Joseph “Joel” Hall was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 20, 1949. Hall began his dancing career in 1968 under the tutelage of Ed Parrish, and the following year, he moved to New York City, where he studied under Denise Jefferson. Returning to Chicago, he earned his B.A. degree in sociology from Northeastern Illinois University in 1972.
In 1974, Hall and Joseph Ehrenberg co-founded the Chicago City Theatre Company, which later became the Joel Hall Dance Center. Hall now serves as the artistic director and principal choreographer for the Joel Hall Dancers, and director and chief instructor of the training studio. Over the years, the Joel Hall Dancers have gained an international reputation and Hall has been widely acclaimed as a choreographer. His company has performed three seasons at the prestigious Joyce Theater in New York, and he has led the company on nine international tours, beginning with the Glasgow May Fest in 1985. Hall has created ballets for the Chicago City Ballet, the Zenon Dance Company in Minneapolis and Ballet Tennessee in Chattanooga, as well as choreographing the opera The Pearl Fishers at the Chicago Opera Theatre and Goldie Hawn’s film, Wildcats. In 1991, Hall choreographed the 50th Anniversary presentation of Duke Ellington’s musical Jump for Joy. In addition to these productions, he has created more than forty ballets for his own company.
Hall has also gained attention as an instructor of jazz dance. He has taught at Wayne State University, New York State University, Northern Illinois University, and Western Michigan University. He has also taught internationally, conducting classes in Liverpool, Glasgow, Inverness, Kirkcaldy, Belfast, and the United Kingdom. At the time of the interview, the Joel Hall Dance Center in Chicago offeredA2004.170 more than 150 classes a week to students ranging from age three to adults.
During the past 40 years, Hall has achieved an international reputation for his Dance Company and acclaim as a choreographer whose work; in his own unique dance style based in jazz, expresses a rich vocabulary embracing both the classical and modern dance idioms. Mr. Hall also served as one of Mayor Harold Washington’s international ambassadors for the arts. “Jazz dance at it’s best” says Dance Magazine.
Mr. Hall has studied both in Chicago at the Chicago Dance Center with Nana Shineflug , Al Gossan, Harry Laird, Ed Parish, Denise Jefferson, Sarah Singleton, Tom Baker and in New York with Thelma Hill, Pepsi Bethel, Lynn Simonson, Nat Horn, Robert Christopher, Michelle Murray, June Lewis and Finis Jung.
Over the years, Joel Hall has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades.
Since the 70’s, Joel Hall has created more than seventy ballets for his own company and is notedin two major books on the contemporary dance arts; Black Dance by Edward Thorpe, dance critic for The London Standard, and The Black Tradition in American Dance by Richard Long.
“I started my own dance company because I have a personal dance statement to make. I can work in other mediums, such as ballet, but my message has to be conveyed according to my own personality. Audiences can relate to that.” Joel Hall, Chicago Sun-Times, December 11, 1974.
GO BANG! Magazine: How did you get started in Dance?
Joel Hall: Pierre, I started dance in formal training, later in the western dance training, at the age of 17. I was always a great street dancer, but once I saw dancers on TV that could do lifts and partnering, I wanted to learn more.
GO BANG! Magazine: Where did you receive training?
Joel Hall: I received my initial training here in Chicago with a ballet teacher by the name of Ed Parrish. I began to study what was then called modern dance with Miss Denise Jefferson and Nana Shineflug. I studied with many teachers here, mainly downtown and north side teachers, because all of the people I grew up with that took class were from Cabrini Green.
GO BANG! Magazine: Who were your dance inspirations?
Joel Hall: This list is long but here we go: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Keith McDaniels, Mel Tomlinson, Judith Jamison, Pearl Primus, Eleo Pomare, Dianne McIntyre, Lynn Simonson, Al Gossan, and Harry Laird, to mention just a few.
GO BANG! Magazine: When did you decide to open your own dance company, JOEL HALL DANCERS?
Joel Hall: The Joel Hall Dancers began out of a group of dancers that I was working with as a dancer and choreographer, started at Northeastern Illinois University around 1970. This was my initial company, which they named the Joel Hall Dancers as I was doing a lot of their choreography.
GO BANG! Magazine: As a choreographer, you have trained dancers internationally. Please describe a few of those international experiences.
Joel Hall: Most of my international teaching has been done in Europe, mainly UK, Holland, Norway and Germany. It’s always interesting for me teaching internationally because they pay attention to your expertise and do not question your credentials or your teaching method because they wanted what I had to share with them as an instructor. RESPECT! Whereas in our country, I constantly have to share my values with, not all, but a lot of dancers, choreographers and audiences, to prove my value repeatedly.
GO BANG! Magazine: You have been recognized for your choreography talents over the years. Which moments of recognition stands out the most, and why?
Joel Hall: Of course any recognition as an artist is always humbling for me. To be recognized and appreciated by my peers, audiences, students, and government is the most that any person can hope for. More important than the recognition is the importance I place upon my work myself, which can be more critical than most would realize. That is when I am creating what I’ll refer to as GREAT ART. Recognition is sometimes misleading the ego. I’d like to stay WOKE, humble and receptive to ideas other than my own, to guide my recognition of myself.
GO BANG! Magazine: Currently, you’ve reduced your involvement in the day-to-day business and serve as the Artistic Director of Joel Hall Dancers. Where do you see the company going in the next 20 years?
Joel Hall: I am still involved in the day to day business, but in a different capacity. More as a founder, advising when asked, and sometimes when not. The most important part for me, in being a leader, is learning when not to. I’ve learned also to lead by teaching others to become leaders in whatever area of concentration, within or outside of the arts, they choose to become involved in. I am considered to be a taskmaster. As I am, my teacher’s and mentors were.
(It’s great to know) when it’s time to let go and trust that you have taught others through your mission as a leader to take on the work involved. I can stand by their side comfortably and say GO, GO, GO and keep going. I am fortunate to have worked with some of the same people for over 30 years, so it wasn’t a hard task. As an organization, we have a 200 year vision for the elevation of the organization, beyond Mars or Jupiter for that matter. The Joel Hall Dancers & Center will evolve with the times following in the footsteps of Master Miles Davis, who to me was the master of evolution with the times. Let’s keep it movin!
GO BANG! Magazine: How would you describe Chicago’s “House Music” dance community?
Joel Hall: House is my passion in music and is the evolution of BLACK MUSIC. I love what many of the new DJ’s are doing, in learning from the old school and evolving into new school, but keeping what is need from OL G’s. Of course, I came out of the Frankie Knuckles period, but now listening to House, I see how it has evolved all over the world and morphed according to the culture of the country. I can go anywhere in the world and hear House in every culture I have visited. Everything we create is global, everything! We are the most creative entity on earth as we were created first and always will be FIRST in everything we do. THE CHOSEN CHILDREN IS TRUE AND REAL. We must continue letting our youth know how chosen they are. NEGUS brothers would stop the madness and love each treasure trove that we are.
GO BANG! Magazine: What is the next chapter for Joel Hall?
Joel Hall: That remains unsure at this time, as the pandemic is in full swing. I can tell you that if I’m still around, we will see so much GREATNESS. It will be stunningly blinding. I am over 70, so I am a perfect candidate for the virus, as we all are. Create GREAT ART is in this chapter. There are more stories, especially now. Let the OL G’s artists continue the mission of HOUSE MUSIC through teaching what it is we know, and how we hear that beat. I’m planning much more reading, writing, creating and gardening for Joel Hall.
GO BANG! Magazine: In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world off-guard. How are you dealing with it?
Joel Hall: The world has been expecting this since 1918, so it was a question of when it would recur. I am hopeful and optimistic that we will make it through this daunting, scary period. I must keep hope that we vote this November, so we get someone that knows how to LEAD this country. I am holding a vision that the orange messmess is no longer trying to be king. Only we have that power to make that happen, by all means necessary. I am in the process of switching all of my studio classes to virtual classes. My first one was a couple of days ago with more success than anticipated because I had done television interviews and performances so it was not as difficult to do as I had imagined. We will continue to operate our classes virtually even after the lockdown. We had students attending my class from as far as Rwanda to Hawaii. There is more to come and all I can say without knowing where we are is be kind to each other, call and check on the ELDERS and GO, GO, GO and keep going and remember the ceiling only exists in other people’s thinking not yours. Thank you for letting me learn more and vent. Concentrate on what we can do for others, especially youth and we’re all good. Keep calling on our ancestors for guidance. Amen
YOU CAN FOLLOW JOEL HALL: Visit http://www.joelhall.org
Pierre A. Evans is a freelance writer of Entertainment, Music, Art, Culture, Fashion and Current Events, and previously for SoulTrain.com, NDigo.com, ChicagoDefender.com, EmpireRadioMagazine.com, and UrbanMuseMag.com, an author, singer/songwriter, actor, model, poet, dancer, and DJ. He is also the Owner of Pinnacle Entertainment Productions and the Owner/Publisher of GO BANG! Magazine. Follow him on Facebook @Pierre Andre Evans, Twitter @Playerre, and on Instagram @Pierre_Andre_Evans.