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Street named after local dance legend Joel Hall
by Vern Hester
2016-05-08

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On May 6, history was made when Joel Hall Way was unveiled at a joyful ceremony at the intersection of Clark Street and Thorndale Avenue. Choreographer, educator, public figure and icon Hall, an openly gay, African-American man, had a street named after him. The first openly gay African-American man to have a street named for him was DJ Frankie Knuckles, in 2004. Prior to that, openly gay white activist Jon Simmons received a street dedication.

The ceremony got under way with a brief unveiling and reception/program attended by current students, LGBTQ activists, politicians, former students and the media. The reception also included two dance performances by The Joel Hall Dancers.

Among those who spoke at the event were Ald. Harry Osterman, LGBTQ activist/Open Hand co-founder Lori Cannon and Joel Hall Dance Company ( JHDC ) board member Debbie Chanel.

Cannon made the point that so many great artists did not survive the AIDS crisis and if they and their contributions were acknowledged, they came posthumously. Cannon said, "I like to say 'thank you' when people are alive." Cannon was instrumental in getting the ball rolling for the street renaming by reaching out to Osterman two years ago.

Hall—who spent the afternoon in a state of pleasant shock with all of the recognition focused on him—thanked his longtime partner, Craig L. Davis, as well as many friends, past and present, while acknowledging his commitment to tthe African-American and LGBTQ communities. He also pointed out that the area of professional dance was not "just entertainment," but, as an art form, communicated the legacy and culture of a people. In his case, he maintained that his dance company is steeped in "Chicago style," and when they perform internationally they bring an entirely unique flavor to the stage. Hall's focus right now is to take the company to a more grounded financial level so that he can pay his dancers living wages.

Hall, who is a native of Chicago's Cabrini Green, has not only overseen the development of his organization as director but has created and choreographed more than 70 ballets using a style that embraces jazz, classical and modern dance idioms. In the four decades since founding his company, Hall has received innumerable awards and honors, including a guest professorship at Northwestern University, The Katherine Dunham Award, two awards of merit from the Black Theater Alliance and The King/Chavez/Parks Visiting Scholar Award from Western Michigan University. Hall has also been inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and has been honored with Lifetime Achievement awards from the African American Arts Alliance, the Jazz Dance World Congress and The Chicago Dance and Music Alliance.

The dance company, founded in 1974, has established itself with the mission to "awaken the dancer in everyone's soul." As a welcoming community based not-for-profit organization which embraces diversity and inclusion, the further mission of the company is to make dance education accessible and affordable to all people regardless of age, financial circumstances, or experience level. The JHDC currently operates several dance programs at several Chicago Public School facilities as well as in the Chicago Park District.

The company also features three dance performance arts organizations which include apart from The Joel Hall Dancers, The Joel Hall Dancers II ( a training program ) and the Joel Hall Dancers Youth Company ( composed of individuals 12 to 17 ).

The Joel Hall Dance Center is open seven days a week and is located at 5965 N. Clark St. For upcoming events and classes, visit JoelHall.org .


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