About the Event
Co-organized with Honey Pot Performance
Coinciding with the career survey exhibition Gary Simmons: Public Enemy, a series of MCA programs activates Gary Simmons’s sculptural installation work, Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark. Inspired by the Black Ark—Lee “Scratch” Perry’s famous recording studio in Kingston, Jamaica, where he pioneered dub reggae—Simmons’s sculptural installation serves as a flexible stage for conversations, music, and performance.
For this day-long celebration of Chicago’s social dance history, the piece is being temporarily installed under the glittering chandelier of the South Shore Cultural Center Dining Room to commemorate the importance of the neighborhood and the history of Black social culture in Chicago.
Shiny Stockings: A Work in Progress
A talk and performance with Cristin Carole, alumni of the Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre, and the Whitney Young Dance Department.
For Count Basie’s 1957 national tour, “Shiny Stockings” was choreographed for a line of four to five chorus dancers at his request. The work highlights the movement vernacular of Black Broadway choreographer Sammy Dyer and his mentee Shirley Hall Bass. Paired with a short documentary film and a lecture by Cristin Carole, Chicago-based choreographer, dance educator, and grandniece of Shirley Hall Bass, this restaging is part of a longer process toward an interdisciplinary work that reimagines an evening at the historic Bronzeville nightclub The Club DeLisa. The number is performed by dancers from the pre-professional company from Whitney Young High School, and captures a unique moment in Chicago’s dance history, informed by narrative inquiry, digitized interviews, collaborative workshops, and feedback from the still-living performers.
Performance | Benji Hart, Dancer as Insurgent
Interdisciplinary artist, author, and educator Benji Hart performs their solo work Dancer as Insurgent, which explores vogue dance as a tool for radical social transformation. Through spoken word and improvised movement, the piece traces the form’s roots back to its inception in Rikers Island prison, grounding it in a history of Black, queer struggle, and insisting that vogue is not only a source of individual empowerment, but a portal for revolutionary social and political reimaginings.
Talk: The Changing Vocabulary of House Dance
House dance artists Jarvis Mason, Amansu Eason, Kitti O., and Danny Tolbert, and DJ Diaspora are joined by co-moderators Erika Jarvis and Rae Chardonnay to compare changes over the past several decades in nightlife dance vocabularies. Together they discuss the genesis and evolution of the style, from its beginnings in the early 1980s to current Afro-diasporic influences like Afrobeats. Dance moves like the “jack” or the “gwara gwara” are recollected anecdotally, traced over time and geography, and demonstrated live.
Join Jarvis Mason and Amansu Eason on the dance floor! After kicking the party off with a lesson, audience members are invited to celebrate with us by showing off their best moves to a set by DJ Diaspora. Light snacks are available, as well as an open bar (for guests 21+).
Community Archives Initiative, Chicago Black Social Culture Map
Ongoing, 1–7 pm
No ticket required
An initiative of Honey Pot Performance, the Chicago Black Social Culture Map is an online archive that traces Chicago’s Black social culture across the 20th century, from the First Great Migration through the birth of house music. Through open sessions, targeted interviews, and multifaceted research, data has been compiled on more than 350 historic venues in the Chicagoland area. CBSCM leads conversations to collect the oral histories of these ephemeral and embodied forms.
Bring your flyers, fashion, photos, stories, and other artifacts representing Chicago’s social culture to add to the map. The Honey Pot Performance team are on-site to digitize artifacts, record oral histories, and demonstrate how to use and add entries to the Chicago Black Social Culture Map site.
Sign up for a spot to digitize your ephemera and/or record your oral history with the CBSCM.
Between sessions, attendees are welcome to come and go. All are encouraged to visit the South Shore Beach nearby where there is a concession stand.
About the Artists
(organized chronologically according to the schedule of events)
Sammy Dyer School
The history of the Sammy Dyer School (1933–present) holds an important key to understanding Chicago’s contributions to Black dance and theater. After a career on Broadway, dancer and choreographer Sammy Vashon Dyer moved to Chicago in 1932. He had appeared in shows such as Runnin’ Wild in 1923 as a “Dancing Red Cap” where he is credited for popularizing the Charleston. In Chicago, Dyer became a producer of café and cabaret shows at the Sunset Café, Swingland, and the new Club Delisa where he was instrumental in beginning the careers of George Kirby, Billy Eckstine and Joe Williams. In 1933 he established the Sammy Dyer School of Dancing on the South Side of Chicago where he taught ballet, tap, modern, acrobatics, and drama out of a storefront at 34th and Michigan Avenue to a cadre of young Black performing artists and children. Dyer also choreographed for the Regal Theater’s Regalettes (after the Rockettes) and the Club Delisa’s Chorines, but his signature group, The Dyerettes (1946–60), were nationally recognized performing beauties. Trained primarily at his school, they sang, danced, flipped, and tapped in an act speckled with comedy. Starting out at local USO shows and other benefit performances with Sammy Davis Jr. and the Will Mastin Trio, the group soon toured the Chitlin’ Circuit, learning even more tricks of the trade on the road from other artists. Within a few years, members of the all-female group were not only polished performers but managing their own bookings, creating costumes and choreography, and arranging the music. They toured with Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Tito Puente, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughn, Sammy Davis Jr., the Charlie Barnett Orchestra, and others. They were the “House Openers” for the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, from 1954-58.
Shirley Hall Bass
Shirley Hall Bass was an original Dyerette, performer, and dance educator born in Chicago in 1931. She trained and toured internationally with The Dyerettes and became the director of the Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre in 1960, when Sammy Dyer passed. To honor her teacher, she created another performance group, from a group of hand-picked students, called The Vashonettes, who toured internationally. Bass left a strong mark on the school’s practices, which produced some of Chicago’s most well-known names in dance, such as Randy Duncan, Idella Reed, Jumanne Taylor, and Broadway choreographer Ted Levy. Bass also developed a successful dance education practice in the Bahamas, and established a cultural exchange with her students in Chicago that lasted for more than 30 years, until her death in 1998.
Cristin Carole’s movement designs could be seen recently at the Goodman Theater’s production of Toni Stone, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Seven Guitars, all directed by Ron OJ Parson, her longtime collaborator. She has also served as movement consultant and intimacy director for the Tony award-winning Court Theater productions of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Seven Guitars, Home, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Blues for an Alabama Sky, and Gospel at Colonus. As director of the Shirley Hall Bass Foundation, she works to preserve the dance education legacy of her great-aunt in Chicago and as an advocate for quality performing arts education in The Bahamas.
Benji Hart is an interdisciplinary artist, author, and educator whose work centers Black radicalism, queer liberation, and prison abolition. Their words have appeared in numerous anthologies, and been published in Time, Teen Vogue, The Advocate, The Funambulist, and elsewhere. They have led popular education and arts-based workshops for organizations internationally, and presented at the American Repertory Theater, the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Their performances have been featured at MCA Chicago, Den Frie, BRIC, and Museo del Chopo. They have held fellowships with Yaddo, MacDowell, the Amsterdam University of the Arts, and Chicago Dancemakers Forum.
DJ Diaspora is a music and culture lover who lives to learn and reflect on the beauty, vastness, and connectedness of cultures in the African diaspora. The Chicago-born and based DJ takes other diasporic culture lovers looking for a splash of inspiration and entices culture linkages on musical journeys through her sets, mixes, and newsletter, Thoughts with Mild Sauce.
Amansu Eason (Artist-Panelist) began performing at age 4 with the Morning Bishop Theatre Playhouse, and at age 10 began studying ballet, jazz, tap, and modern at the Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. He also underwent extensive training with the Alyo Children’s Dance Company in Chicago, Illinois. Throughout his career he has performed with Ben Harper, and opened for artists such as Omarion, Marcus Houston, Mary, Mary, and Arrested Development, and presented a solo for the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Eason is a certified instructor of the Katherine Dunham technique and the assistant to the director of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago.
A dancer, choreographer, producer, impersonator, and author, Erika Jarvis (Co-Moderator) studied dance under the direction of Deidre M. Dawson, Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Company, and The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago. She received her BA in Fashion Merchandising from the International Academy of Design and Technology. As artistic director of Creative Soul Entertainment and Unleash Your Inhibitions, Jarvis and her company have appeared in television shows, music videos, and on the radio. In addition to performing, Jarvis is the 2018–19 recipient of the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago BLACK EXCELLENCE AWARD as “Outstanding Achievement in Film—Best Actress” for David Weathersby’s documentary Thee Debauchery Ball. Her self-published book, Unleashed, Seductive Poetry, is available on Amazon.
Kitti O. (Artist/Panelist) is here to lubricate your soul. She’s gliding to you from the South Side of Chicago. Ms. Sheabutter, aka Kitti Smalls or Notorius K.I.T., is loving her life in all its forms, whether she is stripteasing, hula hoop dancing, or making love to the camera. Kitti is a cover girl of Chocolate Cheesecakes Pinups Vol. 4. She’s here to bring her fun, stylish, and sensual form of dance. She’s the smoothest pussycat this side of the Metaverse. Kitti O. is also a dancer with Lefunktion.
Danny Tolbert II aka Forty
Danny Tolbert II (Artist/Panelist) aka Forty is a lifelong resident of the South Side of Chicago. The son of house DJ Dan the Music Man, Forty has spent more than three decades immersed in Chicago’s music and culture. With extensive experience in mainly Juke/Footwork, his nuanced approach to movement has made him quite the influential figure. Forty is also a dancer with Lefunktion.
Abra M. Johnson
Abra M. Johnson (Honey Pot Performance, Co-Convener) is the marketing manager for the Chicago Black Social Culture Map (CBSCM), a co-founding member of Honey Pot Performance (HPP), and a contributing member of HPP’s Education team. Most recently, she was a co-movement director for 1919, Steppenwolf Theatre’s production for young adults. A proud Chicagoan and West Sider, she has held a variety of local educational activist posts for two decades. Currently she is a tenured assistant professor of Sociology and a co-chair of Social Sciences at Malcolm X College. The nodes and focal points of her fascination and scholarly interests converge acutely within the music- and movement-driven genres and cultures of hip-hop and (Chicago) house. These experiences and interests are the channels through which Professor Johnson pushes beyond academic boundaries to engage with the complexities of communities that define and typify global cities like her hometown, Chicago.
Jarvis the “Disco King” Mason (Artist-Panelist) began his journey into the house music scene in 1985, on the West Side of Chicago. As a teen he jacked his body at The Factory, Hotwheels Roller Rink, DaVinci Manor, The Music Box, and The Power House. In 2000 he started studying movement and urban social dance with Boogie McClairin. This training added to his natural ability to groove and introduced him to basic techniques of various urban dance styles (Locking, Popping, Jacking, Footwork, Breakdance, Body Waves, and Glides). He also produced two urban dance show projects in the early 2000s: Soul In The Hole ( 4 episodes) and Lefunktion (pilot episode), both broadcast on CANTV (Chicago Access Network), channel 19.
Meida Teresa McNeal
Meida Teresa McNeal (Honey Pot Performance, Co-Convener) is the artistic and managing director of Honey Pot Performance. Over the past two decades she has produced numerous creative projects as both a solo artist and with Honey Pot Performance, with works performed in California, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Trinidad. She received her PhD in Performance Studies (Northwestern) and her MFA in Choreography & Dance History (Ohio State). Awards include the Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship for Performance, Field Foundation’s Leaders for a New Chicago, 3Arts Award in Dance, Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist, and the Links’ Hall Co-Missions Fellowship. An independent artist and scholar at the intersection of performance studies, dance, and critical ethnography, McNeal is part-time faculty at the University of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago. She also works with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events’ Executive Administration team as the senior manager of Arts & Community Impact Investments, building and implementing artist recovery programs and creative placemaking grantmaking initiatives. Prior to this role, McNeal worked with the Chicago Park District as and arts and culture manager, supporting community arts partnerships, youth arts, cultural stewardship, and civic engagement initiatives.
Jo de Presser
Jo de Presser (DJ/Selector for Panel), aka Marlon Billups, is a DJ, poet, and currently the music curator and collaborator for Honey Pot Performance. Starting at DiVinci Manor with promoter Quik Claude, Jo de Presser has been DJing throughout the Chicago house scene since 1987. He has DJ’ed alongside such Chicago house legends as Lil’ Louis, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Gene Hunt, Terry Hunter, and more. His works of poetry and spoken word have been published by Third World Press, Chicago State University, Robert Morris University, and more. He has performed poetry and DJ’ed for clubs, festivals, radio stations, and universities in various cities in the United States and Canada.
Rae Chardonnay Taylor
Rae Chardonnay Taylor (Co-Moderator) is a DJ, arts manager, and events producer based in Chicago who is dedicated to encouraging a life of open-minded learning and expression. She began DJing in 2010 and has since held residencies at prominent venues in Chicago including the late Double Door, The Promontory, and Soho House. She has circulated many private and public events to share her musical styling techniques, opening for acts such as Janelle Monáe, Jamila Woods, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Madison McFerrin, Megan Thee Stallion, OSHUN, Tiffany Gouche, CeCe Peniston, J Rocc, Just Blaze, Little Dragon, Big Freedia, and many others. As an arts manager, her involvement in programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Stony Island Arts Bank, School of the Art Institute, and various other arts organizations has catapulted her career in unimaginable ways. She is the founder of Black Eutopia, a series of segmented programming intended to cultivate space for marginalized communities. She is also a cofounder of the award-winning Party Noire. She was recently noted as one of Chicago’s Top 5 DJ’s by NPR, and Chicago’s Best DJ by the Chicago Reader. Taylor received a BA in Business Management and Marketing from Columbia College Chicago.
Lead support of Gary Simmons: Public Enemy is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris, Zell Family Foundation, Cari and Michael Sacks, Nancy and Steve Crown, Hauser & Wirth, The Joyce Foundation, and Karyn and Bill Silverstein.
Major support is provided by the Bluhm Family Foundation; Ellen-Blair Chube; Jack and Sandra Guthman; Susie L. Karkomi and Marvin Leavitt; Kovler Family Foundation; Liz and Eric Lefkofsky; Gael Neeson, Edlis Neeson Foundation; Carol Prins and John Hart; and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Generous support is provided by Dr. Anita Blanchard and Martin Nesbitt; Diane Kahan; Cheryl and Eric McKissack; Stephanie and Neil Murray; D. Elizabeth Price and Lou Yecies; the Rennie Collection, Vancouver; Nathaniel Robinson; and Joyce Yaung and Matt Bayer.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Major support for Gary Simmons: Public Enemy is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Lead support of Gary Simmons’s Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark is provided by Nancy and Steve Crown, the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris, Hauser & Wirth, The Joyce Foundation, Anne L. Kaplan, Cari and Michael Sacks, Karyn and Bill Silverstein, and Zell Family Foundation.
Major support is provided by Liz and Eric Lefkofsky, Carol Prins and John Hart, and an anonymous donor.
Generous support is provided by Diane Kahan and D. Elizabeth Price and Lou Yecies.