Dance for Life Chicago Preview- Meet Phil Reynolds

Chicago Dancers United presents Dance for Life, its annual benefit dance concerts that showcases Chicago's diverse dance talent, Saturday August 19 at 7:30 PM at the Hilton Chicago.

We spoke with Executive Director Phil Reynolds about Dance For Life as well as other plans for the future including fundraising, outreach, and partnerships in the dance world. 

Phil Reynolds
Phil Reynolds Photo: Philamonjaro

Picture this Post: What are the new directions planned for Chicago Dancers United in the coming year? Are there new initiatives that the funding for this year’s event will be supporting?

Our plans for this year and beyond are to continue producing Dance for Life and generate support for Chicago Dancers United’s Dancers’ Fund. Proceeds from Dance for Life will also continue to benefit Chicago-based organizations grappling with service in the HIV/AIDS arena. Looking ahead, CDU is interested in pursuing partnerships with other arts, health care and social service agencies to extend the impact of our work.

Are there developments that are shaping how CDU is revamping its plans for the future?

Chicago Dancers United, through The Dancers’ Fund, has been and will continue to be a resource for members of the dance community who need short-term financial assistance for critical health and life challenges that affect their ability to work.

What will be new in this year’s Dance for Life August gala? Are there new dance troupes that have applied and been accepted to participate? What criteria do you use in selecting performances?

We have new dance companies participating this year. In addition to our Partner Companies that perform every year—Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Joffrey Ballet—we welcome Jessica Miller Tomlinson Choreography for the first time. Also new this year, are three companies collaborating on a single performance: Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater and Trinity Irish Dance Company.


There is an application process that involves submission of a proposed work sample and information about the company or artist submitting. The elements that impact the evaluation and selection process are the desire to present companies that have not participated in the past, companies and work that are suited to a stage of the magnitude and scale of the Auditorium Theatre, companies and work that would make up an appealing program and work that represents diverse and new voices in Chicago.

How many people has CDU helped this past year? Does the organization provide support beyond monetary support? How do you determine the recipients of this aid?

Thus far in 2017, seven individuals have been granted more than $14,000. To receive assistance from The Dancers’ Fund, there is a simple application process. Applicants must demonstrate active involvement as professionals in the Chicago dance industry and have encountered serious health or life issues that impact their ability to work. The Dancers’ Fund is intended to provide short-term financial support for individuals who fit that criteria to help them through a difficult time. We also serve as a networking resource to connect dance professionals with wider circles of peers in Chicago’s dance community.

Dance for Life Chicago
Ensemble Espanol Photo: William Frederking

Does CDU work with other organizations providing similar support for professionals in theater, music, arts, other/similar?

CDU has s longstanding relationship with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. In addition, there have been more than 30 other organizational beneficiaries of proceeds generated by Dance for Life during the past 25 years. We are exploring new opportunities to expand partnerships with other health and social service agencies.

Do you feel that the relatively small size and intimate connections of the dance world are a help or hindrance in your organization’s work?

Actually, relative to other major U.S. cities, Chicago has a very robust dance community. It may seem small but comparatively it’s quite large. We’d like to think Chicago Dancers United and Dance for Life hold prominent positions in the dance community here. And no matter the size, there are still challenges that we can address in that community.

Any other comments for readers of Picture this Post?

It’s important to note that, despite a seemingly robust ecology for dance in Chicago, most companies can’t afford to hire dancers full time and provide benefits, so there may be times when they need our help. Our industry—dance—is seriously undercapitalized; very few dancers or administrators have health insurance; managers work hard every day and are underpaid for their efforts; and very few, if any, companies are contributing to their dancers’ retirement accounts. There is no slack in the financial scenario for dance in Chicago, nor elsewhere.

This fall and winter, CDU’s board intends to conduct a program review and engage in a planning process to understand where our strengths are and where there are other opportunities through programming and partnership building to strengthen the overall health and vitality of the Chicago dance community. We want to be a resource in an environment of change and uncertainty.

Dance for Life Chicago
Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Slider photos courtesy of Todd Rosenberg.

Chicago's Dance for Life occurs on Saturday August 19 at 7:30 PM at the Auditorium Theater at Roosevelt University. Chicago Dancers United's annual gala begins at 5:00 PM at the Hilton Chicago.

For more information visit the Chicago Dancers United Website.


The Joffrey Ballet
The Joffrey Ballet Photo: Cheryl Mann
Hubbard Street Dance
Hubbard Street Dance Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Trinity Irish Dance
Trinity Irish Dance Photo: Paul Marshall
Visceral Dance
Visceral Dance Photo: Cheryl Mann
Jessica Miller Tomlinson
Jessica Miller Tomlinson Photo: Cheryl Mann
Chicago Dancers United
Chicago Dancers United Photo: Todd Rosenberg
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