CHICAGO — Yossi Chaikin, grew up in Kiryat Yam with immigrant parents from the former Soviet Union. So while he always knew that he wanted to be a professional dancer, never in his wildest dreams did he think he’d be in the Chicago company of “Hamilton: An American Musical.”
“I came from a Gypsy family,” laughed the 25-year-old. “Both my parents were dancers. I grew up in a bubble where theater and dancing were always in the house.”
Chaikin’s parents both worked day jobs, but at night they danced. His father Oleg choreographed a small cabaret troupe in a restaurant. His mother Irina owned a dance studio and taught classes.
As a child, Chaikin practically lived at his mother’s dance studio. Determined to absorb everything, he’d come home from school and stay at the studio until ten or eleven at night.
When Chaikin announced to his parents that he wanted to dance professionally, they initially tried to dissuade him. Knowing the difficult path ahead, they tried to steer their son to other sports — anything but dancing.
Chaikin tried it all, but nothing took the place of dancing. Dancing was his safe zone.
“It’s how I could tune out everything I didn’t want,” he recently told The Times of Israel.
So, he showed his trademark dedication and perseverance and kept following his dream.
At age 12, Chaikin won the nationally televised 2003 Israel Bravo team talent dance competition. This was enough to finally convince his parents that he was serious. From then on, he had their full support.
Chaikin spent his teens dancing and performing all over Israel in different festivals such as Festival Carmiel in 2006 and Red Sea Joy in 2008 and 2009. In 2004, he traveled to Boston to compete in the Maccabi Games. He also trained with the Ballet Academy of San Francisco in 2007, and as a youth attended the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Israel, where he received the Janet Ordman Excellence Award.
In 2013, Chaikin achieved his dream of being accepted to Juilliard School of Dance.
‘My experiences taught me to differentiate between what benefits me, what intrigues me and what I do because I am told’
“Juilliard was always a dream for me. It’s a school where you can refine your skills and develop yourself to the extent of your talent and ability,” he said.
He also learned to trust his inner voice. As Chaikin wrote in the Julliard Dance Blog,
“I improved and developed the more I listened to my own voice. My own experiences had taught me to differentiate between what benefits me, what intrigues me and what I do because I am told.”
In 2015, Chaikin auditioned for “Hamilton.” The grueling process took a year and involved five separate auditions. The acceptance notification finally came, and he arrived in Chicago as part of the cast in September 2016.
Chaikin is now “Hamilton” co-dance captain and swing. As co-dance captain, he assists with maintaining the integrity of the show’s choreography. He also runs rehearsals. As a swing dancer, he is available should a dancer get injured. This happened in October with the injury of a cast member. Chaikin took the stage numerous times to fill in the spot.
“Being on stage with ‘Hamilton’ was very surreal. It’s beyond anything I would have imagined,” he said.
Chaikin is quite appreciative of his success and believes in giving back to the community. In Israel, he did a lot of volunteer work performing at medical centers, foster homes, elderly care centers — anywhere that he could share his skills and art with the community.
On January 16, 2017, the National Day of Racial Healing, Chaikin conducted a workshop at the Little Black Pearl with Chicago youth. Located in the Kenwood – Oakland neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the Little Black Pearl provides a safe space for students to explore and learn about fine arts.
Chaikin taught selections from “Hamilton,” and the students quickly picked up the complicated moves. There was lots of laughter and sharing of cultures as he showed the dancers a move or two from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Chaikin was a natural teacher, sharing his joy of dance with the students.
Between numbers, Chaikin imparted life lessons and the importance of taking action.
“’Hamilton’ is about these founding fathers who created this thing we call the United States… they were just folks like us,” he said to the group of 20 dancers. “Hamilton was only 19 years old.”
After the workshop, Chaikin answered the students’ questions. He explained how the young dancers could sign up for auditions so that they too could realize their dreams of dancing professionally. He encouraged them to “reach for the moon.”
“I feel very fortunate to be able to give back,” Chaikin told a crew from Chicago’s WTTW Public Television station. “These students keep me on my toes. I like to have teenagers around because they’re very honest. They will tell me whether they like something or not.”