Chances Dances :: Never been fiercer

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 25, 2010

The queer nightlife scene of any city is a constantly changing animal, as parties, promoters and venues fade in and out of the minds of partygoers looking for something exciting, fresh and sexy. But over the past four years, Chicago's gay dance party-seekers have enjoyed one constant option as an alternative to the often predictable Boystown scene.

Chances Dances was co-founded in 2004 by Bruce Weist (pictured above, middle) and Latham Zearfross, artists who foresaw a party that would, in the words of the event's mission, "function to bring together the varied LGBTIQ communities of Chicago." Steering clear of the Halsted Street circuit, the monthly party was originally held in Wicker Park's Big Horse Lounge. When that venue closed, the night of debauchery moved and multiplied, expanding to three monthly parties: The original incarnation is held every third Monday at Subterranean, while Danny's Tavern hosts "Off Chances" each second Tuesday. The Hideout gays it up every first Saturday.

Check pretension at the door

The venues all have one thing in common: Though they are not gay bars, they are all gay-friendly venues, with drinks available on the cheap and a pretension check located just outside the door. And while Lady Gaga may come up on the playlist at some point, you’re just as likely to hear a Cheryl Lynn or Gossip record hit the turntable. The music covers expansive territory stretching from retro disco, remixed Europop and nearly everything with a beat in between.

Ethan White was originally drawn to the party when he moved to Chicago in 2006 and met Zearfross while attending school. He was attracted by the party’s no-frills, art-oriented atmosphere that felt less focused on any specific identity group or genre of music than other gay nightspots tended to. Before long, he was part of the party’s organizing crew.

"[Chances] was a really inclusive space where a lot of different people could come together and dance to different kinds of music," White told EDGE. "We have a more relaxed and less flashy way of approaching a dance party, whereas at bigger clubs, people feel the need to dress up, spend lots of money and it’s a kind of competitive atmosphere."

Community first

For Chances, the emphasis remains on community over competition, and they’ve made a conscious effort to support local art. As the parties began to generate a profit, the organizers created the Critical Fierceness Grant in 2008, a twice-yearly micro-grant awarded to queer-identified artists as an "opportunity for personal exploration, community development and radical change through art." Its previous recipients include transgender performance artist Rebecca Kling, writer Marian Runk and Actor Slash Model, the minds behind the award-winning documentary Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Defiance in Music Performance.

"We saw a lot of people around us creating queer art and we wanted to give these artists an impetus to move their projects along," said Rita Bacon, another Chances organizer, of the grant.

As they approach their fifth birthday, the key for the Chances crew remains focused on keeping the drinks flowing, music pumping and the party spirit thriving. And Chances is more popular now than ever: At the latest Hideout night, some fifty would-be chance-dancers could be seen lined up outside the venue at midnight, a half-hour after the party’s start. The small venue had already reached its capacity.

Out on the Pabst Blue Ribbon-soaked, sweaty dance floor often synonymous with Chances, Bacon and White recall their favorite moments of the many hours they’ve spent volunteering their time toward the party’s continued success.

"There are these peak moments when you look at the dancing crowd and see the ecstasy of the people dancing and having an ecstatic time," Bacon shared. "That’s when I have these moments of pride: Yeah, we threw a really awesome party. It’s rewarding."

"There is no better part to this than being able to create an environment that makes people happy," White added. "It’s a lot of hard work, but we wouldn’t do it if we couldn’t create that kind of atmosphere."

The next Chances party is at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, on Saturday, March 6, featuring DJ sets from John Twatters and Nina Ramone and an interactive performance from Anthony Romero. For more information on Chances Dances and the Critical Fierceness Grant, visit

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.

Comments on Facebook