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Randy Duncan

Renowned choreographer and dancer Randy Louis Duncan was born on December 14, 1958 in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up and attending public schools on Chicago’s west side, Duncan’s career began at age fifteen with the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre. Duncan later began formal dance studies with Geraldine Johnson, followed by classes at the Sammy Dyer School of Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Illinois State University. Duncan credits Harriet Ross and Joseph Holmes with much of his inspiration.

Drawing upon ballet, jazz dance, and modern dance for his choreography, Duncan created works that have been performed by numerous dance companies including the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, River North Dance Company and Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago as well as companies in Seattle and Tel Aviv. In 1987, Duncan choreographed for the first all-African American cast of A Chorus Line. Duncan’s musical theater credits include Guys and Girls, Street Dreams, West Side Story, Carousel, Hello Dolly, and Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope. He has taught and judged dance competitions throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. Duncan’s classes in jazz dance have taken him to Mexico, England, France, Amsterdam, and Israel.

Duncan has been a three-time recipient of Chicago’s prestigious Ruth Page Award for Outstanding Choreographer of the Year (1988, 1990, and 1992). In 1994, Duncan won the Jazz Dance World Congress Award. He regularly serves on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, Arts Midwest and the Illinois Arts Alliance. Other awards include the 1999 Artistic Achievement Award from the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, and the 2000 Black Theater Alliance Award for Best Choreography.

An avid supporter of HIV/AIDS causes, Duncan has donated his time and choreography to Dance for Life, creating world premieres for Chicago’s largest dance benefit for HIV/AIDS. His television ballet, Urban Transfer, was produced and distributed nationwide by PBS-TV’s WTTW. Duncan’s first major motion picture by Paramount Pictures, Save the Last Dance, earned him a nomination for the American Choreography Award for dance on film.

Duncan was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 15, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.142

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/15/2006

Last Name

Duncan

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Illinois State University

Joseph Medill Elementary School

Austin Polytechnical Academy Hs

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Randy

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

DUN03

Favorite Season

December

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Acapulco, Mexico

Favorite Quote

Just Do It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

12/14/1958

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lasagna

Short Description

Choreographer and dancer Randy Duncan (1958 - ) was a three-time recipient of Chicago's prestigious Ruth Page Award for Outstanding Choreographer of the Year (1988, 1990, and 1992), among numerous other awards and his works were performed internationally.

Employment

'Save The Last Dance'

Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre

Joffrey Ballet

Chicago Academy for the Arts

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Randy Duncan's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Randy Duncan lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Randy Duncan describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Randy Duncan lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Randy Duncan describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Randy Duncan describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Randy Duncan talks about reuniting with his paternal family

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Randy Duncan describes his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Randy Duncan recalls Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s visits to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Randy Duncan describes his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Randy Duncan describes his father's ancestry

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Randy Duncan talks about his maternal great-grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Randy Duncan describes his neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Randy Duncan describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Randy Duncan describes his parents and how he takes after his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Randy Duncan describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Randy Duncan describes his early interest in gymnastics and dance

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Randy Duncan remembers his audition for a production of 'West Side Story'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Randy Duncan describes his early interests

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Randy Duncan describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Randy Duncan describes his education in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Randy Duncan describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Randy Duncan remembers Joseph Medill Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Randy Duncan remembers Austin High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Randy Duncan describes the All-City High School Theatrical Troupe, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Randy Duncan describes the All-City High School Theatrical Troupe, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Randy Duncan remembers Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Randy Duncan describes the history of the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Randy Duncan talks about the influence of dance teacher Harriet Ross

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Randy Duncan remembers dancing for the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Randy Duncan recalls becoming the artistic director of Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Randy Duncan recalls becoming the artistic director of Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Randy Duncan describes his and Joseph Holmes' dance styles

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Randy Duncan describes Harriet Ross' role at the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Randy Duncan describes his career after leaving the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Randy Duncan describes his ballet, 'A Tri-Fling'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Randy Duncan recalls the Joffrey Ballet's move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Randy Duncan describes his choreography for the Joffrey Ballet

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Randy Duncan lists the dance companies with whom he worked

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Randy Duncan describes his influences as a choreographer

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Randy Duncan recalls the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre's tour in Israel

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Randy Duncan describes his international dance tours

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Randy Duncan remembers his work on the film 'Save the Last Dance,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Randy Duncan remembers his work on the film 'Save the Last Dance,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Randy Duncan talks about dance instruction and choreography

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Randy Duncan describes his ballet, 'Ida/A Day in the Life of Ida B. Wells'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Randy Duncan describes the ballets created for dance companies in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Randy Duncan reflects upon his life, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Randy Duncan describes his choreographic process

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Randy Duncan reflects upon his life, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Randy Duncan reflects upon the changes in professional dance

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Randy Duncan describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
Randy Duncan remembers his audition for a production of 'West Side Story'
Randy Duncan recalls becoming the artistic director of Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, pt. 2
Transcript
(Simultaneous) Well, 'West Side Story' truly inspired me. But the early movies, the early musical movies that would, that would come on, those were also very inspiring. And I'd, I'd watch them all the time, from Elvis Presley, all the time, watch Elvis Presley movies, so, you know.$$The dances.$$(Singing) "You know that can't be true," you know. And I, you know, all of that stuff, I just loved it, 'Jailhouse Rock,' all that stuff. But anything that would come on that had music to it, any movie musical, I would, I would watch, but it was particularly 'West Side Story' that said, "Boom, I want to do that; I want to do that." Yeah, because they were flipping; they were singing; they were dancing. And you know, they had regular clothes on, and it wasn't like they were in tights and leotards. It was, it was really fascinating to, to watch. And so, two years later when I was twelve, there was actually an audition for 'West Side Story' [Arthur Laurents] a high school audition. I wasn't even in high school yet, but I called in and asked if I could audition anyway, and they said sure. This was the first time they're gonna have this all-city production, you know, of (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And what year was that?$$That was in '72 [1972] I believe, yeah. And I, I, I, I, I had called and said, "Well, I'm not in high school, but can I come and audition anyway. I'm in eighth grade." And they said, "Well, sure," and so I came down. And there were all these high school students, I mean like over a thousand kids waiting to audition for this, which was gonna be a, a premier of this, or maiden venture, for 'West Side Story' that was going to take place at the Civic Opera House [Chicago, Illinois]. So, I went down, and I'd never, remember, I've never had any training before; it was all self-taught. So there were all these people that were there. And some of them were really good, and some of them really weren't so good. But there were a lot of folks there who had some training before. And the choreographer said, you know, she called a number of us up to come and do what she did, just kind of replicate what she did, and I said okay. I didn't know what an audition was at first, but I found out real fast. So I went up there and did that and came and sat back down. I said, "Hm, I don't think I did really well." But on the sheet for the audition, the, the publicity sheet, it said they were looking for acrobats. And so, I raised my hand amongst all these thousands of folks, and I raised my hand. I said, "I thought you were looking for some, some acrobats for the show." And she said, "Well, can you do any?" You know, now there's a panel of judges up there as well. And I looked around, and I said, with my little young self, I said, "Well, yeah." They said, "Well, come on up, and let's see (laughter)," and so I, I came up on stage and did all my little 'Bozo's Circus' ['The Bozo Show'] tricks (laughter), and I got this great applause, and next thing you know I was a Shark.$$Amazing.$$Yeah, and that started everything off. And she asked me if I wanted a scholarship at the school where she was teaching, which was Sammy Dyer School of Theatre [Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre] here in Chicago [Illinois]. And I said sure. I went back home and you know, parents [Betty Mason Boglin (ph.) and Ernest Duncan], everybody was so, so happy that I went off and did, and this was all on my own. Nobody's pushing me to do anything. I just went out there and (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Curiosity--$$--and did it, yeah.$$--and talent.$$Yeah, and I think that's when they found out this boy's got something. Yeah, so, that's how it all started off though.$This was at, also at a time when the company was getting ready to take off in its first European tour, and I needed to get a, a program together for that. So actually, it wasn't the first European tour with the, the, the first tour we took that was kind of outside, you know, across the water somewhere was Hawaii (laughter). So the company actually went to Hawaii for three weeks and, and performed at various universities and auditoriums that they did, that they had there. So that was one of the first things that, that we did, and came back, did a full concert of which Oprah Winfrey, when she came here for ABC [sic.] (laughter), when she came here for 'The Today Show' ['Today'], one of the opportunities that she thought would be good was to host the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre [Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre] in a, in an event for a fundraiser. So, she hosted the event. And this was prior to Joseph's [Joseph Holmes] death first. And then after that, she did another event for us in which I was the artistic director. And this is when we had our performance at the Auditorium Theatre [Chicago, Illinois]. And she was just so impressed, yes, really, really impressed with the company. So, there is, there is that connection as well. And before you know it, the critics started coming out to see the company when I was there, 'cause everybody wanted to know, "Okay, now that Joseph is gone, what is this company gonna look like under [HistoryMaker] Randy Duncan's direction?" Now they had seen some of my choreography, some of my own choreography on the company, in which they really enjoyed. And then so everybody was coming out for this first concert after Joseph's death at the Auditorium Theatre. There were concerts before that and in between that time. And on the night of Joseph's death, actually, we had a, a, a performance in a really big, College of DuPage [Glen Ellyn, Illinois], which was just tremendously sad. Nobody knew but me at that time. I wouldn't tell the dancers until the end of the performance. But I had to keep it to myself 'cause I didn't want anybody, you know, falling out on stage (laughter) at all. But, but anyway, everything just started rolling from that, that day forward, and we started getting more funding. The critics had come out to see the performances and thought, "Wow, this guy has got something here." And I got some really, really good press, very, very good reviews, glowing reviews as a matter of fact. And folks said, "I want to buy into his dream." And so that's really what started happening. So we started our European tour. We went to France.