Arts Spotlight

Color photo of dancers on stage with a large moon projected behind them. Center, a woman lifts her leg while a man braces her up from behind.

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Image: South Chicago Dance Theatre. Credit: Michelle Reid.

Black History Month Grantee Spotlight: South Chicago Dance Theatre 


Chicago, Illinois

South Chicago Dance Theatre performed at the Los Andes Cultural Center in Bogotá, Colombia with support from USArtists International.

By Mackenzie Kwok 

South Chicago Dance Theatre (SCDT) is a multicultural dance organization that blends contemporary and classical styles. SCDT’s programs emphasize cultural diplomacy, making space for underrepresented narratives across local and international stages.  

In October 2023, Mid Atlantic Arts’ national USArtists International program supported the company’s engagement at the Los Andes Cultural Center in Bogotá, Colombia. We asked Founder and Artistic Director Kia Smith about conveying Black history through dance and global exchange.  

What does preserving and sustaining Black history look like to you as a choreographer? 

Preserving and sustaining Black history is a predominant theme within my choreographic endeavors.  For instance, Memoirs of Jazz in the Alley, which I conceived, choreographed and directed, memorializes Chicago’s historic Jazz in the Alley movement. Jazz in the Alley was a lively cultural happening within Chicago’s Black Belt that served as a living ethnography of jazz and a major contributor to the sound of jazz. Jazz is uniquely American, but its African roots are often misappropriated, misinterpreted, glossed over, or forgotten. Jazz is Black joy, the Black body, and the Black experience, and Memoirs of Jazz in the Alley centers those notions, through the lens of a community and happening on Chicago’s south side. Memoirs of Jazz in the Alley is an educational tool that honors the roots of jazz dance and its intersection with music, thus reclaiming jazz’s dominant cultural narrative as a community narrative. 

Color photo of a group of dancers kneeling onstage their heads tilted to the right into their raised hand.

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Image: South Chicago Dance Theatre. Credit: Michelle Reid.

As an Executive Artistic Director, I prioritize the creation and presentation of contemporary dance as a vehicle to reinforce the dignity and value of what is produced and presented by and for south side communities. I endeavor to empower such communities to view their stories outside of the confines of “secondary”, “other” or “less” and, instead, as universal and essential. At the conclusion of Memoirs of Jazz in the Alley, I embarked upon the Josephine Project. This initial research explores the history of the Great Migration from the Jim Crow south to Chicago’s infamous Black Belt in the 1950’s and culminates in an evening length work. The Josephine Project is a force of reclamation rooted in migration stories and celebrating the cultural imprint of African Americans on the City of Chicago. 

What are some highlights from performances at Los Andes Cultural Center? 

The repertoire for the tour shifted and we did not perform the anticipated excerpts. Instead, we performed a work titled HYbr:ID Line by Ron De Jesús. The energetic exchange between the dancers and the audience was palpable and electric, and the work varied greatly from the other creations presented. The experience proved to be a symbiotic, cultural exchange as we were afforded the opportunity to not only share our vocabulary and aesthetics, but also had the honor of witnessing Afro-Colombian movement. 

Color photo of a large group of people posed in front of the Universidad de Antioquia.

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Image: Pre-Show in Medellin. Credit: Courtesy of South Chicago Dance Theatre.

What are your hopes for SCDT in future international or national programming? 

The Choreographic Diplomacy™ partnership with Choomna Dance Company continued in season seven with a joint tour to Bogotá, Columbia—SCDT’s South American debut! SCDT looks forward to an upcoming Fall 2024 tour to Seoul, Korea. 

Color photo of a dancer leaping on the left while a man plays a saxophone on the right.

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Image: Kim Davis and Isaiah Collier. Credit: Michelle Reid.