Photo: cheryl mann / the joffrey ballet

The versatile prima Victoria Jaiani at the Joffrey Ballet.

In terms of ambition, nothing in the Midwest comes even close to the Chicago Dancing Festival, a weeklong affair that showcases awe-inspiring dancers and cutting-edge choreography. It’s free, for starters. And the talent list reads like a who’s who of some of the most recognized dance companies in the city (the Joffrey, Hubbard Street Chicago, Gus Giordano) and a handful of national names (Alvin Ailey, the Brian Brooks Moving Company).

For the founders—former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago star Jay Franke and the Chicago-raised, New York-based choreographer Lar Lubovitch (past winners of this magazine’s esteemed Chicagoans of the Year award)—the fest is a way to build the local dance audience and ultimately create a more active fanbase, which no one would argue is sorely needed. For the rest of us, it’s a way to see a ton of great dance in one spot for free. Here’s a primer on how to score

What is it? The fest spans five nights and multiple venues. Only one event—Wednesday night’s gala performance featuring dance from around the globe—costs money to attend (it’s $250 per ticket). The other events, including the Saturday night finale in Millennium Park, are free.

Which events should I go for? Our picks: The Harris at 10! on Tuesday, August 20. This anniversary party at the Harris will feature Lar Lubovitch’s company, the dynamic New York-based Brian Brooks Moving Company, plus local choreographer-on-the-rise Alejandro Cerrudo's “Little Mortal Jump,” performed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. On Friday night, August 23, the Museum of Contemporary Art will stage a soloist showcase that features Chicago magazine’s 2013 best dancer, Joffrey prima Victoria Jaiani, as well as Samuel Lee Roberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. For the full list of events, visit

Should I just forgo tickets and attend the closing event in Millennium Park? It depends on whether you want a guaranteed seat (the closing event on Saturday, August 24, is first come, first serve). This night is the most crowded of the bunch, so unless you want to get there early, you’ll have to cozy up to the Jumbotrons in the lawn. The line for pavilion seats usually starts forming in the early afternoon. We recommend the more intimate events earlier in the week.

How do I get those free tickets again? Tix for The Harris at 10! Anniversary Special performance on Tuesday, August 20 will be released on Tuesday, July 16 at noon at the Harris Theater Box Office, 205 E. Randolph Dr. or by calling 312-334-7777…Tix for Solitaire (the Art of the Solo) on Friday, August 23 at the MCA will be released on Thursday, July 18, at noon. Get them at the MCA Stage Box Office, 220 E. Chicago Avenue or by calling 312-397-4010.