performance that will be different for Schultz. "I have more connection to the institution in being a recipient. We [dance companies] dedicate our free time and give our performances for free," he said. "Having those performances and knowing that they go toward AIDS research and The Dancers' Fund has always been enough. It will be a little stranger knowing that I'm sort of dancing for myself. ... I think it will be more powerful."

Dance for Life 2015 is Saturday, Aug. 15. A gala reception at the Hilton Chicago Grand Ballroom, 720 S. Michigan Ave., will take place at 5 p.m., with performance to follow at 7:30 p.m. at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Complimentary shuttle bus service is provided between the two venues.

Performance tickets start at $15; gala tickets with premiere performance seating are $250-$600; call 312-922-5812 or visit danceforlifechicago.org . For more information, or to apply for The Dancers' Fund, visit danceforlifechicago.org/dancers-fund/.

This weekend only: The Joel Hall Dancers' second weekend of performances at Hyde Park's Logan Center for the Arts takes place Aug. 14-15 to commemorate the company's 40th-anniversary season.

Jazz musicians Charles Heath ( percussion ), Ray Silkman ( saxophone ) and Jesse Charbonier ( vocals ) worked with Joel Hall to create "Anja: The Unexpected," a fusion of live music and movement in an evening-length work embodying jazz music through movement. In creating the world-premiere performance, Hall looked to the next generation, encouraging contributions from his dancers and up-and-coming jazz artists ( dance and music both ) to create an ambitious and collaborative evening.

After 40 years of dancemaking, Hall continues to push himself. In a videotaped interview produced during preparation for Anja, he explained "I'm asking for myself to grow further, to know more, and to always, always seek more information. That's what I would consider to be a successful artist."

The Joel Hall Dancers present "Anja: The Unexpected" Aug. 14-15, 7:30 p.m., at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. on the University of Chicago campus. Tickets start at $25; visit tickets.uchicago.edu, stop by the UChicago Arts Box Office in the Logan Center, or call 773-702-ARTS ( 2787 ).


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