“I was like, ‘Yes, Mayor Emanuel, we’re all aware of that. We couldn’t book them. We tried.’ ”
But having secured Rahm Emanuel, the recently ensconced mayor of Chicago, as honorary chairman of the opening-night gala for the dance festival, Franke quickly learned what President Obama and countless Washington insiders know: You bring Emanuel on board, whether it’s for a dance showcase or a stimulus bill, and you get princely ambitions and iron-fisted intensity.
“Chicago’s gonna have one of the greatest dance festivals,” Emanuel vowed in a brief phone interview this week, his voice raspy but the words tumbling at the rapid clip familiar from Sunday morning talk shows. “We’re going to build it to be one of the great festivals of dance in the country.”
It’s no surprise that the hard-driving former White House chief of staff has big plans for his home town. And given Emanuel’s dance background — at his mother’s prompting, he trained in ballet and modern dance as a child and at 17 won a scholarship to dance with the Joffrey Ballet — it’s not surprising that he champions the art form. But his announcement that he wants to turn Chicago into an “international destination for dance,” as he told the Chicago Tribune — well, that’s not your standard mayoral initiative.
Then again, what other mayor has ever had such a strong interest in dance and endorsed the art so publicly? In June, Emanuel was named honorary chairman of the Joffrey Ballet’s board. In July, he addressed the opening reception of the annual Dance/USA conference in Chicago, jabbed a finger at the assembled company directors and declared, “This city will be the heartbeat of dance in the entire country.”
And on Aug. 22, the mayor with unusually elegant posture will attend the $250-a-head fundraising gala for the Chicago Dancing Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art. He’ll also speak at one of the performances; free performances run Aug. 23-27.
Dance has long been a part of Emanuel’s life. After turning down the Joffrey scholarship, he studied dance at Sarah Lawrence College. But that wasn’t the end of it. He continued taking ballet classes while working in Chicago, after his marriage and the birth of his first child, even after entering politics and serving in the Clinton White House as a senior aide. He would steal time at the ballet barre on Saturdays, taking private lessons.
“The discipline is great, the stretch, the workout,” he said.
But he quit dancing after the second of his three children was born. Now he does yoga and enjoys dance as a spectator. While serving in the Obama administration, he’d squeeze in trips to the Kennedy Center, where he saw the Mark Morris Dance Group and Paul Taylor Dance Company, and he took his kids to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.