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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Cocodaco Dance Project : Promotes Community-Based Performances

Sep 24, 2017 10:40PM ● By Carrie Jackson

photo credit: Matt Glavin

Like so many other people, dancing has always been a deeply meaningful form of expression for Ronn Stewart. An award-winning choreographer and teacher, he has worked with local companies such as the Joffrey Ballet and Gus Giordano Dance School, and has toured all over the country. He is the co-founder of Foster Dance Studios, in Evanston, and artistic director of the studio’s resident nonprofit division, Cocodaco Dance Project, along with his wife, Sarah Goldstone.
       The couple started Cocodaco in 2014 to promote and produce contemporary dance at a world-class level while giving exposure and experience to dancers that otherwise might not have an opportunity to perform. “We encourage connection, collaboration and communication through dance and movement,” says Stewart.

       Cocodaco, which is short for Community of Contemporary Dance Companies, started as a way to make running a company more spiritually fulfilling for Stewart and Goldstone. “The studio and dancers share a sense of community, and everyone is there because they are passionate about what they do,” says Stewart. Specifically, the organization is comprised of three companies: Professional, Mezzo and Youth. The three ensembles are made up of about 40 dancers that practice and perform both on their own and in collaboration. 

       The idea of community dance and inclusion begins with the Youth Ensemble. “Because they train with dancers of all different levels, they are able to absorb more in a rigorous, but supportive environment that emphasizes technique, but also puts value on being a part of something larger,” says Stewart.

       For students with more dance experience, the Mezzo company provides a transition into the professional arena. “The Mezzo company is a valuable opportunity for those who are serious about dance, but haven’t been able to get a lot of professional opportunities and exposure. They are still discovering how they fit in to the dancing world, and Cocodaco provides them a support network to rely on in a field that is incredibly competitive and can lead to a lot of heartbreak,” says Stewart.

       The Professional ensemble is made up of dancers with extensive training and are passionate about sharing their art and their knowledge. “As the performing foundation of Cocodaco, the professional dancers are the mentors who create a positive impact on those who have less experience,” says Stewart. The company recently toured and performed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Stewart lived and taught for a number of years, and all three ensembles perform locally at venues such as the Josephine Louis, at Northwestern University.

       Both Stewart and Goldstone believe dance is a methodology of connection, healing and understanding. Goldstone is certified in Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis, and the couple use guided imagery and imagination to challenge their dancers to get the most out of their bodies. “Along with an understanding of correct anatomical function, imagery can be a revelation in a three-dimensional approach to dancing. Besides getting cardiovascular exercise, dancers are using their whole bodies to elongate and contract, explore rhythm, feel muscles and skin work in ways they may not have before. It’s incredibly healing,” says Stewart.

       Stewart, who started dancing at the age of 10, says that discovering American jazz helped him work through some trauma in his youth, and believes that dedicated artists often arise from unusual circumstances. “Jazz just clicked for me, and at the right time in my life. I say it discovered me, I didn’t discover dance,” says Stewart.

       Driven by a passion to help others, he created the idea of MoPeD, or More People Dancing, his signature dance technique and approach to movement and body awareness that combines dance improvisation, imagery and experiential anatomy. MoPeD has five main pillars as its basis. Dancers learn to keep going, listen and learn, suspend judgments, remember how their body feels and do it with love. In fact, Stewart even created a #doitwithlove hashtag for social media to document how transformative the process can be. 

       Cocodaco brings in outside choreographers to provide a fresh perspective, has a board of directors that focuses on operations and funding and offers classes to the general community from 10:15 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for $10. “We believe in the power of dance to move people forward in their lives, and are passionate about making dance more accessible to people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities. The beauty of a community-based program is that we see the growth and development happening every day, both on a personal and professional level. Each company informs and inspires the rest,” says Stewart.

The Cocodaco Dance Project is located at 915 Foster Ave., in Evanston. For more information, call 505-670-6659, email [email protected] or visit

Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. Connect with her at

Editor's Note: Cocodaco's artistic director Ronn Stewart passed away on Saturday, September 23. Our hearts and love go out to Ronn's family and friends, including his wife Sarah, and their baby, expected in February 2018. A fund has been created to help support Sarah and the baby in the coming months, and we encourage you to help in any way you can: A Barefoot Boogie dance and fundraiser to support the Cocodaco Dance Company and help fund their December 8-10 performances is planned for October 12. More information to follow.