Suburban choreographer didn't expect a career in dance
Choreographer Jessica Deahr let history inspire her latest show for Chicago Dance Crash.
"I came up with the idea because it was going to be at the Biograph, the whole historical aspect of that theater," Deahr explains. "It was where John Dillinger was shot. So I wanted to create a show that fit that era, set in a club that is kind of a speak-easy."
The result is "The Cotton Mouth Club," which opened last week at the historic Chicago theater. Deahr, an Arlington Heights native and Chicago Dance Crash's artistic director, choreographed the dance show with Robert McKee.
"It is a love story and it's the story of two rival gangs, set in the 1920s," Deahr says. "Rooster and Zora are lovers. Rooster is being pulled into the night life and ladies and liquor -- and Zora is keeping her distance. That causes conflict between them."
"The Cotton Mouth Club" isn't Deahr's first dance inspired by urban drama. She did "Gotham City" -- a dark dance show set in the city of Batman -- last summer.
With "The Cotton Mouth Club," she was thinking about doing a show around the music of a single musical artist. In the end, however, Deahr chose two artists -- the group Outkast and Michael Jackson.
Deahr grew up dancing, mostly for fun. At 4, she started taking classes at Denise Sabala Dance Studios.
"I studied there from 4 to high school," explains the Hersey High School alum. "But I didn't take dance seriously until during college."
Or more precisely, she didn't take dance seriously as a profession until college summer vacation when she attended a dance convention in Chicago. She won a week of free dance classes at Joel Hall Dancers. Hall teaches his own hybrid of modern dance he calls urban jazz, and Deahr was hooked.
"I took the classes and ended up as a scholarship student at Joel Hall," she says.
Deahr graduated a semester early from college and almost immediately landed a job dancing as part of the entertainment on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Deahr danced for two years on three different cruise ships. "My first cruise took us through the Panama Canal, and by the Mexican Riviera, and up to Alaska," she says. "It was a good way to travel and see the world and still be dancing."
Dancing on cruise ships also taught Deahr a wider repertoire of dances.
"You really have to be eclectic to dance on cruises," Deahr says, adding, "I don't have great technique, but I know a lot of different styles."
Among them: ballroom, modern, hip hop and, even, circus skills.
Deahr first danced with Dance Crash, a contemporary dance company, in 2007. She became a company member in 2009 and choreographed her first full-length show for them in 2012. In January, she was named artistic director.
Not bad for a woman who never intended a dance career in the first place.
"The Cotton Mouth Club"Location: The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago, (773) 871-3000 or victorygardens.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through June 9