The Beat Goes On: Chicago Human Rhythm Project Turns 20

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It's National Tap Dance Day this month. Do you know where our largest tap-dance organization is?

In terms of year-round presenting and one huge festival, it's in Chicago and celebrating its 20th anniversary this year--though the Chicago Human Rhythm Project's longevity hasn't come easy. Director and cofounder Lane Alexander says that establishing a stable percussive-dance organization "is like scaling Mount Everest. You can get close, but most don't make it to the top." He has a few theories about that. A tap dancer himself, he notes that the form is all about improvisation. "So it's hard to focus on planning. Also, tap is primarily thought of for soloists--and you don't need an organization for soloists."

CHRP is perhaps best known for Rhythm World, a summer festival of workshops and performances that has presented Savion Glover, Jimmy Slyde, and Gregory Hines as well as Jason Samuels Smith, Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Jason Janas. Global Rhythms, an international showcase now annually staged in November at Chicago's Harris Theater for Music and Dance, is also high profile, with past guests such as Barbatuques of Sao Paulo and Tapeplas of Barcelona. More local events include a student Winter Tap Jamboree and Windy City Rhythms, a performance on or around May 25 in celebration of National Tap Dance Day. This year, however, CHRP hosts 20 small events (in honor of its anniversary) in Chicago throughout May. Then, from May 27 to May 29, its resident ensemble BAM! performs at Dance St. Louis' regional Spring to Dance Festival.

Though CHRP is now a national--and even international--presenting and advocacy institution, it started small. Back in the day, Alexander says, he and cofounder Kelly Michaels (who died in 1995) had to do "a lot of breaking doors down. …