There he was--A pre-law student working miserably every night in the law library until his shift was up. Hour by hour he waits until it’s time to leave. He wants to forget about his classes and studies for the night. He wants to lose himself on the dance floor. This is one thing about him that has never changed.
Meet Lane Alexander…
From childhood Lane Alexander was surrounded by music and dance. His parents were both musicians, and he and his sister learned both percussive dance and music from an early age. Lane started drumming through high school and all the way into college, even as he majored in pre-law.
During college Lane found his way to clubs every night, just trying to find an outlet for his love of dance. Eventually, at the age of 22, he decided to take the plunge and followed in his sister’s footsteps to make dance his career.
Since that time, dance has been the center of everything Lane has done. He left the University of Austin and went to San Antonio to learn tap from Susan Connolly, a graduate of the Boston Conservatory and one-time Tommy Tune assistant who had danced as a Rockette and for Boston Ballet
After about a year Susan saw the potential in Lane and told him she believed he could have a full career in dance, and that he needed to go to either New York or Chicago. She told him that she knew Gus Giordano and that he could go to Chicago and audition for him just to see what happened.
And happen it did! His 1983 audition for Giordano dance won Lane a scholarship that lasted him through the summer followed by an apprenticeship with the troupe.
At last, working as both a contemporary and a tap dancer, Lane reminisces, “I began to feel immediately at home in Chicago, in a way that was completely different from anything I’d ever experienced.”
The Chicago Human Rhythm Project
Lane explains “Dance has been a means of personal expression and creativity, and through the Chicago Human Rhythm Project I found a way of making a contribution to the Chicago community and, perhaps on a larger scale, the national dance community. “
Chicagoans may not realize just how impactful Lane Alexander’s work has been. Internationally the Chicago Human Rhythm Project has helped to build a template for tap/percussive dance production that is traditionally not as strongly represented in the dance world on par with the likes of contemporary dance or ballet. While countless fans of dance can cite a ballet or contemporary performance they had enjoyed, relatively few dance enthusiasts have realized the immense enjoyment they can get out of tap. Lane works with CHRP to change that.
In order to create a complete understanding of the importance of tap dance in American culture, Lane shares a bit of background. According to Alexander, tap dance predates jazz music. African and Irish migration to North America and slavery/indentured servitude began well before jazz was born. The culture clash and melding that had started in 17th century and 18th century launched the evolutionary process that created tap dance. After the 1840s Irish potato famine, and the 1860s emancipation, Irish immigration and the freeing of slaves accelerated the cultural sharing. Hybridization of the two cultures proceeded, with the minstrel circuit leading to vaudeville, which in turn seeded jazz in the early 20th century. By then, percussive dance existed as distinct form. African traditions of music were the root connecting American tap and jazz.
When Lane founded the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) it debuted as a men's duet company, combining contemporary dance and tap dance either purely or blending the two together. Over the last thirty years CHRP has evolved a great deal. Lane comments that the work they do today hadn’t even crossed their minds when they first began.
Today, a main focus of CHRP is to provide free arts education programs in Chicago public schools. They look to present the whole family of percussive dance—from Irish and African to Flamenco, Folkloric, and Indian.
For example, ARC’s All for One, a CHRP open house at the American Rhythm Center is an effort to get more people back on their feet and moving their bodies. Lane says it’s all about getting Chicagoans to rediscover the joy of movement. He says, “It has been a long time since dance was a central part of people’s lives in a community setting. Reintroducing the idea that dance should be a part of everybody’s life, not just as a spectator but as participant, is part of CHRP’s focus.
One of the most important things CHRP is doing, in Lane’s opinion, is trying to build an institutional platform for the study, creation, and appreciation of American tap. He comments, “Tap dance has had a great life in the commercial realm, but it didn’t ever really build the same kind of institutions that contemporary dance and ballet dance did. CHRP is trying to build an institutional structure that will provide resources for the next generation—everything that artists need to make work and perform work.” With this in mind, Lane sees CHRP as a training ground for kids, teens, and adults that will support their integration into the tap world.
Lane tells us: “You don’t have to be a professional to be good or derive benefit. By introducing dance to children, ARC creates an ignition moment- children who had never received arts education before may realize that they have an affinity for it and seek it out. When ARC does longer-term residencies we focus on teaching skills and ways of expression through movement. Even the act of exposing kids to an art form they haven’t participated in could change their lives.”
“Arts education is uncommon for both children and adults, and the ability to dance or take part in any arts industry should not be taken for granted.”
American Rhythm Center
Talk with Lane for a bit and at some point he may lament how his business acumen tends to take up time that he’d hoped he could devote for dance. Knowing his impressive choreographic talents and considering them side by side with his institution-building prowess, one can quickly sense the dilemma. Here is a man who could spend his career choreographing and dancing whenever he wants, but who realizes that many of his talents could be equally well-spent helping Chicagoans understand the importance of music and dance in their lives.
For example, think of Michigan Avenue-- Art Institute, the Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera, Joffrey Ballet, and other classical European arts institutions.
That’s what Lane was thinking about when he launched the American Rhythm Center. He explains, “The Tap Studio grew out of a strategic planning process with specific goals—increasing revenue through education-based tap classes and working on a path towards building a stronger organization. As the studio grew in students and income it eventually evolved into the American Rhythm Center.
“We wanted to be centrally located on Michigan Avenue in order to centralize American tap dance along with the other Chicago institutions in its nexus for traditional classical European arts. I wanted to make an important contribution to that ecosystem by placing American artistic education in the European center of Chicago”
Lane’s inspiration surely reminds of Daniel Burnham’s admonition to Chicagoans to “Make No Small Plans!” No wonder this man of rhythm and vision feels comfortable here as nowhere else.
Lane’s final advice for dance enthusiasts and beginners alike--- “Remember to always seek out the arts in your everyday life.”
To that end, make a note of CHRP’s performance at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.
September 21-23 at 7:30 PM
Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
1306 South Michigan Avenue