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 Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, a beloved landmark celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Over the past 25 years, 33 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 of DFL include Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and the Joffrey Ballet and, each year, dancers from these ensembles and throughout the city come together with choreographer Randy Duncan to collaborate on a world premiere specifically created for the event. Each DFL event also features two additional dance companies from Chicago, selected through an adjudication process and providing even broader participation in DFL, 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 as well as, through The Dancers’ Fund, those in need within the local dance community itself. The dancers, companies and choreographers involved generously donate their time, energy and artistry to the cause.

Over 5.5 million dollars has been raised by DFL since 1992, for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, The Dancers’ Fund, and twenty-four other AIDS service-providing organizations in Chicago. DFL has supported and helped produce several spin-off events, while The Dancers’ Fund established by DFL provides assistance to any member of the professional Chicago dance community facing critical health issues. In response to the changing needs of Chicago’s dance community, evolutions in the nature of HIV/AIDS, the growth of the annual event and its other programs, DFL has grown into a nonprofit organization, Chicago Dancers United.

Chicago Dancers United

The mission of Chicago Dancers United is to mobilize Chicago’s dance community to support organizations and dance community professionals dealing with critical health issues including, but not limited to, HIV/AIDS, through the art of dance.