SOUTH SHORE — A South Side dance group is teaching young people to express their emotions through movement and giving professional opportunities to dancers.
The 773 Dance Project was founded by Tyler Thompson in 2018. Her childhood friend and current artistic director Pauline Mosley joined the project in 2020.
The nonprofit works to make dance and fine arts more accessible for people in Chicago’s “underserved and underrepresented” South and West side communities, Mosley said. The group offers free and donation-based performances, workshops, classes and dancewear giveaways.
“I am able to be a professional dancer because I am still teaching, and I am, on my own, doing a few side projects in performing,” Mosley said. “But [the project] is definitely a lot more fulfilling because I can see the changes that we’re making. I see there is a need for what we’re trying to be.”
Thompson and Mosley met in Whitney Young High School’s dance company and trained together under Homer Hans Bryant at the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center. They attended different colleges before reuniting in Chicago for the 773 Dance Project.
Since then, they’ve held free dance classes through First Presbyterian Church in Woodlawn and been dancers-in-residence at the eta Creative Arts Foundation in South Shore.
They’ve also led classes for kids at Horace Mann Elementary, Pershing Magnet School and the Chicago Youth Centers. The in-school programs have wrapped up for the school year, but the project is finalizing programs for the summer and next school year, Mosley said.
The youth programs prioritize social-emotional learning, as “a lot of these kids missed out on two or three years of being able to express their emotions and understand what they’re feeling” due to the pandemic, Mosley said.
“Movement helps with that a lot,” she said. “Sometimes technique and discipline isn’t the best route. We try to take a few sessions to feel it out and determine what kids need the most: a movement- or a technical-based route.”
The 773 Dance Project has been in residence at eta for the past year, which came about after Thompson and Mosley walked into eta to hand out flyers for a dancewear giveaway, Mosley said.
“They said, ‘We’ve been looking for dance instructors for our programs.’ We said, ‘Oh! We’ve been looking to teach dance,” Mosley said. “eta … has been around 50 years and they just have such a rich history within the community.”
The project also held its first professional performance, “Full Circle,” on March 25 at eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave.
Thompson and Mosley choreographed two pieces which premiered at the event. They aim to build on that performance and grow the project into a full-on dance company as they continue to offer educational programs, Mosley said.
“Some of those dancers [in ‘Full Circle’] are working with other projects and companies, but they do know they always have a spot with us,” she said. “If we re-perform the pieces that we premiered, they know they’re going to be the first people we call. Also, if we have any teaching opportunities, they’re some of the first people that we’ll contact.”
The 773 Dance Project’s next event is Monday at 360 Chicago, 875 N. Michigan Ave., where the dancers will showcase the project’s work so far and sell merch as part of a Juneteenth event on the former John Hancock Building’s 94th floor.
The Arts, Parks and Us events are “full days of free dance classes, chess tournaments, a food pantry, free haircuts by Paul Mitchell [cosmetology students and] free painting sessions” alongside other programs, Mosley said.
The first takes place 11 a.m.-3 p.m. June 24 at Abbott Park, 49 E. 95th St. in Roseland. The others are July 22 at Eckersall Park, 2400 E. 82nd St. in South Chicago, and August 13 at Douglass Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Drive in North Lawndale.
The dancers will close out this year by finishing a collaboration with neuroscientist and violist Clara Takarabe, which will use music to help soothe anxiety, as well as a fundraising gala tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30, Mosley said.
The dance project’s next live performance is planned for the fall or winter, she said.
Thompson and Mosley dream of having a standalone space for the 773 Dance Project. But “there are a lot of challenges” as the two women seek to achieve their expansion goals, Mosley said.
They’ve applied for “a lot of grants we haven’t gotten,” so the project so far has been funded by “gracious donors who see the mission and see the vision, and want to help us continue it,” she said.
The duo is up for the challenge as they share with South and West siders the unique platform for emotional expression dance can provide, Mosley said.
“There are a lot of emotions that I feel can’t be written down or even played sometimes,” Mosley said. “It has to be expressed through movement, because our bodies tell us some things that sometimes our mind can’t articulate.”
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