This Saturday, May 1st, URBANITE will produce a show with hip hop choreography with additional styles featured from Latin to contemporary dance at Memorial Stadium. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and can be viewed on Instagram Live at @urbanite.go.
I connected with Delayney Layne about the event. Layne is the Executive Producer and creative behind the show. URBANITE was started in 1998 in Champaign-Urbana by Patrick Chen and Lee Daniels. In the early 2000’s, Chen and Layne teamed up to co-produce the show. Soon after, Layne took over as Executive Producer and helped to expand the show from annual showcases in Champaign-Urbana to annual shows in Chicago and Mexico City (with Detroit and more cities on the horizon) as well as a traveling workshop series in various cities.
Smile Politely: What can attendees expect to see on May 1st? Specifically, your tag-line is “Dance. Music. Culture.” Can you say a little about what we can expect relating to dance, music, and culture?
Delayney Layne: Attendees can expect to see a top-notch production of quickly-paced, energy-filled performances. URBANITE exists precisely at the intersection of artist and consumer and engages from multiple angles. Combining all elements of the dance culture to create an electric event that is both potent enough for die-hard dance fans and accessible enough for the casual admirer. You are guaranteed to feel the energy at an URBANITE show. Our tagline is “Dance. Music. Culture.” Dance is the base. Music is the driving force. The culture is what we represent and build.
It is important to note that URBANITE, unlike many shows of its kind, is not a competition. It is a showcase meant to build the community and give it a platform.
SP: When was the last time you all performed, and how have you been preparing?
Layne: Our last official live URBANITE performance was December 2019 in Champaign at The City Center. We were gearing up for our annual Chicago show slated for April of 2020 when the pandemic hit and all stages went dark. As many did this past year, we had to figure out our future. So many people in the entertainment and arts industry were affected: venues, nightclubs, dance studios, dancers, hospitality industry. While much of the dance community stayed connected, and still stays connected via social media and virtual outlets, URBANITE has always been about the immersive, high-production, full-weekend experience of dancers together. It was hard thinking that a virtual show would have the same magic. We knew we had to come back, it was just a matter of when and how.
We pride ourselves in pushing boundaries, but the boundaries of safety were something we did not want to push. In fall of 2020, I started a conversation with Kevin Hamilton, Dean of Fine and Applied Arts at U of I, about ways to bring a live show back safely. We quickly partnered with OSF Healthgroup and the Shield CU program to figure out how we could bring an event to campus safely. Together, we have formulated a plan to keep everyone safe, bring our dancers back together, and bring back live events for U of I and the public.
SP: How many dancers and dance troupes will be participating?
Layne: This show will have 12 teams performing, the majority who have seen the URBANITE stage before, plus special guest Kida The Great + Friends. Traditionally, teams submit to be considered for a show’s lineup and we’d have 20 performing teams, however with the pandemic, we had to change our format to provide a safer environment for the dancers. Performing-based teams were invited to participate and are coordinated within the health and safety plan we have developed with the university. URBANITE will have COVID-19 testing and safety protocols for all dancers, as well as a full safety plan at the stadium to keep everyone safe.
Though our dancer model is a bit different this year, we are so happy to be back in the safest way possible and with the confidence of U of I’s top health officials guiding the way. The dance community is happy to be back, whether they will be on the stage or in the stands for this show, and we can’t wait to open up more people to the experience of URBANITE.
SP: I know you have roots in Champaign-Urbana. Do you currently have anyone on the team who is from the area or went to U of I?
Layne: Champaign-Urbana is not where I am from, but I spent a significant amount of time there — first as a U of I student/graduate and then for many years afterwards as a resident. I have a strong bond with the C-U community. Champaign is the birthplace of URBANITE, and it is only fitting to have our triumphant return on this grand stage be in this city and with this University. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There will also be four teams representing U of I on the lineup: 2XS UIUC, 2XS Caliente, Fizaa and Imagination! All are top teams and have represented on the URBANITE stage for many years. We are happy to have them as hometown ambassadors for URBANITE’s return.
SP: This event is massive. Can you say a bit about all of the behind-the-scenes workers who are making the show happen, making sure that everyone stays socially distanced and safe, etc.?
Layne: Producing this event has been a challenge indeed, as the return to live events during these times has to be done right. There are many complexities and an ever-changing landscape in which we currently have to navigate. This is the first live dance show since the pandemic started, the first major production in Memorial Stadium. Then add to this the complexities of COVID restrictions and forming a “bubble” for all of our performers with daily testing, catered meals and other safety measures. We’ve had amazing partners in the University of Illinois’ Student Affairs (Jim Hintz), Fine & Applied Arts (Kevin Hamilton), Department of Athletics (Cassie Arner) and OSF/SHIELD (Neal Cohen and James Quisenberry) departments that have all helped tremendously to allow us to produce this event safely.
In terms of event attendees, everyone attending the event can expect a safe, coordinated experience when they arrive with the safety pillars of masks, social distancing, being outdoors, and testing in place.
U of I members are tested regularly, and their COVID testing parameters extend to this event as well, needing a negative test to enter into the stadium. Public guests will be separated from U of I members within the stadium, each group entering in from a separate gate and having their own dedicated space. All attendees will be required to wear a mask throughout the duration of the event and will socially distance once attendees enter.
SP: You mention special guests. Can you say more?
Layne: Our special guests are Kida The Great + Friends (feat. Jabari Timmons and Kendrick Willis). Kida The Great, a Sacramento native, is a dancer and choreographer and winner of season 13 of So You Think You Can Dance: Next Generation competition. Appearing in multiple movies, as well as collaborations with Chris Brown, Usher, Justin Bieber and more, he’s a gifted dancer and powerful force in dance.
SP: Is there anything else you would like Smile Politely readers to know?
Layne: This return to the live stage is hugely important to our Midwest dance community and the dance community as a whole. This show has given dancers and teams new life after a year that has devastated the industry. It has been a hard road towards producing this show but completely worth all of the effort.
Learn more and RSVP via https://www.urbanite.co/.