Chicago Footwork: A Lightning-Fast Dance of Resistance

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Editor’s Note: Step into the shoes of dancers from across the country who dare to imagine what it would look like if their city could dance with KQED’s If Cities Could Dance. Watch a new episode from season two of the video series every Tuesday through May 14, 2019.

If your eyes aren't fast enough to keep up with Chicago footwork, don't be alarmed. As the backbone of street dance battles, the lightning-speed dance style pioneered on Chicago's South and West Sides is meant to dazzle and discombobulate in equal measure.

For many, footwork is more than just rapid moves, it’s a way to express an alternative to violence and other effects of poverty—the results of decades of disinvestment and the city’s legacy of segregation.

“Footwork is a form of resistance against oppressive living conditions,” says dancer Christopher “Maddog” Thomas, a member of Creation Global Battle Clique, who grew up in public housing on Chicago’s South Side. “You could take a thousand classes, and you would never perform at the scale of any footworker that's from Chicago performs, because you're not from that struggle.”

Over the last decade, Chicago has spent billions to improve infrastructure and modernize the city. Neighborhoods in the South Side are becoming gentrified. And Chicago's African American population, once the city's largest demographic, dropped 24 percent between 2000 and 2017.


In the city's race to "Build A New Chicago," footworkers and other artists continue their fight for support and belonging. Get to know a handful of Chicago's brightest footwork dancers, soundtracked by modern footwork legends DJ Taye and DJ Diamond. –Gabe Meline