ELKHART — If Chicago can do it four times a week, Elkhart should be able to pull it off at least once a month.
That’s the long-term expectation of Sally Lee, who’s working with Downtown Elkhart Inc., to bring a little more music and movement to the downtown.
Lee, who owns That’s Dancing Studio in downtown Elkhart, has been working with a group of people since last fall to host a series of outdoor summer dance events at the Civic Plaza this summer.
The four-night series begins in July, but dance enthusiasts will have a chance to loosen up with some public dancing this weekend during Elkhart Jazz Fest, thanks to Lee and her staff and students.
Lee, a self-professed Chicagoan, has been a fan of the Chicago community dance program held in Grant Park for 17 years. She loves the vibe, the sounds, the movements and the sense of diversity the dance program attracts.
“It’s 5,000 square feet and it’s jammed,” Lee said. “It’s all walks of life. All ages. They love music and they love to move to music, and that’s my thing. I just love to move to music.”
Summer Dance Elkhart at the Civic Plaza will feature live music, free admission, free dance lessons and a variety of music and dance styles over the course of the summer.
The new dance program will take center stage July 17 during ArtWalk in the Civic Plaza and will feature live music from Whistle Pigs.
The dance program will anchor the plaza again for ArtWalk on Oct. 2.
Sandwiched between those two events will be two Friday night programs on Aug. 16 and Sept. 20 when Summer Dance Elkhart stands on its own in the plaza from 6 to 9 p.m. On those nights, the first hours will feature free dance lessons.
Elwood Splinters Blues Band is booked for Sept. 20 and organizers are seeking a high-caliber salsa band for one of the two other open dates.
The two ArtWalk events will run from 8 to 10 p.m. and will serve as the main attractions after the ArtWalk tours and street musicians wind down their efforts.
Lee’s desire to incorporate dance at Elkhart Jazz Festival first began last year and will continue again this year.
On Friday, That’s Dancing Studio will offer free dance lessons from 5 to 6 p.m. Her staff and students will then head to the plaza where they’ll help orchestrate a community dance as high-quality jazz music fills the air. On Saturday, they’ll do it again, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the studio, 223 S. Main St.
Lee and Mike Huber, who’s president of Downtown Elkhart Inc., think incorporating Summer Dance Elkhart into ArtWalk will help propel it into its own free-standing event next year.
Lee said she’d like to see it become a regular monthly event in 2014.
“It’s another fun, exciting and positive experience for people to have,” Huber said.
The dance program also fits in nicely with efforts by city leaders to develop an arts and entertainment district in the downtown, Huber said.
Lee is working to gather sponsors to cover some of the expenses. She’s secured a commitment from Elkhart Oral and Maxillofacial, but continues to look for others.
In past ArtWalk events, Lee had offered dance lessons in her studio.
Live music in a bigger venue, though, changes everything.
“And now we’re taking it to the next level,” Lee said.