Annual big band festival returns

By Ginger Simons

The Let’s Dance Big Band Weekend is kicking off at 8 p.m. July 20 in NIU Duke Ellington Ballroom, to be followed by two additional days filled with live music and ballroom dance opportunities.

Brought to the community by nonprofit group Just Make It Happen, the Big Band Weekend has been enriching DeKalb with the tradition of big band and jazz music for 13 years this July.

The American Profile magazine listed the Let’s Dance Big Band Weekend as the go-to Illinois event for four years running.

“This goes back to 13 years ago when our nonprofit, Just Make It Happen, was interested in developing a healthy community opportunity,” John Smith, president of Just Make It Happen, said. “We came upon the idea of Northern Illinois Universities’ Duke Ellington Ballroom. [Ellington] played his last show there and his traditions go back many years to jazz and dance for couples.”

The event weekend begins with a welcome dance Friday, aided by the live music performance by the Duke Eliot Orchestra from Chicago. At 8 p.m. Saturday, John Smith and the Shenanigans, a 17 piece ensemble, will play the Grand Ball dance. Finally, 10 a.m. Sunday will bring the final dance, played by Cary Shelley and his Little Big Band from Rockford.

Dance instruction will also be held at the event. At 8:15 a.m. Sunday, guests can learn to dance to waltz, foxtrot, swing and latin music for $6 per person.

To have access to the full scope of the event over three days, the price is $125 per person after. Otherwise the dances cost $45 to $50 per dance. More information about the specific package deals and pricing can be found on the Just Make It Happen website.

“In one sense, this is one of the more perfect ways to have a community university event,” Smith said. “It is a matter of getting all of the different partnerships together. The guests, some travel hundreds of miles to be able to attend, some are local, [but] they all walk out happy.”

The event aims to expose DeKalb residents to the big band and jazz music that otherwise may be difficult to access and encourages participation from all interested dancers, regardless of experience level. Leather bottomed shoes are required for dancing, casual or formal dress is acceptable and “whatever works for you” dance moves are recommended, according to the event’s press release.

“It is a complete event that benefits Northern, benefits the Holmes Student Center, benefits our community, benefits the people coming from 60 different cities in Illinois and all throughout the midwest,” said Smith. “It is a small event, but it’s an event that people love.”