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"Things rooted in the black community tend to be confiscated or diminished," says the founder of Joel Hall Dancers & Center. "I'm not going to let that happen as long as I'm around." Photo by Dean Paul, courtesy of Joel Hall Dance Center

When Joel Hall enters a studio, students fall silent and rise in respect. He can command a room from its corner with merely a facial expression, but more often, he takes charge by getting into the thick of the dance, letting the beat of the house music move him and pulling meaning and emotion from each dancer. A well-timed "yes!" can thrust a penché to 180 degrees. A snapped finger and a "work!" can bring out the inner diva in even the shyest student. And an ecstatic "oh!" can move hips like mountains.

"I instill in my dancers the discipline of proper training, but I also let them know they have a voice—a voice that shows where they came from—and I want to hear it," Hall says. "My class is tough, and I get fabulous people out of it."

Towering over his students, with unparalleled stature and grace, Hall may appear intimidating. But those lucky enough to have been part of his story know that he is much more than a fierce commander of the studio—he is made up almost entirely of heart.

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Dance for Life Chicago, an annual benefit concert for HIV/AIDS and other critical health issues, celebrates its 25th anniversary at Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre on August 20. Chicago dance companies, including Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Giordano Dance Chicago, will perform.

“The really beautiful thing about Dance for Life is that it draws the whole Chicago dance community together,” says Diane Rawlinson, dance teacher at Wheeling High School who has co-directed the “Next Generation” student-produced concert for 22 years. “It really is something to witness.”

Dance for Life has presented 32 Chicago dance companies during the past 24 years.

Chicagodancersunited.org/dance-for-life

Photo by Julia Nash Photography, courtesy of Dance for Life Chicago

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When Giordano Dance Chicago’s Joshua Blake Carter was in high school, he took jazz from Emily Yewell-Volin. Years later, he can still vividly recall the time she helped him with a particularly tricky step.

"She had us do a tombé coupé jeté, landing on the front leg to go into an inside pirouette," Carter says. "I remember how hard it was, but she really took the time to help us figure out how to make it work. We were dancing to Alicia Keys. Sometimes I can’t remember dances that I choreographed five minutes ago, but I can remember that step and that song."

See Carter in Giordano Dance Chicago’s Closer Than Ever program at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago through Saturday, February 6.

Photo: by Gorman Cook, courtesy of Giordano Dance Chicago

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MacKenzie’s contemporary class has a foundation in Giordano jazz basics.

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

From a young age, Lizzie MacKenzie’s students learn the value of hard work and professionalism. “My reputation precedes me,” she says. “I get pretty serious students coming my way, because those are the students I connect with.”

Drawing from her early training at Interlochen Arts Academy and 12 years of performing experience with Giordano Dance Chicago and River North Dance Chicago, MacKenzie emphasizes classroom etiquette in all her classes at her Chicago studio, Extensions Dance Center. “My students come into the room and understand we’re there to work,” she says. “There’s no talking in class. They are expected to look at me when I’m talking. They are expected to come into the class and dance, not just go through the motions.”

Her advanced contemporary class has a strong technical foundation in Giordano jazz basics like contraction and plié, but she engages her students’ creative sides, as well, with improvisation. After a warm-up to get their heart rates up, MacKenzie leads her teens through 25 minutes of guided improvisation exercises. Since contemporary choreography is frequently created collaboratively, she wants her students to “build a toolbox” of improvisational techniques that will empower them to be confident collaborators and individuals. “I call it a continuation of the warm-up,” she says. “We’re warming up the creative and intellectual mind, not just the body.” DT

For fitness: “A foam roller, because some days you just can’t live (or dance) without a good rollout.”

Teaching Wardrobe: “I wear American Apparel solid calf-high socks because they are 75 percent cotton, which makes them not slippery. They are also thicker, so they last longer before getting holes.”

For training: “I have my students use the Balletband to help with flexibility.”

To unwind: MacKenzie enjoys a glass of wine while streaming her favorite TV shows, like “True Blood” or “Game of Thrones.”

To stay in shape: “I recently became obsessed with CorePower Yoga. I get a fantastic workout, and most classes are heated, so I get a great sweat on.”

Photo by Gianna Hagnell, courtesy of MacKenzie; wine: Thinkstock

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