Having lost many close friends and dance colleagues due to HIV and AIDS, Keith Elliott, a member of Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre (JHCDT), felt it was time for Chicago dancers to take an active role in preventing the spread of the disease. Keith’s idea — both brilliant and simple — was to bring Chicago’s dance community together for one night, to Dance for Life.
In 1991, Keith and Todd Kiech began working to make Dance for Life a reality, enlisting JHCDT associate artistic director Harriet Ross to give their event the creative force required to make a significant impact. HIV/AIDS community activist and skilled fundraiser Danny Kopelson joined the project the following year, along with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago executive director Gail Kalver. The inaugural Dance for Life (DFL) was held in June 1992 at the Organic Theatre. Every seat was sold.
In the years following, annual DFL events filled the Athenaeum Theatre, the Skyline Stage at Navy Pier and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, each selling out weeks in advance. DFL is proud to be held today at the landmark Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.
Over the past 27 years, 37 Chicago-based, professional dance companies and numerous choreographers have been presented at DFL, supporting and showcasing the city’s unique diversity of talent, dance traditions and styles. Partner dance companies include Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and The Joffrey Ballet. Each DFL also features additional dance companies from Chicago, to provide broader participation, and even greater diversity onstage. DFL remains the only annual opportunity for the incredibly talented, world-renowned professional dancers of Chicago to unite artistically to help those affected by HIV/AIDS and other health concerns. The dancers, companies and choreographers involved generously donate their time, energy and artistry to the cause.
Over 5.75 million dollars has been raised by DFL since 1992, for The Dancer’s Fund, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and twenty-four other AIDS prevention, treatment and advocacy service organizations in Chicago. The Dancers’ Fund provides assistance to members of the professional Chicago dance community facing critical health issues that affect their ability to work. In response to the changing needs of Chicago’s dance community, evolutions in the nature of HIV/AIDS and the growth of the annual event and its other programs, DFL has grown into a nonprofit organization, Chicago Dancers United.