By Stacy Eastman
When dancers reach the advanced level, it is always helpful to introduce a “show and tell” exercise that gets them used to adding 8 counts of their own steps to small pieces of choreography. For example, one student might do flap flap cramproll, shuffle step heel stomp, shuffle step heel stomp; another might add riff back flap heel tap heel stamp, stomp back flap, stomp back flap stomp. Keep this going in a group with four or five kids and they will have made a dance in no time.
Student choreography can be such a positive experience for the kids. I have a student choreography program in my school, in which all of the students submit their choreography for a showcase and the top pieces are allowed to do competitions. They are in charge of choosing the music, casting, costumes, and rehearsals. The program started small and keeps growing.
Tapology’s annual Dance Festival for Youth, a three-day event featuring dance workshops for youth and adults, a tap competition, historical presentation, honorary luncheon, and concert, is set for October 25 to 28 at the Flint Institute of Music’s Cultural Center Campus, 1025 E. Kearsley Street, Flint, Michigan.
The weekend features classes for beginner, intermediate, advanced, and adult dancers. Deborah Mitchell, a Broadway and film dancer and founder and artistic director of the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble, will be the guest of honor at Saturday’s Honoree Luncheon. Saturday features a tap competition with $1,500 in prizes at 8:30pm in the MacArthur Auditorium, while Sunday features the Tapology Concert at 7pm at the Whiting.
The lineup for the concert includes performers and master teachers such as Chester Whitmore, Dianne Walker, Cartier Williams, Maurice Chestnut, and Jared Grimes; as well as former students who have gone on to professional careers, such as Quynn Johnson, Bianca Revels, Alexandria Bradley, and Frances Bradley; as well as the Tapology Youth Ensemble.
For more information, to register for workshops, or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.tapology.org/events/dance-festival or call 810.787.0197.
East Carolina University, a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina located in Greenville, North Carolina, has posted a job opening for a part-time tap teacher in its School of Theatre and Dance.
East Carolina University is a doctoral institution with an enrollment of more than 27,000 students and approximately 4,500 faculty and staff. Candidate must have strong skills for teaching beginner tap foundations (traditional base steps and vocabulary/technique) through advanced-level, performance-oriented courses encompassing “rhythm tap” techniques, and other advanced-level foot work specializations.
The ideal instructor will be versatile in his/her teaching abilities and also possess choreographic skills suitable for creating performance pieces included in Main Stage season dance concerts.
A candidate with an MFA in dance or a related field from an appropriately accredited institution is preferred; a candidate with equivalent and substantial professional experience in the field will also be considered provided he/she has a minimum of five years teaching experience.
East Carolina University requires applicants to submit a candidate profile online, including a cover letter, a curriculum vitae/resume, and a list of three references with contact information.
This is a fixed-term faculty appointment with possibility for annual renewals. Salary is competitive. To register, visit https://ecu.peopleadmin.com/applicants/jsp/shared/position/JobDetails_css.jsp.
First there were the robberies and the corner drug markets. Then came shootings and even a slaying. But it wasn’t until Peggy Sutton was leaving her South Side dance studio and saw a group of her young students playing happily in the parking lot while in the distance a group of men were being searched by police that she decided it was time to leave Chatham, a Chicago neighborhood.
“The neighborhood is just getting worse and worse,” Sutton, who owns and manages the school founded five decades ago by her famous father, Tommy Sutton, told the Chicago Tribune. “For years, things just happened around us. I thought the neighborhood maybe respected us because we had children and they knew what we were trying to do. But I started to feel it closing in on us.”
Because of the uptick in violence, Sutton is moving her well-known dance school about two miles away to Calumet Heights, a middle-class community not as plagued with troubles. Despite a financial risk in a down economy, Sutton said she is relocating the dance school to protect her 500 students from violence on her beleaguered block.
“I can’t say there was one defining moment that pushed me away,” Sutton said. “It became evident to me, as I drove to and from the studio, I would see these makeshift memorials that are put up when someone is killed. I realized I have to put the safety of the children and their parents first.”
Mayfair Academy was created by international tap dancer and choreographer Tommy Sutton in the 1950s. At the height of his career, Sutton performed throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe with celebrities Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Andrew J. Nemr, a recognized leader in the tap dance world and TED Fellow, will present an evening of tap dance, live music, and storytelling, this September at Aaron Davis Hall at City College, New York City.
In his first solo-feature show, Nemr steps out from his role as artistic director of Cats Paying Dues/CPD PLUS. Featured friends include Or Matias (Trans Siberian Orchestra), Gregory Jones (Nat Adderley, Jr. Trio, Savion Glover’s Footnotes), Alex Berger (winner for Best Story Song, 10th Annual Independent Music Awards), and Max ZT (winner at the National Hammer Dulcimer Championship). Nemr will also be performing Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s stair dance from the 1932 film Harlem is Heaven.
Shows are set for September 20 to 22 at 7pm; Aaron Davis Hall, West 135th Street and Convent Avenue. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 students (with ID) and seniors. To purchase, contact the box office at http://www.adhatccny.org or 212.650.6900. For more information, visit www.andrewnemr.com.
In tap and beyond, variety, volume, and interpretation make music meaningful
By Brenda Bufalino
When I studied dance as a child, every class was accompanied by live music. I received much of my music training when studying in dance schools in Lynn, Salem, and Boston, Massachusetts. Students were taught how to play drums, castanets, tambourines, and other hand instruments. Dance training without music training was unthinkable.
Today much about music and its relationship to dance training has changed. When I was in public school, I was introduced to classical music. By listening to recordings of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach, I absorbed the emotional colors and range of different composers. Nowadays canned music is ubiquitous, inserting itself into elevators and department stores. It’s hard to distinguish one song or genre from another, which means that concerts or recitals that feature only pop music are dull, with each dance looking the same as the last. Yet many teachers tell me they must teach dance to pop music to prevent the children from losing interest.
And there’s another problem: often at recitals the students’ smiles outshine the spotlights, but the music is so loud you can’t hear their taps. The thumping of the electric bass makes my heart feel like it’s going to jump out of my chest, and the drums are so insistent I hope I won’t end the night with tinnitus.
How can a dance teacher counteract these unmelodious trends? I’ve been around a bit, and in my years of performing and teaching dance I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about music and its relationship to dance, particularly tap dance. Here’s some advice I’d like to share.
Make music meaningful
In rehearsing a new piece, I want to see that the dance can stand alone without any music and still create the impression I want to achieve. I’ve found that if the dancers rehearse to the same music, practice after practice, the music soon becomes like wallpaper, not deeply attended to. So even though I might have decided on the music for a dance, I will change what we use for rehearsals every so often. The steps will sit a little differently over another melody and appear fresh and lively. I might even be inspired to change my music permanently because the steps sound less predictable placed against a piece of music I didn’t compose them to.
A choreographed tap dance is a musical composition. Tap dancers are creating musically rhythmic and melodic phrases in collaboration with the musicians, whether they are on a recording or playing live on the bandstand.
American musical history
I have had the good fortune to train dancers and teachers who have also studied in other parts of the country, such as Courtney Runft, who teaches at the American Tap Dance Center in New York City and who trained in Kansas with Sharon Rogers, whom she still speaks of with respect and admiration. I asked Runft what music she was introduced to in her school. “If we were studying ballet we always danced to classical music,” she said, “or standards and jazz for tap.”
Some dance teachers feel that dance class may be the only place where young people are introduced to a variety of music styles and genres. This requires teachers to study, listen, and respond creatively to many musical influences.
Jazz, which many consider America’s classical music, is a great resource for ear training. It has a complexity that does not rely on volume to make its point, and comes in a great variety of time signatures and styles from Charleston, Dixieland, swing, and bebop to beautiful ballads.
Concerts or recitals that feature only pop music are dull, with each dance looking the same as the last. Yet many teachers tell me they must teach dance to pop music to prevent the children from losing interest.
When teaching to jazz music, dance teachers should discuss various concepts, such as what the musicians are expressing and such elements as time signatures, harmonies, and chord progressions; and use multiple interpretations of the same tune. The Great American Song Book is an excellent resource. I suggest to students that they always learn the lyrics of a song—even if they are dancing to an instrumental version—to remember that their dance is telling a story. This raises the question: is the story the song is telling the same as the story you want to be selling?
Certainly the incredible resource material from Broadway should always be a part of our curriculum, highlighting America’s great contribution to dance and theater.
The volume and density of music have increased exponentially over the years, and today’s dancers are used to being pushed by the music rather than by the impulse of the dance. After becoming anesthetized by concerts in which tappers danced faster and faster to pop music—slam and bang, a two-hour rhythmic monotony—I was delighted to see a short presentation by tap choreographer Derick K. Grant at Steps on Broadway in New York City.
The first music choice was the song “Beautiful Love,” a gorgeous tune sung a cappella and danced a cappella to the beautiful memory of the melody. Grant used early swing music, ballads, big band, bebop, and funk, so that by the end of the evening I had had a musical experience as well as a dance one.
As dance artists we can offer our audiences a beautiful and exciting musical experience. In my solo concert, Cantata & The Blues, I tapped to medleys of Muzio Clementi’s sonatinas, Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and the Latin-swing “A Night in Tunisia.” I often write my own music if I can’t find the groove or feel that I am looking for.
Rita Hamilton of Hamilton Dance Studio in Brooklyn and Queens says she uses Pandora.com, a free Internet radio station, to find a wide variety of music.
As choreographers who are inspired by certain composers and arrangers, we can follow their careers and study their music, which adds depth to our own compositions. For my company, The American Tap Dance Orchestra, I created an evening-length work, American Landscape, to the music of Hoagy Carmichael. Many of his songs, such as “Baltimore Oriole,” “(Up a) Lazy River,” and “Georgia on My Mind,” were inspired by birds, rivers, and places. Others, like the magnificent standard “Stardust,” offer many exciting possibilities for concert dance.
Turn down the volume
When touring with The American Tap Dance Orchestra, I learned the importance of having monitors on each side of the stage for both live and recorded music. Music that is amplified only through speakers directed at the audience must be turned up very loud to allow the dancers onstage to hear both the music and the sounds of their taps. This volume can be unbearable for the first 30 rows and still not be loud enough for audience members in the back of the house.
Placing monitors onstage as well as in the house allows the dancers to hear what they need to hear and avoids assaulting the audience. In a very large theater it might be necessary to put additional portable speakers in the house every 30 feet, to avoid delays of the sound as it travels. If floor microphones are used for the taps, this sound too can be circulated through the monitors onstage so the dancers can hear themselves.
All genres of dance benefit from having monitors onstage. It’s as true for ballet and lyrical as it is for tap: music that’s too loud, or orchestration that’s too dense and complicated, will dwarf the artist’s stature. The louder the music, the smaller the artist appears.
Thelma Goldberg, director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts [see “Dance Right In,” August 2012], presents many concerts throughout the year with her students and her pre-professional Legacy Dance Company. When she can’t find a suitable recording of a song she loves, she will hire a piano player, bass player, and drummer to arrange and record the tune for presentation.
Susan Hebach, director of the young-adult pre-professional company Tap City Youth Ensemble in New York City, mixes live and recorded music into her productions. With live music, the dancer is responsible for setting the tempo and interacting with the musicians. Sometimes they delight in hearing their rhythms in a new way through a fresh interpretation of a song they have started to take for granted.
Ultimately, with both recorded and live music, the dancers must connect with the musicians—and the deeper the connection, the livelier the performance. And musical variety makes the performances more fulfilling for audiences as well as for the dancers.
By Stacy Eastman
To introduce students to the advanced level, give combinations that involve intricate footwork and coordination skills. I often use a combo that is tricky yet fun for the kids to figure out. Starting with the right foot, dig the ball of the foot into the floor on 1. Then, with the left foot, do a heel drop, toe drop (& a) twisting the toe out. Have them do four sets of that (counts 1 through 4 & a); stamp on right (5). Reverse ball left, heel toe right (& a 6). Stamp on left (&). Ball on right (a), heel toe left (7 &); jam side of right foot (8).
Another exercise that’s great for rhythm and coordination is a flap and clap exercise across the floor. It’s good for all levels, but I use it as a warm-up for advanced students. Add heel drops to make it more challenging. Flap R and clap; flap LR clap; flap LRL and clap; flap RLRL and clap 3 times. It’s lots of fun and keeps them learning at the same time.
Style and performance at the intermediate stage are important because you are gearing up the students for the advanced level. At this point you should be bringing in guest teachers and having students attend tap workshops and performances to help them adapt to various styles. The more knowledge they have, the easier it is to pick up the styles. At this point they should have covered all the basics, including shuffles, flaps, drawbacks, Cincinnatis, paradiddles, cramp rolls, riffs, pullbacks, pickups, and the more difficult wings.
The proper way to perfect a wing is starting at the barre. Have students stand on the balls of their feet with the feet together, and slightly bend the knees. Brush the right foot out to the side, sweeping the foot out, and spank it on the way in. Reverse. Practice the moves separately at first until the students seem confident enough to combine them.
At the intermediate level, the overlapping of rhythm patterns and an introduction to accenting and shading are important. Shading, the volume of the sounds, is a vital part of tap dance, and when it’s done correctly it is music to the ears. Shading is the force with which movements are executed, affecting volume and pitch. This is something you can play around with in class. I often tell my young students that it’s like coloring—some areas are very dark and some are very light.
Accenting is very important so that the dancers learn to vary the levels of sound. All accents are not loud; the volume depends on the phrase. An easy warm-up to help them understand accenting and shading consists of paradiddles, steps, and stamps. For example: paradiddle, paradiddle, paradiddle step step; reverse and go to singles. If you replace the steps with stamps the second time through and have them accent the heel, the sound becomes louder. That way, students understand shading and accenting all in one.
Red Line Tap Company (RLTC) of Boston will hold open auditions for company members ages 13 to 18 on June 16 from 10am to 1pm at the Newburyport City Hall auditorium, 60 Pleasant Street, Newburyport.
Red Line Tap Company is a pre-professional tap dance company attracting performers from the suburbs of Boston and southern New Hampshire. The company is under the direction of Leo Lamontagne, a graduate of Northwestern University and founder of its TONIK Tap company. Lamontagne has toured and taught nationally with Chicago’s Jump Rhythm Jazz Project and recently performed in Clara’s Dream: A Jazz Nutcracker at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Company members attend weekly rehearsal in preparation for two annual shows, and also perform throughout the community and at tap festivals.
Parents are welcome to attend the audition and informational session to learn more about participation in RLTC. Doors open at 9:30am. To audition, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got news? Email Karen@rheegold.com and include your name, email and phone. We like accompanying photos too with photographer’s credit and photo description.
Once students reach the intermediate level, it’s time to make the warm-up and across-the-floor exercises more challenging. Try changing feet, adding heel drops, using accents, and repetition steps (like 8 running flaps and running flaps heels) and then doing the sequence backward. Anything done in 8s can be turned into 4s, then 2s, and then singles. At this level you will be able to cover more material and play with tempos and rhythms (such as doing the same combination to various songs of different tempos so that the students understand timing).
At the intermediate level you will also refine the techniques that have been introduced, increase the students’ knowledge of terminology, and group together short combinations to prepare them to perform a routine. As they become more aware of timing, you can change the repetition of steps. For instance: flap flap cramp roll, back flap, back flap cramp roll, 4 walking 6-count riffs. Add to the material each week and you will end up with a combination that students feel confident about.
Dulé Hill, the Emmy-nominated star of The West Wing and Psych, stars in Nostalgia, a short film about an aging tapper who struggles to hold onto his music and his muse despite the fervent opposition of his loving son.
The film is the directorial debut of Philadelphia native Johnnie Hobbs III and was written and directed by Hobbs and Jason Messina. Filmed in New York and Philadelphia and featuring top-shelf tappers Chloe Arnold and Jason Samuels Smith, it will premiere at film festivals around the country this summer, with a special screening at Philadelphia’s The University of the Arts.
Philadelphia stage legend Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. (Rocky Balboa, Up Close & Personal), portrays the aging tap dancer as he recalls the glorious and regretful life he lived both onstage and off. He is joined by Hill, who along with his TV roles has held lead roles in the national tour of The Tap Dance Kid and Broadway’s Bring in Da’ Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk; Arnold, who has worked alongside Debbie Allen and Savion Glover and is featured in the documentary Tap Dreams; and Smith, an Emmy-winning choreographer with a performance career that includes Bring in Da’ Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing With the Stars. Rounding out the cast is well-known tap industry insider Sarah Reich.
Go to www.nostalgiamovie.com to see up-to-the-minute announcements, photos, and news.
Andrew J. Nemr, artistic director of the tap dance company Cats Paying Dues/CPD PLUS and co-founder of the Tap Legacy Foundation, was recently announced as a member of the 2012 class of TEDGlobal Fellows.
Nemr and 18 other innovators from around the world have been hand-picked to participate in this year’s annual TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Nemr will deliver his own TED Talk before an audience of hundreds, and have an opportunity of having his talk posted on TED.com. The fellowship continues throughout the year with ongoing coaching, mentoring, and collaboration within the TED community.
“The 19 Fellows who make up the 2012 TEDGlobal class have already demonstrated breathtaking accomplishment,” said Tom Rielly, the director of the TED Fellows program, in a press release. “For example, we have a Kenyan self-taught sculptor who transforms ‘junk’ into art, including sublime eyewear, a Ugandan prison activist who works to reintegrate African prisoners into their communities, and a coral scientist who is studying the impact of climate change on marine life. All of them are at dramatic inflection points in their careers, and we hope to help them accelerate their progress, no matter what their domain.”
Mentored by Gregory Hines, Nemr is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Masterpieces: Dance Initiative Grant for the reconstruction of the works of classic tap dance soloists, garnering critical and popular acclaim for the performance “Echoes in Time.”
Follow Nemr on Twitter at @andrewjnemr or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/andrewjnemr.
Tapestry Dance Company will present “April Fools,” featuring Datri Bean and the Butter Bean Band, March 30 to April 1 at the Rollins Studio Theatre, The Long Center, Austin, Texas.
Tapestry, a full-time professional tap company, has designed an evening of contemporary rhythm and rhyme in the vaudeville tradition, featuring vaudeville-style classics and contemporary tap dance, singing, and crazy characters. Tapestry is under the artistic direction of Acia Gray.
Shows are set for March 30 and 31 at 8pm, and March 31 and April 1 at 2pm. For tickets, visit http://www.thelongcenter.org/april_fools_what_if.aspx
The Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) presents “Windy City Rhythms,” its annual performance celebrating National Tap Dance Day, May 10 and 11.
“Windy City Rhythms” features Chicago-based foot drummers including the CHRP debuts of FootworKINGz and Boom Crack Dance Company, as well as M.A.D.D. Rhythms (celebrating its 10th anniversary), Ayrie “Mr. Taps” King III, Martin “Tre” Dumas, youth groups from Paul Revere Elementary School and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School, and CHRP’s resident ensemble BAM!
Performances are set for May 10 at 10:30am and May 11 at 7:30pm at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 East 56th Place, Chicago. Tickets are $15 to $25 and are available at www.chicagotap.org or by calling 773.281.1825.
Penn State University student Joshua Johnson travels by bus five hours each way between the college and New York City, where he tap dances on the subway to help raise the $6,000 he needs each year for tuition, books, meal plans, and other bills.
Campus Progress spoke with Johnson, the first person in his family to attend college and who was recently featured in The New York Times and other media outlets, including an appearance Wednesday on The Ellen Show.
“Since freshmen year, I’ve been traveling back and forth to tap dance on the New York City subways. That’s how I raised most of my money for school, along with donations. I remember in my senior year, after I graduated from high school, that summer I really had to figure out how I was going to get money for school.
“It came down to the last two weeks before my freshmen year started and I still needed roughly $3,000. I raised $1,000 through tap and I still didn’t have enough. Two days before I got in, a lady from College For Every Student (a non-profit group that offers mentoring and leadership programs) that thought I was a great guy and I told her my situation and she wrote a check for $2,000 and it was amazing. That’s how I got in, and ever since then I’ve just been raising money through tapping—doing street performances—just to stay in.”
To see Johnson tap and tell his story on The Ellen Show, visit http://campusprogress.org/articles/tapping_for_tuition_penn_state_students_dances_to_fund_his_education/.
Call-and-response games sharpen tap students’ ears
By Mike Wittmers
In the 1980s I was introduced to the game Simon Says. While this game had nothing to do with dance, it eventually made me a better tap dancer. When “Simon” spoke, I hung on his every word as if I couldn’t take another step without his guidance. Even the simplest of his commands rang loud and kept me focused on getting it right for fear of being ostracized from the rest of the group.
A few years later, I was introduced to the computerized version of Simon Says, which involved music, listening skills, and memorization. (Remember the round disc with red, yellow, blue, and green lights?) This small, robotic game also commanded my attention, and the instructional cadence had a melodic quality that resonated with my young, tap-dancer ears.
What was so great about both Simons is that they taught kids to listen. When Simon said something we had to listen; otherwise, we lost the game. But today’s videogames and text messages have eliminated the “listening to others” learning stage of child development. Rather than help kids develop better listening skills, they emphasize the visual aspect.
Our dancers deserve better. So here’s a tap-dancing spin on Simon to get your students’ listening skills to the next level and, in turn, help make them better dancers.
Put your hands together
Simon taught us that listening can be fun if it’s put in the right context. One of my favorite games to play with students is Call and Response. Using this game, we can get even the most inexperienced students quickly learning the process of ear-training and repeating what they hear.
Sit your students down on the floor with their legs crossed. You should be in a chair in front of them. Explain that you will be clapping a rhythm and then they are to repeat it. Your rhythmic pattern will be four counts long and you will tap one foot on the floor to keep tempo. (I recommend you count the tempo out a few times so they know what to expect.) Always finish on count 4 to keep things simple and the sound clean.
Here’s an example of what the exchange could be like:
- You lead in with: “5, 6, 7, my turn.” Then clap out the rhythm 1, 2, 3 & 4 (clapping on each count and the “and”) and quickly say, “Your turn,” before the 5.
- The students then clap the same pattern that you did, on 5, 6, 7 & 8 (five claps).
- You jump in before the 1 with “My turn.” This time clap out 1 & 2, 3 & 4 (clapping on each count and both “ands”) and say, “Your turn” before the 5.
- Again, the students then clap the same pattern that you did, on 5 & 6, 7 & 8 (six claps).
Depending on your students’ level, their first few attempts may not go well. That’s OK. The key is to keep going. Eventually the students who do get it will set the example and the rest will follow suit.
As the process becomes easier week after week, you can then challenge some of your students to be the “rhythm leader.” Let that person stand in front with you. Tap your foot for the tempo and count it out for the class. Your new leader will be in charge of clapping while the others respond to him/her. I usually use the last 5 or 10 minutes of class to play Call and Response, and I try to do it at least three times a month. Remember, practice makes perfect—and all you have to do is put your hands together!
Pah rhum pah pum pum
I started playing drums in my senior year of high school, and it was the best thing I could have done for my future as a tap teacher. Using a musical instrument in tap class is very important. It adds a layer of fun, but it also teaches students how to listen to what’s going on behind the music. Using percussion will let you take Call and Response to the next level.
Even if you do not play drums, there are a few easy ways to include percussion in your role of Simon. The easiest way is to grab a pair of drumsticks. Clicking the sticks together in front of a class can be very powerful. I prefer to use world percussion/timbale sticks, because they have less chance of splintering and give off the loudest sound (see Resources box).
A more “advanced” option is to try a handheld drum. This will add a bit of tone to the game. There are thousands of choices for hand drums, but see the Resources box for several I like for their ease of play, especially if you are not a drummer.
Both instruments will work well for you and can also be easily played by students who have earned Rhythm Leader responsibilities.
The key to implementing an instrument into Call and Response is to learn how to hold tempo while playing the role of Simon. The way I do it is to walk in place. My feet keep the tempo and my hands play the drum. I follow the same cadence as I discussed earlier with the hand-clapping version. You can vary tempos for beginning or advanced levels, as well as expand the set list of steps your students are allowed to respond with. The possibilities are endless.
One of my favorite games to play with students is Call and Response, which can get even the most inexperienced students quickly learning the process of ear-training.
Keep in mind that this process is going to take practice. Do not get frustrated. At the start, you may feel like you’re tapping your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. In a way, you are! Doing two things at once, plus keeping time and controlling your class, is not easy. Put in the time and the rewards will be great.
There’s a proverb that says, “A great drummer listens as much as he plays.” For a tap dancer, nothing is more important than being a good listener. Being able to focus on the music or what a dancer next to you is doing can be the difference between a good and great performance. What would your favorite band sound like if none of the musicians listened to each other? What a mess! Tap dancing without listening is the same thing.
By teaching the importance of listening to Simon or to a specific instrument in a song, we are giving our students tools for success as both learners and professionals. Progress in the classroom speeds up when students hear what the teacher wants the first time, whether it’s a rhythm or verbal instructions, thus minimizing wasted time. And choreographers want to hire dancers who pay attention to what they need right off the bat.
The more you focus on listening skills now, the better off your students will be later. And in the end, you’ll be able to look back on your well-spent time and say (forgive the pun), “The kids ‘aural’ right!”
Young tapper Hillary-Marie Michael turns entrepreneur with the Jersey Tap Fest
By Kay Waters
It’s Friday, August 26, 2011. Hurricane Irene is bearing down on the Atlantic seaboard and everyone in New Jersey is in full-on disaster preparedness mode. Roads are jammed with vacationers and shore dwellers trying to flee the approaching storm ahead of a declared state of emergency and major roadway shutdowns. In stores up and down the state, flashlights, batteries, water, and other necessities are flying off shelves.
It’s high-anxiety time everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except at the Jersey Tap Fest.
The festival, the brainchild of tapper Hillary-Marie Michael, celebrated its second anniversary last summer just as the hurricane was sweeping up the coast. But at the dance studios where festival classes were going on, the focus was on tap, tap, and more tap. Call it a dance oasis—or maybe it was a case of dance-induced oblivion—but there was a quiet sense of determination, some might even call it defiance, in the air there.
Reminded later of the festival’s dance with Irene, Michael grimaced and then laughed at the memory. Putting on a four-day tap festival in the middle of a hurricane was definitely not the type of thrill she’d been hoping for in the festival’s second year.
She may only be 20, but if there’s one thing Michael is known for, it’s being a tough cookie. “People were definitely worried. Some people were freaking out, coming to me and saying, ‘We’re in a state of emergency, what are we going to do?’ I just had to stay calm. I was telling everyone to stay calm and pointing out that the state of emergency wasn’t for the entire state yet. Roads hadn’t been shut down yet and it wasn’t even raining,” Michael says.
As the front edge of Irene began to hit New Jersey, Michael canceled the final day of classes. But the showcase performance at the end of the third day went on as planned. “It was a little crazy, but we got through it,” Michael says. “I can say I’ve put on a festival during a hurricane now.” As compensation for the canceled classes, students have been offered a discount for the 2012 festival; those with Sunday-only passes received refunds.
Pulling off a festival in the middle of a hurricane would be an accomplishment for anyone, let alone a woman just out of her teens. But those who know Michael aren’t surprised. She is, by all accounts, an expert manager.
“If she stays in the theater world she’ll be a producer or a director some day,” says a mentor, tap legend Harold Cromer. Cromer first spotted Michael in a workshop when she was 13 and now uses her as one of his assistants.
Another mentor is tapper Karen Callaway Williams, whom Michael began studying with at age 13 in New Jersey at the Worth-Tyrell Studios in Morristown and later with the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble. Callaway Williams says, “I definitely see a future for her running things. I can see her being the CEO of something, the leader of something, not just of the tap festival but going even further. She has the drive to get things done. I see her taking charge and making things happen at whatever she ends up doing.”
Of course, most 20-year-old tappers aren’t fretting about faculty contracts or scheduling around hurricanes. And Michael is quick to point out that although the festival is her baby, she is determined to have a performing career. Indeed, most of her time these days is divided between teaching gigs and choreographing—her chief sources of income—and performing, either with New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble, with whom she’s been performing since she was 15, or as a soloist on the workshop circuit and with lindy hop and other swing dance events.
“I’m definitely focusing on me,” Michael says. “I’m doing what I want to do; I’m dancing and I’m trying to travel more, teaching and performing. I tried [college] for a little while, but that wasn’t for me, so now I’m really doing what I want to do.”
And she is clear that what she wants to do is tap dance. “My thing is I dance in heels and a dress and I’m about being very graceful. I’m going to hit just as hard as any guy; I’m just going to look cute doing it,” she says. “I’m a woman. I’m feminine. I don’t need to go out and be hard like, ‘I’m going to cut you.’ I can cut you and look cute doing it.”
Michael says this last declaration with a smile, but as anyone who knows her will tell you, she’s serious with a capital S. And always has been.
While her parents supported her desire to tap, it was Michael who researched various tap festivals and programs like New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble on her own, beginning when she was 13. The daughter of a drummer, Michael played percussion in a school band and discovered she too had a thing for rhythm. Tap dancing seemed like a natural extension of that. She started tapping at age 12 at Gotta Dance studio in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
“I just loved tap,” she says. “My dad got me a piece of plywood to practice on and that was it. I started looking up everything I could about tap, where to go, workshops, who the people were. I discovered this little world. I was so excited. I would look up these different programs and then tell my parents this was what I wanted to do, this is what I had to do.”
The New Jersey native, who now lives in New York City, launched the festival on her own as an answer to those who had never considered the Garden State a tap stronghold. She was 16 when she began formulating her plan.
“I was at the L.A. Tap Fest. Someone asked where I was from, and I said I was from Jersey and they said, ‘Where’s that?’ she recalls. “I was like, ‘What do you mean where’s that?’ I thought it was nuts. We have Savion Glover. We have the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble. We have Deborah Mitchell and Miss Karen [Callaway Williams]. We have Maurice Chestnut. What do you mean, ‘Where’s New Jersey?’
“I was getting super upset about it,” she continues, “and then I said, ‘OK, I’ll do something about it and bring more attention to the New Jersey tap community. I’ll make a festival.’ ”
Out of the mouths of babes. In 2010, after taking two years to plan and build publicity, Michael launched Jersey Tap Fest. The inaugural event drew 60 students; last year’s event had 80.
Michael credits her parents as well as mentors Mitchell and Callaway Williams of the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble for helping her understand and cope with the legal and business end of putting on the festival. Mitchell and Callaway Williams, for example, provided crucial information on the going rate for faculty.
They and others also cautioned Michael on other pitfalls to watch for, such as appropriate locations for festival classes and dealing with studio owners who might be nervous about sending students to a festival housed at a competing studio. Michael says other crucial behind-the-scenes information was gleaned from her experiences working as an intern at tap festivals where she learned about scheduling, registration systems and pricing, and details such as not scheduling the showcase late on the last day (to avoid losing people who want to get an early start home).
“I learned so much working at different festivals. You see that there are certain things that are expected at a festival—classes, a show, a student showcase, a jam session, and a history class. I threw in my own thing—music theory for tap dancers,” Michael says. “I knew I couldn’t do a week like some festivals, so I chose four days. Three days wouldn’t have been enough time.”
“My thing is I dance in heels and a dress and I’m about being very graceful. I’m going to hit just as hard as any guy; I’m just going to look cute doing it.” —Hillary-Marie Michael
The tap entrepreneur says she’s been pleased with the results so far. “I thought this year’s festival was a big improvement over the first year. The first year, there was a little too much going on—all with good intentions, but it was too much,” says Michael, who save for a group of volunteer interns during the festival, did all the legwork and planning on her own. “This year we had a smaller faculty and better scheduling. Everything was much more focused and organized, even with the hurricane on top of it.”
Michael’s businesslike approach may seem surprising, but those who know her are anything but surprised.
“With some young people, you know if you don’t stay on top of them from the moment they start, whatever it is they’re supposed to do just gets left hanging out there. You don’t get that with Hillary,” Mitchell says. “She’s always been that person who, to a fault, will make sure it’s done properly. I’ve tried to help her understand that you have to promote art from the boardroom to the studio, and she gets it.
“A lot of young people want to just dance,” continues Mitchell. “But when you’re working with young people, if you have any sense of the future, you’re always looking at who has potential to grow, who you can develop into a leadership position, become an administrator. I always thought Hillary could be that person.”
Michael’s approach to brushing up her dance skills is just as intense. When Mitchell told a then-13-year-old Michael that her tap skills weren’t at the level required to join the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble, Michael threw herself into extra classes, studying, at Mitchell’s suggestion, with Callaway Williams. Two years after her unsuccessful audition Michael was accepted into the Ensemble.
Now, she says, she’s determined to find a way to do it all—build her career as a performer and teacher while growing the festival. She acknowledges that it’s a workload that’s far removed from the experience of most people her age.
“It’s weird. When I talk to people my age, I can’t relate to them. Then when I’m around people who are in their 30s and 40s and they’re talking about business and performing and work, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I can relate. Let’s talk,’ ” she says, laughing. “Sometimes someone in my family will say, ‘You’re so smart; why do you want to just tap dance?’ Well, to me it’s not just tap dancing.”
To Michael, artists “are like messengers. We’re messengers of the world. We are here to bring things to you, and it can be any message. I spend my time sharing with people and I love that.”
It is important to have children start listening to sounds and counting at a young age so that they understand timing. Clapping short rhythms and matching them with tap sounds is very effective. Have the students clap and then simply tap the rhythm back to you at the same speed. Keep the children involved in making up the rhythms so they feel a sense of investment in the class. Plus, it keeps them thinking.
With older children you can create a rhythm game that is fun yet keeps them learning. Stand in a circle and create an easy rhythm that they can follow. Have the students repeat it one at a time, like a call-and-answer. Then do a step while they are facing away from the circle and have them repeat what they hear without looking. These games help them understand what they are listening to. As they progress, make the rhythms more challenging.
The ninth annual edition of “Rhythm in the Night,” a tap dance show directed by Sean C. Fielder and performed by the Boston Tap Company, will be performed at the Main Stage Theater of Roxbury Community College, 1234 Columbus Avenue, Roxbury, Massachusetts, on October 8 at 7:30pm.
The Boston Tap Company, now in its fourth year of existence, has performed at Jacob’s Pillow, MASS Moca, Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, and The Duke Ellington Theatre in Washington D.C.
The evening will feature both choreographed and improvised works performed by Fielder and his group, featuring spoken-word artist Louna Love and special guests The Floor Lords. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.bostontapcompany.com.
Tap-dance lessons for children have been banned in the British town of Keighley, West Yorkshire, by a council responding to complaints that the children’s tapping feet made the mirrors shake in a hairdressing salon downstairs, according to London’s Daily Mirror.
The Saturday classes had been running since before the hairdresser business opened, but the classes for “under-fives” have now been barred. Staff from Bradford Council had monitored the noise levels following a complaint about the Irene Ogden School of Dancing.
Officials ruled the vibrations from the classes, in a room above the Goddess Beauty Salon and Freedom Hair Design, were unlawful. “It’s absolutely crazy. We were there before the hair salon,” said the school’s principal, Katherine Hickman.
“My problem is with the council. They want small businesses to keep going but they’re not actually encouraging us. If we want children to keep fit, and to give them things to do, where do we go if people can’t put up with a bit of noise?” Hickman said.
The studio has been used for dancing since the 1960s and the Irene Ogden classes began in 2009. The tap classes for children ages 5 and under, and ballet for 3- to 8-year-olds, are still allowed at the studio when the salon is closed on weekday evenings.
In a case of what is old is new again, throwback workouts are hot, and the latest craze for helping people get into shape while having fun is TAProbics, a play on tap and aerobics created by actress and tap dancer Hillary Ayn Ryan, reports CBS Los Angeles.
“I always tell everyone, ‘For this hour, you just have this one hour to not think about anything, just have fun, listen to the music, move your body,” said Ryan, a tapper since she was a toddler. Clients can rent shoes for this workout; no tap experience is required.
“I love what it brings to everyone else, because I get emails from people saying, ‘Thank you! I had such a great time and I never laughed during a workout class before.’ To get emails after a workout class I think is pretty big,” Ryan said.
Classes are held at Evolution Studios, 4200 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood. For more information on TAProbics, visit www.tapaholictapclasses.com. To see the story and a video report on the class, visit http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/09/20/tap-dance-and-aerobics-meet-in-a-fun-workout/.
The Los Angeles-based touring company Rhapsody In Taps will present an evening celebrating the art of rhythm tap dance and the freedom of live jazz and world music on October 22 at 8pm at the Marsee Auditorium at El Camino College, 16007 Crenshaw Boulevard, Torrance, California.
Since its beginnings in 1981, Rhapsody In Taps and its artistic director/choreographer, Linda Sohl-Ellison, have created a repertoire that celebrates the tap tradition while exploring new directions in tap choreography. The company has dedicated its creative energy to fusing tap dance with a wide range of music: jazz, percussion, Latin, classical, funk, klezmer, and even Balinese gamelan music, all played live on stage by RIT’s musicians.
Rhapsody In Taps’ 30th anniversary celebration will present the premiere of the full-company Salute to Otis Redding, tap soloist and improv phenomenon Bob Carroll performing the premiere of New Solo, special appearances, and a retrospective program of the company’s works.
Rhapsody In Taps has created more than 60 original works and has performed in California, New Mexico, Michigan, Utah, Florida, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, New York, Canada, and Bali. The company’s 2005 tap/percussion collaboration with Monti Ellison, Stroke of the Oarsmen, received Lester Horton Dance Awards for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Performance from the LA Dance Resource Center.
Along with Sohl-Ellison, Rhapsody In Taps’ dancers are Bob Carroll, Mindy Millard Copeland, Gabe Copeland, Daphne Areta, Brittney McBride, and apprentice Caley-Ryan Carr.
All seats are reserved. Tickets are $40 (Hoofers’ Circle and reception with RIT artists); $32 (front orchestra), or $25 (back orchestra). Purchase tickets online at www.rhapsodyintaps.com or call the box office at 800.832.2787 or 310.329.5345. For group rates, call 310.858.1676.
Tickets are now on sale for Tap ’n Time, the main stage event of the second annual Jersey Tap Fest. Tap ’n Time will be held at 7:30pm Saturday, August 27, in the Westminster Arts Center at Bloomfield College, New Jersey.
Scheduled performers include Karen Callaway Williams, Jason Janas, Hillary-Marie Michael, Jeff Foote, Hank Smith, Deborah Mitchell, Kyle Wilder, the Boston Tap Company, NJTAP2 (New Jersey Tap Ensemble Youth Company), and Mary No & Co.
General admission tickets are $22, with tickets for children, students, and seniors for $15. To order tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/190508.
The Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) will present its 21st Annual Rhythm World, the oldest and most comprehensive festival of American tap and contemporary percussive art in the world, July 25 to August 7 in downtown Chicago.
This festival of performance, education and community outreach programs, directed by CHRP founder and artistic director Lane Alexander, features a master faculty in two weeks of residencies, courses, workshops, master classes, and conferences for the field at the Fine Arts Building. Faculty concerts, student showcases, and lecture demonstrations will take place at the Jazz Showcase, Harold Washington Library’s Cindy Pritzker Theater, Millennium Park, and MCA Stage in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
For the next five years, Rhythm World will spotlight a city, nation or region, beginning this year with Canada. Upcoming festivals will focus on Brazil (2012), the Pacific (2013), Spain and other European countries (2014), and the United States (2015).
The education program begins July 25 to 29 with intensive residencies led by Bril Barrett of MADD Rhythms; Derick K. Grant of Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk and Imagine Tap; Step Afrika! artistic director Jakari Sherman; and Bessie Award winner Sam Weber.
Courses, workshops and master classes take place August 1 to 7 with a faculty of master teachers including Bril Barrett, Idella Reed Davis, Michelle Dorrance, Tre Dumas, Jay Fagan, Derick Grant, Jason Janas, Lisa La Touche, Matt Shields, Randy Skinner, Jason Samuels Smith, Dianne Walker, Sam Weber, and Mark Yonally.
The KIDS Program August 2 to 4 offers intermediate tappers ages 9 through 12 a curriculum including oral and video histories, tap technique classes, improvisation instruction, and individual development of style and expression. After Work Adult Courses take place August 2 to 4, with Audition Workshops on August 5.
The Youth Tap Ensemble Conference (YTEC) takes place August 1 to 5. In PrepTEC, more than 90 dancers between the ages of 12 and 19, representing 10 youth tap ensembles from the United States, China, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico, gather to study new choreography, technique, improvisation and theater-related topics. ProTEC is for young adult professional tappers who want to work with their peers from around the world, while UTEC is for college and university students/faculty who want to develop a global network devoted to gaining recognition for American tap in undergraduate dance/music departments.
To register for education programs, visit www.chicagotap.org or call 773.281.1825.
Early registration is ongoing for the second annual Jersey Tap Festival, to be held August 25 to 28 at Broadway Performing Arts, 357 Broad Street, Bloomfield, New Jersey.
Founded by dancer and actress Hillary-Marie Michael of the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble, the event includes more than 30 classes, an open jam session, and performance opportunities at a main stage event on August 27 at Westminster Arts Center, Bloomfield College.
Faculty and guests includes Karen Callaway Williams of Riverdance on Broadway, Nicki Denner (music theory for tap dancers), Yvette Glover (jam session host), Jason Janas of Tapestry, Hank Smith (tap dance history), and New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble founder and artistic director Deborah Mitchell and dancers Jeffry Foote and Kyle Wilder.
Early bird registrations (15 percent off) will be accepted until June 1, with early bird discounts (10 percent off) accepted until July 1. Visit www.jerseytapfest.com for details and registration form.
Backhausdance will perform Incandescent, an evening-length work created by founder and artistic director Jennifer Backhaus, at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irving, California, on April 29 and April 30 at 8pm.
Six Backhausdance company members and six apprentices will be accompanied by 20 dance students from Chapman University and the University of California, Irvine, who will create a dance ensemble in the second section.
Lighting designer Tom Durante has created a design that includes numerous incandescent bulbs suspended above the stage. Durante, a Chapman University graduate, is president of Lux Productions, a lighting production company based in Napa, California.
Tickets are available via phone through the Irvine Barclay Theatre box office at 949.854.4646 at www.thebarclay.org or in person at the box office, 4242 Campus Drive. Prices are $33 for general seating and $15 for students with valid student ID. Group-rate tickets are available. To see a video clip of Incandescent, visit http://www.backhausdance.org/videos/.
The 92Y Fridays at Noon series continues on May 13 with Tap, Hop & Step Celebration, featuring tappers Marshall Davis Jr., Andrew Nemr, and other artists. The event, held at the 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, is free.
This edition of the dance and discussion series jumps to the beat of tap and step dancing. Marshall Davis, Jr. was a tap prodigy as a youngster and won the Star Search Teen Dance competition. He was mentored by Steve Condos of the Condos Brothers, performed in Savion Glover’s groundbreaking Broadway production Bring in ‘Da Noise Bring in ‘Da Funk, has taught tap at Queens College and performed in New York at the Joyce Theater and across the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Gregory Hines mentored Andrew Nemr, who has performed with a number of distinguished musicians and musical groups including the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Jimmy Heath, Les Paul, Harry Connick, and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. Nemr is also the co-founder, with Gregory Hines, of The Tap Legacy Foundation, which aims to create a cultural center in New York City devoted to tap. He has also performed in Europe and throughout the United States. More information can be found at www.92y.org.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
Rhee Gold Company 508.285.6650
STACY EASTMAN TO TEACH TAP AND CHOREOGRAPHY
AT 2011 DANCELIFE TEACHER CONFERENCE
NORTON, MA, April 05, 2011
Stacy Eastman, a highly sought after master teacher and judge across the United States and Canada, will share her expertise in choreography and teaching tap at the DanceLife Teacher Conference. This year’s conference for dance teachers and school owners across the United States will be held July 30 through August 2 at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Eastman will conduct sessions on tap progressions, from beginner to advanced, on July 30 and 31 and on “7-10 Tap Work” and “Quick Tap Combo” on August 2, as well as a class on “Choreography: Formations and Patterns” on August 1.
Eastman is co-director of Gloria Jean’s Studio of Dance in North Haven and West Haven, Connecticut, where she began dancing at age 3. She was named Miss Dance of America for Dance Masters of America in 1995 and is a member of DMA’s Connecticut and New York City chapters. Eastman is also on faculty for The Gold School in Brockton, Massachusetts, and Amber Perkins School of the Arts in Vestal and Norwich, New York.
For more information about the DanceLife Teacher Conference, visit www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/.
The Bill Evans Dance Company will perform seven Rochester, New York, premieres, including both award-winning modern dance choreography and classic and contemporary rhythm tap dance, at the Geva Nextstage this month.
Bill Evans has been named one of America’s three favorite tap dance artists by Dance Magazine. His company has performed in all 50 states and 22 countries.
The shows’ program includes the modern dance works Dreamweaver, Bach Dances, Saintly Passion, Harold, and In Gloves, a humorous theater piece with spoken text. Rhythm tap pieces performed to live piano music by James J. Kaufmann include Swingin’, Waltz, Los Ritmos Calientes, Preludes, plus Yes, Indeed!, Evans’ humorous signature a cappella work. Special guest rhythm tap artist Cheryl Johnson will join performing artists Heather Acomb, Kathy Diehl, Mariah Maloney, Kristen Socci, Andrea Vazquez, Vanessa Van Wormer, Courtney World, and Don Halquist.
The Geva Nextstage is located at Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury, Rochester. Performances are set for April 8, 10, 14 and 17. All shows begin at 7pm, except for the April 17 show, which will be at 2pm.
Tickets are $20, with a $15 price for seniors, students, and groups of 10 or more. Student rush tickets are $10. To purchase, call the Geva box office at 585.232.4382. More information can be found at www.billevansdance.org.
Joy of Motion Dance Center’s resident tap company, Tappenstance, and three local tap companies will present Lose Your Screws! April 9 at 8pm at The Jack Guidone Theater, 5207 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
Lose Your Screws! proves that the rhythms of tap can be compatible with every genre of music, from classic rock and tango to jazz, house, and punk. Tappenstance, directed by JOMDC faculty member Heidi Schultz, presents four ensemble pieces, Good Vibrations, Sin Rumbo, I’m Under So Much Pressure I Want to Be Sedated (a medley of Queen/David Bowie and The Ramones), and another piece that combines rhythm tap and ’60s-style dances.
Soles of Steel, JOMDC’s youth tap company, will presents two pieces: one a mix of industrial beats and a cappella rhythms, the other an update of the ’60s classic “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Just Tap will present Feeling Orange Sometimes Blue, which debuted in the Dayton Tap Project 2010. Schultz’s other company, Tappening, will hit the stage with Mountains O’ Things, playing off the percussion in this Tracy Chapman classic, and Killa Soundboy, to a dancehall-electronica selection mixed by DC DJ collective Fort Knox Five.
General admission tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Student/senior tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. For ticket reservations, visit www.joyofmotion.org.
Pre-professional tap dance groups are invited to submit a video of their tapping skills and love of dance to win a chance to perform at Tap Extravaganza 2011, New York’s celebration of National Tap Dance Day.
This year’s Tap Extravaganza will be held May 29 at 7pm at the Haft Auditorium, Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York City.
Registration is now open for Take the Stage, the online video submission competition. On March 15 at 12:01am EST, registrants can upload their videos to the Tap Extravaganza Facebook page, where an online audience will cast votes for their favorites. On April 15 at 11:59pm EST, the top five videos will move on to be voted on by a panel of judges on the following criteria: quality of dancing (including technique and cumulative skill), clarity of tap sounds and sense of time, production quality, and creativity.
The winner will be notified on May 1. For a full list of guidelines and to register, visit www.tapextravaganza.com.
For the past 20 years, Tap Extravaganza has earned a reputation for presenting the top talent of the day from all styles of tap dance. Past performers include Savion Glover, Lane Alexander, Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeisha Sumbry-Edwards, Omar Edwards, Andrew J. Nemr, Karen Callaway Williams, Mercedes Ellington, Jared Grimes, Derick Grant, Ty Stephens, Tina Pratt, and Dianne Walker.
Chicago Human Rhythm Project is now accepting submissions from choreographers and videographers for its annual Virtual Rhythms “Tapography” competition.
Winners will have the chance to perform or showcase their video at Rhythm World, CHRP’s summer festival of tap and percussive arts, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary August 3, 4 and 6 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Entries will be accepted in two categories: original choreography (solo, duet, trio, small or large group) and videography/short film (three to seven minutes). Between three and 10 finalists will be selected in each category, with winners selected through online voting.
Deadline for submissions is April 29. Nominees will be announced May 13, with online voting running from May 16 to June 17. Winners will be announced June 20.
The Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP), a year-round presenter of American tap dance and contemporary percussive arts, will present Windy City Rhythms, its annual performance celebrating National Tap Dance Day, on May 15 at 5pm at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place, Chicago.
Dianne “Lady Di” Walker will serve as mistress of ceremonies. Performers include CHRP’s resident performance and education ensemble BAM!, the Cartier Collective, Chicago Tap Theatre, Jus’ Listen, youth tap ensembles and other guests.
The celebration includes the presentation of the JUBA! Award to four Chicago area tappers:
- Julie Cartier, director, choreographer, and teacher, artistic director of Especially Tap Chicago, and founder and director of the Cartier Collective.
- Idella Reed Davis, an internationally renowned teacher and performer. The founder and director of Rhythm Iss…, she studied and now teaches at Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre.
- Shelley Hoselton, director of Talent Forum dance studio in Libertyville and one of the creators of Footprints Tap Ensemble and Forum Jazz Dance Theatre.
- Peggy Sutton, owner and director of Mayfair Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1957 by her father, tap master Tommy Sutton.
“These women have kept the tap fires burning in Chicago, committed themselves to the art of tap dance, and made seminal contributions as educators, mentors, dancers, choreographers, directors, visionaries, and pioneers,” says Lane Alexander, CHRP founder and director.
Windy City Rhythms general admission tickets are $25, $20 for students and seniors, and $15 for children 12 and younger. They are available by calling 773.281.1825 or at www.chicagotap.org.
In other CHRP news, the DuSable Museum will also present CHRP’s lecture demonstration “We All Got Rhythm” on May 24 and 25. CHRP’s resident ensemble BAM! will perform Four Shades of Brown, recreating works by Buster Brown, Harriet Brown, and Eddie Brown with an homage to James Brown. Schools interested in booking seats at the lecture should contact Antoinette Simmons at the museum, 773.947.0600, ext. 225.
What adult tap classes do for students and schools
By Gregg Russell
What do a singer/songwriter, a mom of four, a CPA, a 911 dispatcher, and a clinical dietitian all have in common? If you guessed that they love tap dancing, then you should play the lottery.
I recently began teaching an adult tap class at California Dance Theatre in Agoura Hills, California, on Wednesday mornings. The students, both men and women, range in age from their late 20s to 50s. I have been pleasantly surprised by their attitude and commitment. Each week they demonstrate more devotion and better concentration than that of most high school advanced dance competition teams. As I thought about why this is so, I came up with some ideas about how dance studio owners could benefit from adult students’ dedication and help such programs grow.
First I asked the students how long they have tapped and why they chose it over other art forms. Heather Ling-Isroelit, who has been tap dancing since her early teens, says she does it “because I don’t have to be young and in the most incredible shape, with a perfect dancer’s body, and I feel like I am still dancing.”
I found that most of my students have danced on and off throughout their lives, but because of past injuries and a desire for less physical intensity than jazz, hip-hop, or ballet require, they now only take tap. That’s important knowledge for studio owners to consider in marketing tap classes to adults. The idea of getting a low-impact workout without risking a severe injury is appealing to many adults.
What does tap give them?
I also asked the students why they love tap and if it helps them with their profession and/or everyday life. A common response was that taking tap is mentally stimulating and challenging.
“Tap helps keep my brain stimulated and my memory intact,” says Cheryl Manoly, a 911 dispatcher.
“Tap is a huge stress reliever for me. An hour of tap class is like therapy,” says Andrea Roschke, a CPA. “When I leave class, I feel energized and ready to face whatever life is throwing at me.”
“It helps me in my profession as a clinical dietitian, because I am always encouraging people to incorporate exercise into their lives in a way that keeps them motivated and interested, as tap has done for me,” says Valerie Gardhouse, who has been dancing for more than 30 years.
They also appreciated the ability to see progress quickly and recognize their mistakes. “Even the untrained ear can pick up on the slightest mistake,” says Jessica Gorman, who has been tapping since age 6. “It keeps you honest and on your toes.”
My biggest discovery in taking on this class was how much the students value the camaraderie and community aspects it offers. Many of the dancers often stay after class to write down steps, practice routines, or get coffee and discuss life. Impromptu discussions sometimes break out, which normally don’t occur in classes with younger students. These moments allow them to connect on a more personal level and enjoy their time together.
“What I love about tap are the intriguing rhythms, fun movement, and good friends I see every week,” says Hap Palmer, who produces, publishes, and performs educational recordings for young children.
And Krysten Johnson, a freelance graphic designer, says the women in class “who are newer to tap inspire me. I have enjoyed watching them grow and get better year after year.”
Taking those feelings to heart
Studio owners can learn a lot from such comments. To help create and continue the “family” feeling my students appreciate, you could offer a morning breakfast-and-tap class once a week, or set up a monthly luncheon after class (include the cost of the meal in the tuition fee).
Other fun ideas include setting up a “field trip,” where everyone gets together to see a professional show like Tap City or 42nd Street, or perhaps plan a video viewing night. Turn on an old musical and settle in (wine optional, of course!). “Watching any Fred and Ginger movie or any of the old movie musicals is enough to make you want to ‘pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again,’ ” says Lisa Auerbach, a professional actress, singer, and dancer.
Push their boundaries
Giving students more of what they want is great, but I would expose them to up-to-date styles and music too. When they can leave class feeling rejuvenated and inspired, it’s an incredible reward that can’t be replaced. That’s true for Auerbach, who says, “Tapping to contemporary music is so different and fun for me.”
Borrowing from younger students’ classes also helps students who are parents and have children who also take classes at the studio. Sharing a common step, combination, or song can work wonders in developing appreciation and confidence. And it can show the younger dancers that having a good work ethic is always important, regardless of age.
“Tap is a huge stress reliever for me. An hour of tap class is like therapy. When I leave class, I feel energized and ready to face whatever life is throwing at me.” —Andrea Roschke, tap student and CPA
Mother of four and part-time dance teacher Jennifer White started tapping “simply because it looked like a lot of fun and I wanted to try something new,” she says. Her inspiring and fearless attitude led one of her daughters, Zoe, to push herself outside her comfort zone.
Zoe has progressed to a high-level tap class in less than a year. She beams with the same uplifting attitude her mom has and says she loves it when they both have the same step to practice. “We can practice it together and challenge each other,” she says.
Tap is for anyone and any age
Teaching tap for more than 25 years has taught me that tap dancers are a unique breed that constantly seeks to create a community of tradition, commitment, and sharing. I think the biggest aspect of promoting an adult tap class is getting out in your community and showing other adults that dance is possible for them. Adults get inspired when they see people their age or older doing what they might not dare to try.
“Who inspires me?” says White. “It’s those little old ladies who are like 80 years old, called the Rockette dancer group, I see performing everywhere. If I can be 80 years old and still wear a short little dress, put my tap shoes on and perform and have a blast doing it, that’s what I want to do.”
Roschke started tapping when she read an article in the local paper about the Razzmatappers (an adult tap company) about 10 years ago. The article “mentioned that California Dance Theatre is where they train and rehearse, so I thought I’d check out their adult classes,” she says. “I never left.”
That’s a common theme among adults new to dance—seeing an older tap group perform in the community or movies or on television and getting inspired to start taking class. Shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew are wonderful, but even after 10 seasons, ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, on which most contestants are older, still ranks as one of the most popular (24.2 million viewers in its 2010 season premiere, according to the Nielsen ratings). Seeing that age doesn’t matter makes people realize that dance is accessible, and having a show or recital to work toward gives them an attainable goal.
“I love what I am modeling for my kids,” says Hillary Felker, a mom of four. “I performed in my first recital at 43. It was both scary and thrilling. Tap has given them and me something to be proud of.”
I have heard about many dance studios throughout the country that have adult tap groups that are ambassadors for the studio. Think about the positives: older dancers are committed to practicing, can rehearse longer as tappers because of less strain on the body compared to other genres, and want to fulfill their dreams of entertaining and dancing onstage. They also tend to be responsible about showing up on time and behaving professionally at events. Local schools, nursing homes, and festivals are always looking for entertainment, and what better way to get your studio’s name out there than with a performing group you don’t have to worry about?
A strong adult tap program can benefit your studio tremendously. It’s a great low-impact workout that allows adults to challenge themselves mentally and create a “family” with common goals and interests. Such dancers can represent your studio with integrity in the community.
“People in the classes I’ve taken have been so nice—real people with real lives who are welcoming and supportive of each other. Nobody points and laughs when you trip around for the whole lesson,” says Ann Marie Ashkar-Feiss, a freelance graphic designer and mom.
By promoting adult tap classes, you can show the world that there’s no age limit on loving dance. Or doing it.
“Echoes in Time,” a window into the heart of a tap dancer featuring Andrew J. Nemr and CPD PLUS (Cats Paying Dues), comes to New York City’s Symphony Space on March 4 for one show only.
Audiences will see the oral tradition of tap dance come to life before their eyes through reconstructed signature works from tap masters including James “Buster” Brown, Steve Condos, Leslie “Bubba” Gaines, Chuck Green, Gregory Hines, Henry LeTang, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Jimmy Slyde, and the Copasetics.
Passionate about preserving and advancing the art of tap dance, Andrew J. Nemr co-founded The Tap Legacy Foundation in 2002 with Gregory Hines. The foundation’s programming is developed to ensure that the art form continues to thrive in the years to come while championing the cultural contribution tap dancers have made over the years.
“It has always been important to me to talk about the tradition,” Nemr says. “All of the dancers who have come before us have contributed to what tap dance is today, and knowing about them helps us know more about what we are trying to do now.”
“Echoes in Time” will be presented at Symphony Space’s Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 the day of show, $20 for members, and $15 for patrons under 30. Tickets are available at 212.864.5400 or online at www.symphonyspace.org.
Chicago’s tap roots go deeper than its famous pizza
By Kay Waters
Chicago is known for many things—Barack Obama, the comic lineage of The Second City, the blues tradition of performers like Buddy Guy, the lakefront, harsh winters, rough-and-tumble politics, Michael Jordan, the hapless Cubs, and the hockey champion Blackhawks. And oh yes, that distinctive deep-dish pizza.
But tap dance?
Those outside of the Windy City may be surprised to hear that the answer is a resounding yes.
“Chicago, in my opinion, is the hub. It’s the center of what’s gone on in tap dancing over the last 25 years, especially when you talk about the educational component,” says renowned tapper Dianne “Lady Di” Walker. “They’ve got all these amazing dancers that come from there, too; just a lot of Chicago is really putting it out there. But the education part of this is what has put Chicago on the map.”
Festivals = workshops
When she mentioned tap education, Walker was referring to the rich number of workshops offered through festivals in Chicago, like those presented by Lane Alexander’s Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP). Walker, who has been a regular presence teaching in Chicago since CHRP started 20 years ago, was honored by the organization in August, during its 20th annual Rhythm World Festival, for her contributions to the tap world.
Though CHRP started as an annual festival of classes and performances, it has grown into a year-round presenter. Programs include a lecture-demonstration, “We All Got Rhythm,” for elementary-through-high-school-age students throughout Chicago, and four major tap events each year, including a winter Tap JAMboree that focuses on youth and includes scholarship auditions and choreography competitions. CHRP also runs outreach resident programs at area schools and youth centers.
In addition to CHRP’s programs, other groups in the Chicago area present tap programs. The company M.A.D.D. Rhythms, founded by Bril Barrett, will host its sixth annual Chicago Tap Summit this fall. The event includes performances, master classes, history classes, panel discussions, and film showings. And Footprints Tap Ensemble, a youth group, hosts a Tap Jam each fall that includes master classes and performances.
Walker says Alexander’s business savvy should not be taken for granted. “What Lane has done has been incredible. He has what a lot of us in the field don’t, and that’s a really good and strong business sense along with a good artistic sense,” Walker says. “That business side of him was able to grow and nurture and develop this festival. That business side is why tap is everywhere around Chicago.”
Why not tap?
Alexander says his work stemmed from an attitude of “why not?”—as in why not tap—when it came to the art form’s place among the city’s major arts institutions and projects. “I was motivated by that sense of wanting to promote American tap dance and bring tap dancers together,” he says. The national proclamation designating Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday, May 25, as National Tap Dance Day also served as an impetus, he adds.
“The resolution said the art form had roots in African and Irish rhythmic culture and traditions. It was an example of a positive outcome from a negative circumstance,” says Alexander. “To me, that was the kernel, the most important point. This art form was developed in this country from different communities, and it continues to evolve. But we should embrace it as an example of something good that has [resulted from] us being on this continent together.
“The Human Rhythm Project is about bringing people together to share this human impulse to express themselves rhythmically, to try to find common ground through rhythmic expressions.”
The reality of that lofty mission is that CHRP has become a nexus for two parts of the Chicago tap community that together have catapulted the city to the front of the national tap scene. Chicago has not only produced a series of soloists emanating from some of the city’s oldest, most storied dance schools, but it is home to a contingent of tap companies that have sprung up over the last 30 years.
“You have cities and areas that a lot of dancers call home. You have a few tap companies here and there across the country,” Walker says. “But I can’t think of another city that has both of those, that has programs in the schools, and has not one but several regular tap festivals.”
In many eyes, the tap company component of Chicago’s tap scene is the most unusual part of this story. Chicago is home to at least seven professional tap companies: BAM! (Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s repertory company, overseen by Alexander and directed by artistic associate Kristi Burris); Especially Tap Chicago, directed by Julie Cartier; M.A.D.D. Rhythms (Making A Difference Dancing Rhythms), directed by Bril Barrett; Chicago Tap Theatre, directed by Mark Yonally; Jus’LisTeN, directed by Tre Dumas III; Perfect Timing, directed by Jimmy Payne Jr.; and Rhythm Iss . . , a female trio led by Idella Reed Davis.
“You fly into Chicago and get off the plane and you can hear tap dancing. There’s so much tap dancing going on it’s unbelievable.” —Jay Fagan
Two other Chicago companies, Mary Beth Kisner’s Chi-Town Jazz Dance Company and Billy Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, also have tap as part of their creative DNA. The Chicago area also has a number of youth and senior ensembles, including M.A.D.D. Rhythm’s Junior Squad, and the youth group Footprints Tap Ensemble, based in suburban Libertyville, Illinois.
In addition to the vibrant company scene, many well-known performers live in the Chicago area or have roots in its tap community. Payne, Dumas, Davis, and Alexander are widely recognized on the national tap concert circuit. Other nationally known tappers with Chicago ties include Skip Cunningham, Ted Levy, Reggio (who toured for many years with the late, legendary hoofer Ernest “Brownie” Brown, another Chicago resident), Jay Fagan, and Jumaane Taylor, who is assistant director of M.A.D.D. Rhythms. Walker’s teacher, the late hoofer Leon Collins, was a Chicago native, as is one of Bojangles’ partners, Jeni LeGon, who gained renown dancing in films and on television.
Individual style, cooperative attitude
Those involved in the current Chicago tap scene say the dance form is an integral part of the community there. “You fly into Chicago and get off the plane and you can hear tap dancing. There’s so much tap dancing going on it’s unbelievable,” says Fagan, a popular performer in Las Vegas. “There’s always something going on—people coming into town, workshops, classes, performances. There’s good communication between all of the different artists who are based in Chicago. We always see each other around the country at the different festivals, too. We try to go to each other’s concerts. It’s like a disease, a good kind.”
Dumas says the Chicago scene is also special in that there are so many different approaches to tap represented among those who call the city home. “There are a lot of variations in style and intentions, and with all of these companies you’ve got dancers who are making waves on their own as choreographers and as teachers,” he says. “It’s not like you go see one company and they look like everybody else. You go see Mark Yonally’s company and it’s totally different from M.A.D.D. Rhythms, which is totally different from what Julie Cartier is doing.”
Yonally says the remarkable part of the Chicago tap story is the peaceful coexistence of the different artists and companies. “It’s not competitive like a ‘We have to be better than them,’ or ‘Why are they getting this and we didn’t?’ type of thing. The dancers here aren’t interested in having that kind of vibe or energy,” he says. “We’re more interested in supporting each other. We help each other out. There’s a sense that the bigger the pie is for everyone, the better. We all feed off each other’s energy and we all have very distinct identities. By no means would you feel you’ve seen the same thing twice.”
Schools: where it all started
A big part of the reason why Chicago has such a dynamic tap community is the collection of schools founded by black performers during the middle of the last century. While many of them trained white students privately, these performers opened their own schools in the black neighborhoods to give back to their communities.
There were the separate schools founded during the Depression by the archrivals and sisters Sadie and Mary Bruce, and in the 1950s, the hoofers Jimmy Payne Sr., Tommy Sutton, and Sammy Dyer all opened schools.
Alumni from these schools form the backbone of the current scene. LeGon is a Mary Bruce alum. Cunningham is a Sadie Bruce alum. Payne Jr. and Reggio trained at Payne Sr.’s studio, Jimmy Payne Dance Studio. Dumas is an alumnus of Sutton’s Mayfair Academy of Fine Arts. And Levy, Davis, and Taylor all studied at Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre. With the exception of the Bruce sisters’ studios, these schools are still operating.
During the 1970s and ’80s, other area studios began to offer strong tap programs, including the downtown Lou Conte Dance Studio (home to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), and out in the suburbs, Jo’s Footwork Studio in Western Springs, where Fagan began his training. Talent Forum studio in suburban Libertyville has been home to Footprints Tap Ensemble since 1995.
“The tap scene in Chicago grew out of this group of dancers who were performing in and around the clubs back in the ’30s and ’40s,” says Peggy Sutton, whose father, Tommy Sutton, founded Mayfair Academy. “There was definitely a hoofer scene in Chicago back then. My dad moved to Chicago when he was 5, during the Depression, and he started dancing. They would dance on the streets. The ’40s were when you had a big club scene, and they would all dance at clubs like the Club DeLisa and the Rhumboogie.”
The glue: Lane Alexander
Sutton and others credit Alexander for not only acknowledging Chicago’s tap roots but for bringing the tap community together. “It’s wonderful what Lane and his organization have done. He and some of the other dancers in the area have really come together as a group to preserve the legacy of tap dancing here in Chicago,” Sutton says. “Jimmy Payne, my father, the Bruce sisters, Sammy Dyer—they all left a wonderful legacy, but it was just waiting for someone to pick up the ball and run with it. And that’s what Lane’s organization has done.”
Dumas points out that for whatever reason, the major schools used to keep to themselves. “When I was younger, the kids from Sammy Dyer and Mayfair did not interact. You might know someone from school who went to one or the other, but it wasn’t like the schools ever got together,” he says. “It wasn’t like now where you have these dance competitions and big conventions and kids get to know kids from other studios.”
CHRP became the glue for the tap schools, Dumas says. “When CHRP started, that became the one time of the year when everyone was all together. I’m sure that had to have helped some of these relationships between people. People started to realize that hey, maybe there’s not that much between us. Maybe we can coexist. Maybe there’s this wall that was there for no reason.”
Alexander says he also had the advantage of looking at Chicago and its tap community from an outsider’s point of view, even questioning long-held geographic, racial, and cultural divisions that were an intrinsic part of the city’s fabric. “When I came to Chicago in 1983, I didn’t know I was Irish—I thought I was a Texan until I moved to Chicago. But I became much more aware of the way things here were segmented,” he says. “It wasn’t that people were outwardly biased against each other. But they lived in their own communities, operated in their communities, and didn’t necessarily venture out of their communities.
“Part of what got me excited doing our first program was that I invited everyone I could find who loved to tap dance,” Alexander continues. “The big foundation had been laid by the studios like Sammy Dyer and Mayfair. I just tried to connect the dots.”
While Chicago is fertile ground for tap, Dumas and Fagan say the tap scene in the neighborhood schools is still fairly casual. “No matter what studio you go to, there’s always just a handful of kids who are really serious about tap,” says Dumas, who teaches at Mayfair. “We offer them all the same information, all the same training, and you see which ones get that real buzz.”
The kids who get that “buzz” are the ones who keep going to the CHRP festivals or get involved with youth companies. Fagan sees the same thing out in the suburbs where he teaches. “For most kids, tap is just a hobby. They get into high school; they start doing more and more things, and you start losing them to cheerleading or the travel soccer team or whatever,” he says. “You keep your eye out for the ones who really are into it.”
Fagan adds, “We try to instill everything we know and tell them and show them what it’s all about. You can’t force someone to listen, but we do our best to pass on what we know.”
Traditional steps are a guide, not a gospel, in the classroom
By Diane Gudat
Tap dance is an infant in the scope of dance history. Unlike ballet, which has traveled to us through at least 200 generations of teachers, tap can claim only four or five generations of structured teachers in its history. It’s humbling to think of how much influence we have as teachers of this genre, and what we might do to advance the art form. I am lucky enough to have made a teaching discovery that altered the path of my career and, I hope, chipped away at some of the rigid ideas about teaching tap.
Many years ago, in a master class taught by Bo Wagner at a teacher training school in Florida, I realized that our job as today’s tap teachers and choreographers is to take the traditional “named” steps—which I now like to refer to as “stencils”—and embellish them with as much color and texture as possible. The tried-and-true framework of steps such as buffalos, cramp rolls, time steps, drawbacks, and waltz clogs is only a guide for us to use in building thousands of new and challenging steps.
This was a revelation to me. As a young tap teacher, I was obsessed with trying to find enough steps to fill my studio syllabus and make myself feel competent to teach class on all levels. I attended countless classes, workshops, conventions, and training schools. I memorized and imitated other teachers’ combinations, bought dance videos, and read every book I could find on the subject. Still, as a dancer who didn’t begin putting “metal to wood” until age 15, I felt that my tap vocabulary was sorely lacking.
That one class with Wagner changed the path of my teaching career. I learned that I was not just allowed but expected to alter the traditional steps. There was no secret source for collecting all the “good” tap steps; instead, as a teacher, I could make the most of what I already knew. That day I received permission to be creative.
A simple concept
Wagner’s approach involves a unique way to apply the concept of single, double, and triple to the standard structure of the time step. Not only can the sounds following the hop sound in the traditional time step be changed from single to double and double to triple, but the next sound (traditionally the flap) can be a single or triple sound as well.
Consider what happens when this concept is applied to other tap steps. Within any tap combination containing the word “step,” the traditionally recognized single sound, the step can be transformed to a double or triple version of itself by removing and replacing that sound. (For example, a buck time step: stomp, spank, hop, step, flap, step.)
If that’s true, any tap combination that contains the word “flap” (the traditionally recognized double sound), can be done as a single or triple.
Singles can be doubles. Doubles can be triples. Triples (traditionally the “shuffle step”) can be singles, and on and on. Moreover, not only does this concept apply to time steps, but it also applies to virtually every tap step that exists. The only real rule is that the replacement sound must fit into the original space without affecting the overlying rhythm of the step in its original form.
Now I refer to myself as a “variables” teacher. I use more than 13 different methods for manipulating “stencil” steps, including shuffle replacements, hop replacements, shifting techniques, prefixing, suffixing, sandwiching, and adding extra sounds such as heel and toe drops. For example, consider ways to replace the hop in a basic traditional Irish (shuffle hop step). Have students try a heel or ball drop (shuffle drop step); or, for more advanced tappers, a single wing or single toe stand (shuffle wing step).
Or you can apply what I call my “shifting technique” to that same Irish. Number each of the individual components (shuffle is 1, hop is 2, step is 3) and then rearrange them (for example, 2-1-3, or, hop shuffle step).
Remember, there is no “tap police.” As long as we work within healthy guidelines for the physical structure of the foot and leg, all things are legal with rhythm and tap.
Beyond the familiar basics of single, double, and triple, there are also quadruple sounds (shuffle R, step R, heel drop R), quintuplet sounds (double shuffle R, step R, heel drop R), sextuplet sounds (double shuffle R, step R, heel drop L, heel drop R), and many more.
Offering variables without changing rhythm patterns can either simplify or complicate the steps. This allows students of different levels and talents to work side by side in the same class. My advanced students more easily assimilate new material from unfamiliar teachers because they recognize almost any step as a variable form of a stencil step they have already learned. I can also call out a step, instruct them to double it, and they can figure out variations on their own.
Rhythm and history
Another dance educator, Beverly Fletcher, also inspired me to think differently about the musicality and history of tap. By taking class with Fletcher and studying her book Tapworks: A Tap Dictionary and Reference Manual, I filled in the gaps in my knowledge and application of music theory and tap history. I learned that changing the accent or shading of a step allows it to speak in a different voice or to say something completely different. I now manipulate the rhythm of steps with confidence. Knowing who created these tap steps and how they evolved, and conveying that to my students, allows my teaching to grow in depth and flavor.
I take great pleasure in finding new ways to alter classic steps while still paying homage to them and their creators, and helping others to make their own discoveries. Remember, there is no “tap police.” As long as we work within healthy guidelines for the physical structure of the foot and leg, all things are legal with rhythm and tap. The creativity that we inspire in the next generation will help to mold what tap dancing will become as a dance form.
Buck time step with variables
Give it a try. Remember, a single sound is a step. To double that, use a flap. For a triple, use a shuffle step. You can pick any of these three variables in any combination.
Stomp R, spank R (8&)
Hop L (1)
First variable (choose one of the following):
Step R (2)
Flap R (a2)
Shuffle step R (&a2)
Second variable (choose one):
Step L (3)
Flap L (a3)
Shuffle step (&a3)
Step R (&)
More information on this tap method can be found in Variable Techniques for Teaching Tap by Diane Gudat (available by emailing email@example.com) .
Stagestep, maker of dance and theatrical flooring for four decades, has introduced Super Timestep flooring, which offers the flexibility of a marley-type floor with the enhanced durability and wear of Timestep. It’s appropriate for all styles of dance, including tap.
Available in black and gray, Super Timestep is 6.58 feet wide by up to 65 feet long. The floor, which is 2.3 mm thick, weighs 5.5 pounds per square yard.
At $28 per square yard (plus shipping and handling), Super Timestep has a low price guarantee on comparable flooring. For more information, call 800.523.0960 or visit www.stagestep.com.
Chicago Human Rhythm Project, the city’s hub for tap dance performance and education, will hold “Roaring in Our Twenties,” a gala benefit, at 5:30 p.m. October 25 on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Stage in the city’s Millennium Park.
The evening begins with a cocktail reception and silent auction, followed by performances by CHRP’s performing ensemble BAM! and other tap and percussive artists from Chicago and beyond. The evening will conclude with dinner and a dessert reception where guests can meet the evening’s performers.
Tickets go for $150, $250, and $500. To buy them or to learn more, visit www.chicagotap.org or call 773.281.1825.
Avi Miller and Ofer Ben, known as The Israeli Hoofers, have a packed tap-dance teaching and performance travel schedule through the end of August.
July 23-25: The Pulse & Broadway Dance Center teachers workshop in New York City; www.Summer2010.ThePulseOnTour.com/teacherfaculty.html or 877.PULSE.01 (785.7301).
July 26-31: St. Louis Tap Festival, Clayton, Missouri; www.StLouisTapFestival.com or 314.531.TAPS (8277).
August 2-4: Dance Teacher Summit, New York City; www.DanceTeacherSummit.com or 212.767.0744.
August 8-11: Dance Teacher Web Conference & Expo, Las Vegas; www.DanceTeacherConferenceExpo.com/coverpage.html or 203.545.7167.
August 14-15: Tampa Bay Tap Festival, Clearwater, Florida; www.HoffmanPerformingArts.org or 727.712.2706 or 727.712.2726.
August 21-22: Southeastern Tap Explosion, Roswell, Georgia; www.SoutheasternTapExplosion.org or 770.971.2993.
The pair’s Miller & Ben Tap Shoes will be sold at all their stops around the country. For more information, visit www.JazzTapCenter.com.
Chicago Tap Theatre will present the debuts of works by Eddy Ocampo and the company’s artistic director, Mark Yonally, on June 19 in its new show, “Tap Out Loud.”
Yonally’s piece is a 12-minute suite set to hit songs by Queen, which will be performed by the Lakeside Pride Freedom Marching Band and the Chicago Red Line Choir. Ocampo’s new experimental piece, Lab, blends fluid jazz movements contrasted with explosive tap choreography.
Also on the program are Yonally’s Trip Ticket; a piece, Thug Life, by Kyle Vincent Terry in his kinetic dance combat style; and Brenda Bufalino’s Flying Turtles.
“Tap Out Loud” starts at 8 p.m. at the Athenaeum Theatre Mainstage, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago. Tickets are $30 for adults, $23 for seniors, and $18 for students or dancers. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. To order tickets, call 800.982.2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
Jacob’s Pillow has free, open-to-the-public tap-related events, from performances to book signings, scheduled for this year’s annual dance festival in Becket, Massachusetts. In the spirit of National Tap Dance Day—which was May 25—here’s a sampling
The public is invited to watch leading tap artists work with dancers in the School at Jacob’s Pillow Tap Program on Tuesdays through Saturdays from June 28 to July 11. (Visits by parties of more than four people should be arranged in advance by calling 413.243.9919, extension 169.) The program is led by Dianne “Lady Di” Walker, and the faculty includes Harold Cromer, Derick K. Grant, Ray Hesselink, and Tasha Lawson.
Constance Valis Hill will talk about her book, Tap Dancing America, at 5 p.m. July 1 at Blake’s Barn. Tappers Harold Cromer and Dianne Walker will be on hand with Hill to sign copies.
Tap students will get to perform in a range of styles in public showings in the festival’s free Inside/Out series. A question-and-answer session with faculty and dancers will follow the showings at 6:15 p.m. July 3 and 10.
Boston Tap Company will perform as part of Let’s Dance!—a community-wide event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 4 that will include free performances; open dance classes and workshops for adults and teens in a variety of movement styles; a free master class with Doris Duke Theatre artist Camille A. Brown; a raffle; and other attractions.
To learn more, visit www.jacobspillow.org.
Veteran tap teacher Debbie Fratta is leading an eight-week program in tap and rhythm from April 16 through June 11 at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Torrington, Connecticut, as part of the conservatory’s Arts Extension Program.
The program is intended for dancers of varying levels of expertise, including those with no prior tap training. It costs $120, plus a $15 registration fee. For details, call 860.482.4413, extension 316, or visit www.nutmegconservatory.org.
An un-birthday party for tapper and writer Jane Goldberg (real birthday: February 2) will start at 7 P.M. March 18 at Revolution Books as a benefit evening for the New York City bookstore. She’ll be signing copies of her book “Shoot Me While I’m Happy: Memories from the Tap Goddess of the Lower East Side.”
The benefit at the store at 146 West 26th Street is co-hosted by Lisa La Touche, whose group, the L-Touch Tap Phonics, will perform, with Jerome Jennings on drums with Joseph Webb, Michela Lerman, Sean Jackson, Claudia Rahardjanoto, and other tappers. And yes, there will be cake.
Tickets are $20 ($15 for Goldberg’s friends and $10 for tappers who bring their shoes). Premium benefit tickets at $50 include a copy of Goldberg’s book. Call Revolution Books for reservations (strongly advised) at 212.691.3345.
Brenda Bufalino, Barbara Duffy, and Tony Waag will be among the choreographers pitching in for the second annual “Sound Check” concert, staged by the American Tap Dance Foundation to show the breadth of tap in the United States. “Sound Check” will run for six performances April 14 to 18 at Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street in New York.
The show is co-directed by Bufalino and Waag (who’s also the foundation’s founder and director), with musical direction by drummer Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks. Performers will include the New American Tap Dance Orchestra, Harold Cromer, Barbara Duffy and Company, Cartier Williams, Middle Eastern dancer Ranya Renee, and flamenco dancer Aurora Reyes.
Tickets are $25 ($15 for students, seniors, and children). To order them, call
212.924.0007 or visit the venue’s website, www.dtw.org. (Tickets are $125 for the April 15 show, a benefit performance; for reservations call ATDF at 646.230.9564.) For more information, visit the foundation’s website, www.atdf.org.
Karen Callaway Williams, a charter member of the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble, has just had her first children’s book published. Gabriella’s Tap Shoes tells the story of a precocious little girl who wants to duplicate the sound of tap shoes but has trouble finding the right type of metal to place on the bottom of her shoes.
The 28-page paperback from BookSurge Publishing is illustrated by Patricia A. Carroll and available on Amazon.com. It’s meant for youngsters who read at the age-9-to-12 level.
Knock On Wood’s way with rhythm tap
By Lisa Traiger
Plenty of dance teachers can get a 6-year-old to master a shuffle-ball-change. And with enough repetitions, the kid might even smile while doing it at the end-of-year recital.
But when it comes to teaching tap, among the Washington, DC, region’s best-kept secrets is Knock On Wood Tap Studio, nestled in the basement of a building filled with doctors’ offices. The studio, in a former jewelry store where costumes and a tap shoe bank now line the shelves of the old vault, is a cozy beehive of rhythm, with a touch of funk and jazz tossed in for good measure.
The studio’s founder and master teacher, Yvonne Edwards, affectionately known far and wide as “the Tap Lady,” and a cadre of experienced tap instructors work magic in a few windowless basement studios just a hop, skip, and jump over the District line in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The specialty: rhythm tap. Edwards and her crew pass on more than steps; they train students to fully assimilate musicality and gain confidence in improvisation. Here tap is serious business, even when the kids gambol out of class smiling. At Knock On Wood, from the littlest 4-year-olds to the hesitant adult beginners, from the gawky pre-teens to the fearless advanced teens in the critically acclaimed youth ensemble, Tappers With Attitude, improvisation rules. It stands as a core principle in the school’s thoughtful syllabus, developed by studio director Edwards (who co-founded Knock On Wood with Renee Kreithen) and executive artistic director Victoria Moss.
In a Saturday morning class with a group of wiggly 5-year-olds, you can hear their thin voices chanting, in singsong, “Jack and Jill,” which accompanies their tiny tapping feet. Moss explains, “First we learn the words. Then we learn to clap it. Then we learn to snap it, and that’s fun because most 5-year-olds can’t snap. Then we learn to count it. They don’t necessarily understand it, but they all learn it: 1 and 2 and 3. Then they learn a step: shuffle, step, shuffle-ball-change, flap flap, flap. Then they learn to sing the words of the step as well as to do the words of the step.”
Ultimately, by the end of term they’ve learned six or seven ways to think about the material, Moss says. “Then,” she smiles, “I blow everybody’s mind when they go to the studio’s open-mic night and they do it all. Sometimes they do them all at once: One sings, one claps, one snaps, one taps, one counts, and the grownup dancers in the audience who understand how really difficult that is, they’re blown away. The kids? They don’t know that was difficult. They just know it’s ‘Jack and Jill.’ ”
The syllabus expands from there, as children enrich their tap vocabulary, moving from single-sound steps to double-, then triple- and four-sound steps. But they also continue to practice improv, from clapping their names rhythmically to pounding out a phrase that illustrates being angry with Mom. It all counts in building confident and independent tap dancers who, Edwards and Moss hope, can one day hold their own in the center of a jam circle. And Edwards says that no teacher worth her salt would let a kid finish out a semester without mastering the fundamentals of the shim sham, tap dance’s national anthem.
Knock On Wood’s teachers use the syllabus as a guide, not a mandate. It doesn’t contain any specific step combinations; instead it’s a compilation of expected skills, movement vocabulary, and other tap information that students should master. Teachers also continually work on dynamics, timbre, clarity of tone, basic body alignment, and presentation skills with their developing dancers. After completing level 3, which could take three to six years depending on the age the child started and his proficiency, a student should understand musical structure and rhythm, be comfortable with improv and jamming, pick up steps in a master class quickly by ear and by sight, dance at a variety of tempos (including very slowly), understand how to maintain balance, be able to shift weight quickly, and maintain a strong working core.
On top of that, Edwards and Moss feel strongly that tap history receives its due in every class. Big names from tap’s heyday—Bunny Briggs, Charles “Honi” Coles, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Buster Brown, and Jimmy Slyde, to name a few—aren’t forgotten, they’re honored. Each semester students learn about one or more master artists through personal stories recounted by Miss Yvonne, as well as video and exercises replicating masters’ signature steps.
Finally, nobody gets through the full syllabus without learning four specific dances. In level 1A, it’s the basic shim sham. In 1B the students complete the shim sham, with more emphasis on ear training and finding the “1” in music. In 2A, they learn the Honi Coles stroll/walkaround, another 20th-century tap dance classic, and continue refining and expanding on the shim sham by adding breaks. By 2B, students expand their proficiency, learning the buck-and-wing time step with complete break, refining turns, and learning Edwards’ own Ain’t She Sweet, a more complex dance. In level 3, the step complexity increases with wings, pickups, trenches, complicated turns, and the final dance in the basic Knock On Wood repertoire, Baakari Wilder’s My Blue Heaven, which introduces contemporary rhythmic syncopation and a funkier, earthier style of tap.
At this point Edwards and Moss don’t care whether students progress to levels 4 and 5, which concentrate on fine-tuning rhythm tap, improvisation, and performance. Many, in fact, choose to remain at level 3 for further mastery.
Between them, Edwards and Moss have nearly 100 years of teaching experience. Edwards, now 74, has been at it for 61 years. She started as a student at Doris Jones Dance Studio in Washington, DC, one of the few places in the country at that time that taught classical ballet to African Americans. She and legendary singer-dancer-actress Chita Rivera sometimes took classes together.
Soon Edwards joined up with her sister-in-law, Chloe Price Shepherd, a dance teacher in Atlantic City, where the two taught children of the casino owners and workers. But Edwards also soaked up the style of old-time hoofers like the Nicholas Brothers and Sammy Davis Jr., who played the casinos. “Sometimes I didn’t know what they were doing, but I was trying. I learned a lot from just improv-ing with them,” Edwards recalls.
Moss grew up in Chicago, assimilating a smattering of many dance forms from Irish to tap, ballet to hornpipe, hula, and modern in her weekly dance class. At Knock On Wood she put her early training to good use in devising the detailed syllabus that takes tap students from rank beginner to pro. It’s a systematic method that focuses on the fundamentals and allows for multiple paths to learning: visual, aural, through counts, songs, patterning, art projects, and a dozen other tried-and-true tricks.
‘We want to give our students their own voices, and the only way you can develop your own voice is by having exposure to lots of different people.’ —executive director Victoria Moss
“We want to give our students their own voices,” Moss says, “and the only way you can develop your own voice is by having exposure to lots of different people. Otherwise they all turn out looking like ‘Miss Suzie.’ And she might be a great dancer, but it’s not our goal to re-create Miss Suzie.” Instead, the school’s teachers include a master Irish sean-nós dancer, a tapper with jazz experience, a Broadway hoofer, and a few rhythm tappers, along with Edwards and Moss. But they also continually bring in guest and master teachers from around the country and the world. They also invite modern dancers, bharata natyam specialists, salsa and flamenco teachers, a South African gumboot dancer, and others for enriching yearlong and summer workshops.
No matter that not everyone turns pro. Edwards says, “I just love to teach. I love to go into the room and look at the kids and teach. Not all of them are going to be dancers, but I don’t think of them as not being dancers. I try to give [them] the same focus and interest as I do to the members of the [Tappers With Attitude] company. They may never become dancers, but I want them to be able to appreciate the art of tap dancing, to become good audience members.”
Yet more than a few alums have found success with a pair of tap shoes. Among them are Baakari Wilder, who danced in the cast of Savion Glover’s expansive survey of tap in America, Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk; Cartier Williams, another Glover protégé, who while still in high school appeared in Noise/Funk and toured with Glover’s group, Ti Dii; Chloe Arnold, a body-double dancer for Beyoncé in Idlewild; and R&B singer Mya.
“One thing that’s great about tap in general and about the way Knock On Wood approaches tap,” says recent graduate Lena Solow, 18, “is that anybody can do it. That made it easy for me, a kid who didn’t have an easy time with ballet. Tap was something I could definitely do.” Currently a freshman at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Solow started tap at 5. “From a very early age [there] you have to do improv and make up your own rhythms to go along with the music,” she says.
“And because you’re not in a kick line or all doing the same exact arms and faces,” continues Solow, “you have to learn how to develop your own personality onstage, and that’s something that my teachers always talked about: how to portray yourself onstage. Tap is not about your feet; it’s really about your full body.”
As for the school’s success, Moss and Edwards attribute it to being invested in the dance community at large. Neither of them worries when students take classes at other studios. In fact, they might send an intermediate or advanced student off to study ballet or modern if they believe the additional training will improve the kid’s tap. They open all master classes to the public and encourage their students to attend other studios’ master classes when appropriate.
“While there are only so many students to go around,” Moss says, “I think over time people here [in the DC area] have worked really hard to play well with others. In my mind it’s not only best for dancers, but it’s best for us as an industry: to learn to be open to each other, to learn how to use each others’ expertise, to not be afraid of losing something. I might temporarily lose a student, but if that student grows, then they’re ready for their next phase. It’s that law of karma.”
“I was always taught that the most important thing is that you have to listen to the music, go along with the music and not just do a really flashy step,” says lanky Baakari Wilder, 32, an alum who started dancing at 3 and now teaches the advanced Monday night class at Knock On Wood. “You have to learn when to fall and, when you make mistakes, how to pick up again,” he says. “When I teach improv, it’s about getting people to focus on the timing and keep it basic. I want my students to dance within the meter—if they do nothing else, keep it in the meter.”
Edwards says that’s what she tells her students also. Tap is, first and foremost, about rhythm. She believes that learning tap is akin to learning a musical instrument and even encourages students to practice, at minimum, 15 to 20 minutes a day, just like any beginning band student.
“We’re trying,” Edwards says, “to keep tap alive. Then it’s your job to make it your own.”
By Joshua Bartlett
Tap and ballet. They’ve been the bread and butter of most American dance studios since the post-Depression years. Today studios offer a variety of other dance forms like lyrical, modern, hip-hop, and body conditioning courses like Pilates. But the combination of tap and ballet as a basic dance curriculum has produced a steady crop of dancers for each generation.
So if these two very different dance forms have provided the backbone of American dance training, how do they relate in terms of exchanging technical and artistic benefits to dancers? More specifically, how does studying tap help ballet dancers become better ballet dancers?
The most obvious answer lies in the way that tap dancers develop keen musical ears through the application of complicated rhythms. Vicki McLean, the academy director and ballet mistress for the Lone Star Ballet in Amarillo, TX, has always stressed the tap curriculum for that studio. “The main thing about tap is that it benefits all dancers, not just ballet dancers, because of the rhythm of the music,” says McLean. “One of the ways that I teach is that if you can clap out the rhythm of the step, you can do it either with a tap shoe or ballet shoe. I don’t care if it’s Giselle or 42nd Street, you have to get the rhythm of the music.”
Graham Lustig, artistic director of American Repertory Ballet in Princeton, NJ, began tap and ballet training at a small studio in West London at a young age and continued tapping until he was 14. “There is something definitive about making sounds with your feet,” says Lustig, who trained at The Royal Ballet School and joined Dutch National Ballet at age 18. “In ballet there is a little room for leaning forward or backward on a waltz beat or a note. That isn’t the case with tap—you’re either on the beat or not. It teaches you a musical discipline which you can transfer to ballet.”
McLean compares tap dancers to the drummers in bands. “The drummer holds the band together with the rhythm. Rhythm holds ballet dancers to what they are supposed to do,” she says. For example, a dance phrase might include an elongated movement, followed by two quick beats, followed by an elongated movement. “Ballet dancers have to learn to listen,” she adds. “I had a wonderful tap teacher who did all the classics in his tap shoes. He would add rhythmical movements and sounds to Swan Lake. All of a sudden you would hear a different tonal quality. I carried that with me through many years of study.”
Another advantage to studying tap emerges in the speed that both tap and ballet require. “I think tap helps tremendously with ballet, particularly with the allegro, the quick movement, the quick change of weight,” says Fred Knecht, who founded Knecht Dance Academy with his wife in Levittown, PA, 49 years ago.
Joseph Fritz, the deputy dance director at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, began tap classes at age 8, before he started ballet training. “Because of tap, I was always good at petit allegro combinations and moving from one side to the other side.”
Tapping also augments coordination of movement. “All tapping is done on the ball of the foot,” says Fritz. “You never have your heel down except when you stomp. Being on your toes enables you to move quickly from one spot to another. It’s like watching the best boxers—they’re always on their toes, not back on their heels. It enables you to move quicker and have better coordination.”
The weight change required of tapping can aid dancers in understanding the off-balance movement required in Balanchine ballets and other contemporary and neoclassical choreography. “In tap the weight changes are sophisticated, fine, and very fast,” says Lustig. “You work different parts of the foot. When you scuff and slide, you take the center of gravity off the regular center of ballet.”
At Denise’s Dance Connection, run by Denise Ronco in Rochester, NY, all students are required to study ballet and tap before they can take hip-hop. “The more knowledge you have of different dance forms, the better equipped you are to handle a dance career,” says Ronco. “In this day and age, you need to be a well-rounded dancer.”
McLean agrees that versatility offers an advantage. “They used to talk about a triple threat. Now you have to be a multiple threat,” says McLean, who danced in ballet and jazz companies and had a recurring acting role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. “Ninety-nine percent of my students who are really good ballet students are also good tappers.”
Some ballets include tap in their choreography. The most famous, Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo, features an extended tap solo for the Champion Roper when he tries to impress the Cowgirl. (Knecht remembers that when Rodeo was first danced in 1942, the tap dancing didn’t impress all balletomanes. “People thought it was horrible that they were going to have tap dancing in a ballet. They frowned on it,” he says.) When New Jersey Ballet mounted a production of Rodeo, Fritz danced the Champion Roper because so few of the company men knew even rudimentary tap steps. Now, he points out, half of the dancers at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet started with tap.
In George Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, excerpted from the musical On Your Toes, the lead male is a hoofer who falls in love with a dance-hall girl. Jerome Robbins referenced tap steps in his wartime sailor ballet, Fancy Free. Twyla Tharp directly used tap in Eight Jelly Rolls and slyly threw in tap moves in ballets like Baker’s Dozen and Nine Sinatra Songs. And in Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, the Widow Simone does a wooden clog dance that requires some of tap’s rhythmic virtuosity.
Every big ballet company requires character dancing from its performers in ballets like Swan Lake and Don Quixote. Anyone who has sat through lame national dances in the third act of Swan Lake can tell which dancers have had only ballet training. “Tap helped me with my character and folk dancing, because of the rhythmic work with the feet,” says Lustig. “It also taught me how to stay grounded.” When the Metropolitan Opera staged a production of Carmen, the flamenco choreographer Maria Benítez chose Fritz as a soloist because he quickly picked up the complicated rhythms necessary for flamenco footwork.
‘The main thing about tap is that it benefits all dancers, not just ballet dancers, because of the rhythm. . . . I don’t care if it’s Giselle or 42nd Street, you have to get the rhythm of the music.’ —Vicki McLean, Lone Star Ballet
Learning tap is invaluable for ballet dancers who decide to audition for Broadway shows or other theatrical dancing. One of Knecht’s star students, Nadine Isenegger, has served as the understudy to Cassie in the current Broadway production of A Chorus Line (she has performed the role about 40 times) and was cast as the ingénue, Peggy Sawyer, in the tap dance spectacular 42nd Street.
Dance students sometimes forget that ballet is a theatrical art form, something that is always evident in tap dancing. Most young ballet students, fixated on learning positions and vocabulary, tend not to relax into movement and make it spontaneous. “This is the critical difference with tap—you completely let go and surrender,” says Lustig, who introduced tap into ARB’s Princeton Ballet School curriculum when he took the reins in 1999. “That’s not what you are thinking when you are 7 years old, learning your first glissade or jeté. With tap there is all this fun stuff you can do. You are usually dancing to a completely different type of music and letting your hair down. It’s a buoyant, optimistic experience, as opposed to doing a ballet solo when you are young, [where] the challenges can take away from the sheer joy of doing it.”
The evolution and histories of ballet and tap couldn’t be more different, particularly in terms of class distinction, although both were invented as a means of entertainment. The roots of tap dancing came from Irish solo step dance, African dance forms, and the English clog dance. Among black American slaves, buck-and-wing dancing became popular, which made its way into 19th-century minstrel shows and showboat performances. The soft shoes eventually gave way to metal-plated soles in the 20th century, and more sophisticated forms of tap appeared in vaudeville reviews, Broadway shows, and on the silver screen.
Ballet, on the other hand, began in 1661 when Louis XIV formed the Académie Royale de Danse. Designed specifically for the royal courtiers, the dance technique included many ballet steps and positions recognizable today (including turned-out positions). The opera ballet soon developed, and the art and technique of ballet blossomed through the 18th and 19th centuries.
Of course, the sheer polar opposition of ballet and tap appealed to Americans, who created new art forms by combining existing ones. The cross-pollination of ballet and tap, along with other dance forms, has produced a uniquely American hybridization. A good example of the breeding of tap and ballet is the oddity called toe-tapping—dancing on pointe with taps attached to the platform of the shoe. Harriet Hoctor, a 1930s Broadway vaudevillian, created a sensation by toe-tapping up and down escalators and tapping out the meter to Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven.”
So what about the reverse of the original question: How does ballet benefit tap dancers? Some teachers think it helps tremendously, while others are not entirely sold. Linda Lavender Ford, the director of Linda Lavender School of Dance in Monroe, LA, thinks that ballet training is an essential element in tap dancing. “Ballet is the basis for everything. I really think that if you can’t do ballet, you can’t do tap,” says Ford, who loves the elegance of old-style tap dancers like Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell. “You have to have that body placement and center and control. Once you have seen a ballet-trained dancer and one who isn’t, the difference is obvious. The ballet port de bras is necessary for good tap dancing.”
Fritz disagrees. “It’s a totally different ball game,” he says. “If you have studied ballet all your life, you might struggle to pick up the tap steps.” That opinion probably rings most true among dancers who have been rigidly trained in ballet.
Lustig sees reasoning to both sides of the argument. He remembers that as a child it took him a full year to learn not to turn out while tap dancing. However, because ballet requires slower work and deep analytical thinking, he feels that it can help tap dancers understand where the movement is coming from, like the placement of the arms from deep inside the back. “Pirouettes and steps like chassé en tournant, you can translate into tap,” he says. “It also helps dancers to understand the principle of spotting pirouettes and a sense of control.”
In this era, when dancers are required to do just about everything—look at the popularity of the TV show So You Think You Can Dance—the more you know, the more you can better your career. Tap and ballet may be very different creatures, but certainly knowing tap technique can help a ballet dancer become a more dynamic performer.