If you're familiar at all with dance in Chicago, you know his name. Over the last four decades he's taught thousands of students, grooming them to be the best they can be, watching them bloom into artists. Joel Hall has a number of things he's passionate about, but first and foremost is jazz dance.
Hall, 63, grew up in Cabrini-Green and began dancing in his teens when he tagged along with some friends to a ballet class on Saturday mornings on the North Side. He continued dancing while in college at Northeastern Illinois University under the tutelage of Nana Shineflug, eventually making his dance debut with the Chicago Moving Company. In 1974, he started The Chicago City Theater with his partner, Joseph Ehrenburg (who passed away in 1995), renting a factory floor for $15 a night. They taught classical theater works to minority actors and Hall taught dance classes while working on his choreography. Joel Hall and Dancers organically evolved and now 38 years later, he has the main company, Joel Hall Dancers II, a youth company and a school.
What keeps him going? It's that passion. "The most special thing to me in my career is still being able to do it, to still be engaged in the arts," Hall told Windy City Times. "I think the highlights are being able to see my students grow from a beginning level to a professional level into performing artists. This is the thing that gives me the most pleasure and the most reward out of my experience in my role being a leader or director. Other highlights are being able to do my work and choreography and to watch and teach others to do their work, to teach the value of the art form."
He's also passionate about gay rights. Hall, who was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1993, has been with his husband for 15 years. They had a civil-union ceremony last June. "We're looking to the point of actually getting married whenever they can get themselves together in Springfield," Hall said. "I'm really tired of these people depriving me and everybody else of our rights. It's not that we're trying to take over anything or be given special privileges. It's about being equal to, not less than. Whether people get married or not is not the issue. The issue is that marriage is there and we have a right to it."
His latest projectagain, a passionis choreographing an opera based on the civil-rights movement. The MARCH is a collaboration with Alan Marshall (librettist) and Jonathan Stinson (composer), with Hall adding the dance steps as well as additional recordings and live voice text. "As far as I know," he said, "it's the first civil-rights opera that's being presented. The younger generation hasn't been informed of the civil-rights movement. They've heard of it, but certainly didn't participate in it or have the information unless they sought it out. Here's a presentation of what was actually going on during the movement. I'm proud to be a part of it." A one-night-only performance of the work on Nov. 10 will benefit the continuation and evolution of the work and The Joel Hall Dancers and Center.
November is notably the month for giving thanks, but Hall lives that way every day. Three things come across when talking with him (even over the phone): his passion, pride and love of life. "I've had an unbelievable life," Hall said. "I've been very blessed and fortunate to be doing what I'm doing my entire life. It's still a struggle, but it's worth the struggle because it's my passion."
The MARCH: A Civil Rights Opera plays at the Ravenswood Event Center, 4011 N. Ravenswood Ave., Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $125; for more information visit www.joelhall.org/general/benefits-civil-rights-movements.
More shows in November:
Jump Rhythm Jazz Project performs as part of Dance Chicago 2012 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 8-10, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30; call 773-327-5252 or visit www.stage773.com/tickets.
Dropshift Dance presents Catch and Release at the Hairpin Arts Center, 2800 W. Milwaukee Ave., Friday-Sunday, Nov. 9-11, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16-$20; visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/279774.
Inaside Chicago Dance's fall concert will be at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Saturday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22-$30; call 773-935-6860.
River North Dance Chicago welcomes four new dancers to the company for its fall engagement at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St., Friday-Saturday, Nov. 16-17, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30-$75; call 312-334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org .
Chicago Human Rhythm Project invites Vancouver-based ScrapArtsMusic to share the stage for Global Rhythms 8 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, Nov. 24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 25, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15-$55; call 312-334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org .
Trey McIntyre Project brings the Chicago premiere of Ladies and Gentle Men to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St., Friday, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$55; call 312-334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org .