I have a deep-seated desire, a need even, to try to keep up with current events. And lately, I’ve been thinking that’s gonna kill me. Between bankrupt domestic and local politics, and conflicts here and around the world that continually point out the human genius in finding ways to terrorize, brutalize, and diminish other humans, it can overload anyone trying to make sense of it all.
I find myself needing more than an escape—I need evidence that people are—or at least can be—good. Luckily, here in Printers Row in the summer time pretty much any weekend, Beth and I can find joyful evidence of goodness at Chicago Summer Dance.
It’s just a three-block walk from our building to the Spirit of music Garden on the western edge of Grant Park. For the last 18 years, the City of Chicago’s Summer Dance program has presented an hour-long dance lesson, followed by a live performance by some terrific swing bands, salsa bands, and DJs. It happens all summer long, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
This summer’s weather has been as gentle and mild as the past winter was wretched. That’s how it was this past Friday evening—warm, not hot; breezy, not humid. At dusk, with Chicago’s skyscrapers shining in soft sunshine framing the scene, at least a hundred folks lined up for a swing dance lesson.
The dance floor was expanded awhile back—but it was still crowded. The instructors knew what they were doing, though, and somehow the hour flew by. The Fat Babies played on Friday—they are a superb traditional jazz/swing septet that’s earned some justified acclaim of late. We’d seen them at their regular gig on a rainy night at a Pilsen club called Honky Tonk Barbecue—Beth’s trombone-playing brother Doug sat in for a bit the night we saw them.
On Friday, as always, lots of people came out just to hear the music–they bring lawn chairs and little picnics and ring the dance floor. And everyone was in good spirits and behaved like, well, civilized people.
The band was terrific.
But the dance floor is always the best. Short dumpy men whose footwork belies their physiques dance with statuesque women. Young couples who take their dance seriously and dress the part. Young black men dancing with women who look like my middle-aged mother. Blue hairs and kids, black people, white people, Asian people and Hispanic people, drag queens, guys that wear yacht-captain hats. Women in flowing dresses and impossible heels.
All partnering with one another, the only condition being you have to want to dance. It’s a liquid tableau of color and people.
And every time I leave, I’m reminded: It’s not all bad.