Seizing "the hour of now" with Jessica Tong

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July 22, 2020

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is thrilled to announce the promotion of Rehearsal Director Jessica Tong to the role of Associate Artistic Director.

Named one of Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to Watch in 2009, Tong danced with BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech in New York, and Hubbard Street 2 before dancing with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for 11 years.

On her new role with the organization during this time of transition and transformation, Tong shares, “As we enter a new season with so many unknowns, I am anxious to see what the future holds. But I am also excited, honored, and humbled to continue my life with Hubbard Street, to seize the hour of now, and help shape our efforts anew as an artistic force for societal change. In this moment, Hubbard Street has the responsibility to ask ourselves, what are we expressing and who are we expressing it for?

Read on to learn more about Jessica’s journey to this moment, her thoughts on our virtual artistic endeavors so far, and her vision for the future of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago!

Jessica Tong in Counterpoint by Kyle Abraham (2014).

You were a Hubbard Street company member for 11 years before becoming Rehearsal Director. What have you learned over that stretch of time?

Yeah, if you add up my time from a dancer with Hubbard Street 2 up to now, I have been with the organization for almost 16 years! So, within my different roles, I have had a lot of personal growing up time.

Through every turn (pun intended), even as a summer Lou Conte Dance Studio scholarship student, I have gained greater insight into what it really takes to run a non-profit arts organization. I understood the rehearsal process of a piece, but the process of negotiating the acquisition of said piece and the process to get it on stage? Phew! And that is just one example, one aspect of what the company does.

I guess in a nutshell, I have gained perspective. I have also learned the importance of responding to email.

What are your thoughts on the virtual dance experiences and new work created by Hubbard Street throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?

My husband, Derek, and I welcomed the birth of Cyrus, our first child, when the quarantine went into effect, so I really got to take part in HSDC’s virtual dance experiences in the same way our audiences did. It was amazing to see!

But I think Hubbard Street’s sensibility lends itself well to adapting to changing environments. When thrown a curveball there are choices to bend with it, juxtapose it, mirror it, change levels, or all of the above! So, the quick-footedness with which the company was able to step-pivot to sharing their expression online was super impressive, but not surprising.

It was moving to see how these experiences – ranging from company class, fun ditties, artist interviews, to complete dance films – were able to engage our audiences so rapturously. HSDC really rallied our vast community, creating space for togetherness within the isolation – what a beautiful thing.

I think that Hubbard Street will continue to innovate and champion the possibilities of what dance in the digital age can be. It has to be great because people are getting Zoom’d out! We are also cooking up ways in which we can return to captivating live performances that will form newly imagined (and safe!) venues.    

Jessica Tong in Passomezzo by Ohad Naharin (2013).

Hubbard Street Dancers continued taking company class online and rehearsing from home to prepare for Hubbard Street Unbound. How do you anticipate the dancers will remain connected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues?

Regardless of a pandemic, we plan to continue and expand the accessibility to HSDC events through online platforms. We have a desire to be better participants in the world at large, and the past few months have really woken us up to the ways in which we have conducted our routines in such insular manners.

We hope that in the vast forum that is the internet, we are able to make ourselves available for increased dialogue and, consequently, more possibilities for learning and growth.

What is your vision for Hubbard Street in the near future?

I envision Hubbard Street continuing to share dance as a joyful language that can truly speak to and from our souls through its transcendent storytelling.

But it is vital that we approach this sharing in new ways that actively foster more accessible and inclusive environments. We are reevaluating the systems in which we create, and I am optimistic that we will increase our connectivity with our Chicago community and, through our community engagement, connect more with our humanity.