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DANCIN' FEATS: Hyde Park School of Dance turns 20
by Vicki Crain

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This month the Hyde Park School of Dance (HPSD)—formerly the Hyde Park School of Ballet—celebrates 20 years of teaching dance on Chicago's South Side.

Artistic Director August Tye founded the school in 1993 after the School of Chicago Ballet, run by the late Maria Tallchief, closed. "One of Maria's board members like my teaching style and suggested I start my own school," Tye said. "I think dance is important. Dance does so many things to help you be a better person in today's world. It promotes confidence. It promotes self-discipline, time management. Being a dancer gives you life skills."

Once funding and a board of directors was secured, the school needed a mission. "We wanted it to be a not-for-profit that served the underprivileged and promoted diversity in dance," Tye said.

Not only is there diversity in dance classes ranging from ballet to modern, jazz to creative movement, but also with the dancers themselves, including HPSD alum Mark Sikorski, a member of the LGBT community who now attends Oberlin College on a Posse Scholarship, and teachers/mentors like jazz icon Joel Hall.

"Joel has always been one of the biggest inspirations in my life. I really feel like I would've never made it as a professional dancer if I hadn't trained with him," said Tye. "I had no confidence when I got here. He really inspired me. He liked my choreography. He wanted to support me. He believed in me in such a way that I felt like I could do anything."

When preparing for the 20th anniversary, Tye thought it would be a good time to honor the people who inspired HPSD's artistic staff, which includes herself; sister Aimee, who is associate artistic director; and associate artistic directors Sarah Ford Thompson and Allyson Ratliff, one of Tye's first students. As a result, the Joel Hall Dancers, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and Paul Sanasardo Dancers will all be dancing in the performance this weekend, as well as guest dancers from the Lyric Opera of Chicago (Tye is ballet mistress) and the Joffrey Ballet. Tye's company, Tyego Dance Project (TDP), and her youth company, Tyego Next Generation (TNG), will also appear.

In keeping with the all-in-the-family feel, AER Dance Theater, a new company formed by Ratliff, will be making its debut. Also performing in the show are HPSD alums Elizabeth Mensah and Tara Willis, two dancers who went on separate artistic paths after school. Mensah currently dances with the Memphis Ballet, while Willis is studying for her master's degree at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Tye said Mensah is HPSD's first real ballerina where Willis is more avant garde and modern. "I like it because the two alums are really different. One is really classical and one is really cutting edge contemporary. It speaks to the range of what we do at the school."

The performance (titled "En Avant," or "Moving Forward") ends with a grand finale—"a big production"—that includes 50 HPSD students from ages 5 to 17, plus TDP and TNG dancers and HPSD alumni performing to an original composition by Michael Caskey featuring the voices of alumni set to music. "I love lots of bodies on stage," Tye said. "I tried to make a picture of our school from the youngest to the oldest, from ballet to modern, trying to show how the dancers mentor each other and work with each other. My vision is kind of big."

Tye's passion for dance is coupled with a risk-taking philosophy that has served her well in her multi-faceted career as a dancer/teacher/choreographer. "I take any opportunity that comes my way and I try to run with it," she said. "Doors open and sometimes they only open once, so if you don't go through the door, you miss the opportunity. I try to take what I can and do as much as I can."

It's good advice for us all.

Hyde Park School of Dance presents En Avant at the Logan Arts Center, 915 E. 60th St., on Friday, June 14, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, June 15, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35-$75; call 773-493-8498 or visit . There will be a post-show reception on Saturday, June 15. Tickets are required.

More shows this month:

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents danc(e)volve: New Works Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Thursday-Sunday, June 13-16. Performance times vary. Tickets are $35 (MCA Members $28, students $10); call 312-397-4010 or visit .

Bonedanse presents bully.punk.riot at Links Hall/Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave., Thursdays-Sundays, June 20-30, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18-$20; visit For more information, visit .

Hedwig Dances and special guest from Cuba, DanzAbierta, perform together for two nights at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Friday-Saturday, June 21-22, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30; call 773-871-0872 or visit

Chicago Tap Theatre presents Mama's Boy at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Friday-Saturday, June 21-22, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 23, at 3 p.m. as well as Friday-Saturday, June 28-29, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 30, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20-$35; call 773-327-5252 or visit

Ensemble Español presents Flamenco Passion as part of its 37th annual American Spanish Dance and Music Festival. Performances are Friday-Saturday, June 21-22, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 23, at 3 p.m. at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Tickets are $26-$46; call 847-673-6300 or visit .

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