"Nevertheless, we feel free" (Essay By: Angelica Lasala)

Winning Essay for National Tap Dance Day

May 25th, 2017

By: Angelica Lasala

Last week, on the commute home from work, I call Matt, affectionately known to many in the tap community as "Matt the Shoe Guy," from Dancing Fair.

 

I place an order for new tap boots — my first major purchase after graduating from college.

 

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Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how indebted I am to tap dance, how in the midst of starting my career as a young journalist, I feel like I'm not doing enough to give back to an art form that has given me and countless others around the world so much.

 

I think about all the classes I should be taking, the friends in the tap community I've been meaning to catch up with, my numerous failed attempts to start a manuscript of essays on tap dance and culture.

 

But every day, when I microwave leftovers in the empty office kitchen at my 9-to-5, I improv. The guilt and inadequacy I feel as an imperfect student of this art form dissipate, allowing me to love tap dance as it was meant to be loved: freely.

 

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Matt and I discuss design options. He offers to mail me multiple swatches of brown leather.

 

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A note on freedom:

 

Tap dance is rooted in liberation. African-American slaves worshipped with body percussion when plantation owners took their drums away. Nineteenth-century Irish immigrants and growing Asian and Latinx populations alike transcribed the rhythms of their motherlands, adding their own voices to the art form's narrative.

 

As an American-born Filipina who stuck out in the dance competition world with shorter legs, skin a shade darker than suntanned tights, and eyelashes that didn't curl the way my teammates' did, I found solace in a YouTube video a friend and mentor once showed me.

 

In it, the great Jimmy Slyde says: "The more you swing, the more that you'll find out you have something in common."

 

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I ask Matt if embroidering a volcano on the outside of each heel is possible.

 

"Absolutely," he says.

 

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More on freedom:

 

I've always found it counterintuitive how tap, which creates noise, calms the cacophony of my mind so well.

 

I'm anxious by nature, spewing thoughts and feelings and schemes like lava, quaking like the heart of a volcano when I try to rein it in. Sometimes I hate that I'm like this. Sometimes I try to pretend that I'm a hill instead.

 

Tap dance has taught me not to fight the lava so much — to not fight who I am so much. There's beauty in syncopation, in the ebbs and flows of changing tempos, in the volatility of an unexpected accent.

 

Again, tap dance is rooted in liberation. We owe it to ourselves and this art form we hold dear to not let our self-doubt keep us off the wood.

 

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Matt and I, perfect strangers before this call, end up talking on the phone for around a half hour about the ways in which tap dance and the people in it have enriched our lives.

 

He's got orders to fill; I'm stuck in traffic.

 

Nevertheless, we feel free.

WORKING WITH GREGORY by Barbara Duffy

 

Everyone I know who met Gregory Hines has a story. They remember their experiences of what he said to them and where they were when they first met him. They remember every detail because he had a very personable way about him. He had a way of making everyone feel as though they mattered.

I first met Gregory in 1988, when I was dancing with Brenda Bufalino’s American Tap Dance Orchestra. We were showcasing in a small 42nd Street space and, while we were dancing, Gregory and Honi Coles walked in. My heart raced as two of the great masters of tap came to watch us! Afterward, Gregory shook my hand, looked me straight in the eye, and told me I was a good tap dancer, a thrilling moment for me that I’ll never forget. 

When Gregory taught master classes at Woodpecker’s, home of the American Tap Dance Orchestra, he often asked me to assist him. That’s how I became familiar with his rhythms. (For young people reading, this was way before youtube!) I always loved how he could communicate what he felt through his dancing, whether it was anger, joy, pain—any range of emotions.

In 1996, I received a call from Gregory asking me if I would like to dance with him. Mark Mendonca and Cyd Glover were also going to be in the piece for a TV show presented every year called Gala for the President. He said we would be dancing at the Ford Theatre in Washington, DC, to honor President and Mrs. Bill Clinton. Naturally, I was thrilled that he would ask me. He was so casual about the whole thing, wondering if I was free on those dates. You can bet I was, without a doubt, free on those dates! 

Mark Mendonca, Cyd Glover, Gregory Hines, Barbara Duffy

Mark Mendonca, Cyd Glover, Gregory Hines, Barbara Duffy

I flew out to Los Angeles to rehearse, approximately a month before the gig. We rehearsed for three weeks, about two hours a day. The atmosphere in the studio was always playful and relaxed. Gregory didn’t walk in as the choreographer; rather, we were all tap dancers working out together. He didn’t so much prepare choreography for the rehearsals, but came in with a groove in mind. He created the steps in the moment, from a tune that he liked, maybe something from the band Urban Nights or the composer Phillipe Masques. When he did create a step, he liked to play around with it, trying it in different ways, until he settled on what he thought would work best. 

We ended up using a tune called “See You in July” by The Jazz Masters, again because of the groove, not necessarily the melody. During the rehearsal process, he hired a composer to use that groove and create a new melody that would work with the dance. After hearing many versions, Gregory wasn’t satisfied. With less than a week to go, before the performance, (he was still in LA), Gregory called me and asked me to meet with his composer/pianist Rick Cutler, here in New York. I showed Rick the dance, counted the bars, and he created a beautiful, open, laid-back melody, sometimes even using Gregory’s tap rhythms as backup. The music ultimately had Gregory’s funky feel to it: smooth, relaxed with some solid rock solos. Gregory loved what Rick wrote and decided to call it “Boom.” A great raconteur, Gregory used to say that word, “boom”, a lot when he told stories.

“Boom” contains a lot of turns and classic Gregory moves, such as his backward turn with his leg up in the air and his rhythmic variation on a pressed third (which is a ball–heel–heel, also called a three-beat cramp roll). He loved to repeat his patterns. I’ve never heard anyone hear rhythm like Gregory could. He often began a phrase on the two of the bar, rather than the one. He also had some “simple” steps that are very open with lots of space, but rhythmically complex. He’d take a step and put it into a triplet, move it to a double time pattern in a kind of a roll, then come out of it with something hard hitting, using it as punctuation.

During the piece, he gave all of us, including himself, a chance to solo and improvise, but overall, there was always a feeling of ensemble dancing, like he was one of us, and all four of us were part of an entire group experience. Gregory was a total non-diva, a true team player in “Boom.”

It seemed like endless waiting until we got on stage. I should have been a nervous wreck, dancing with Gregory, and on live national television for the President of the United States! But because of his relaxed manner, I wasn’t nervous at all! He was joking around with us and exuded such confidence in us, that we knew we were just going to go out there and hit! Our ensemble was tight and we blended very well, with our individual styles coming through in Gregory’s choreography. The audience interrupted the piece with applause in various parts of the four-minute dance and we could see that President and Mrs. Clinton were obviously pleased. I’ll always remember that performance as one of the best experiences I’ve ever had onstage.

Gregory didn’t choreograph that often, (as he was more of an improviser). For him to include us in this prestigious event, when he had the option to perform by himself, showed that he wanted so much for tap dance to be seen and recognized. “Boom” presented a variety of ethnic backgrounds to the country —Gregory and Cyd, African-Americans; Mark, Asian and Portuguese; and myself, a white New Englander—as well as men and women dancing together, yet not partnering, á la Fred and Ginger. At the time, it felt very modern, very new, which was always what Gregory wanted to do to keep the art form moving forward. It said so much about his dedication to and vision of tap.

I learned a lot more about his process when we were working on a segment for The Gregory Hines Show, his weekly TV series in 1998. I was his assistant choreographer and we worked a long time on patterns of steps. He kept changing them, until finally settling on a particular flow. The next day he came and told me he wasn’t going to use any of it! During that show, part of my job was to remember everything. So, when he decided not to use that pattern of steps, I didn’t focus on it. I had plenty else to remember. Then, three days later, he’d casually say, “Barbara, what was that combination we were all doing the other day?” Gregory definitely kept me on my toes and it was fabulous! The episode contained small segments of tap, which included the whole cast, not just the tap dancers. For a half hour episode, it showed a lot of tap dancing! You can see a clip on youtube : https://youtu.be/EYvrBJbykkg

Gregory Hines was generous, open minded, funny as hell, an actor and singer, but always a tap dancer first, always danced from his heart, expressing what he felt in such a genuine way that he was loved by audiences all over the world….AND is to this day, still inspiring tap dancers from all over the world. Even though he passed away too soon, he is with me every day, especially when I have my shoes on. 

GREGORY HINES WEEK

GREGORY HINES FEBRUARY 14, 1946-AUGUST 9, 2003

GREGORY HINES

FEBRUARY 14, 1946-AUGUST 9, 2003

Gregory Hines was born February 14th, 1946.  Every year in honor of this great man's birthday, Operation:Tap dedicates a week solely to Gregory Hines.  Gregory Hines' Week.  Gregory's career accomplishments as a dancer and artist are very well documented.  But for this year we'd like to look at the inspiration that Gregory was as a person and a performer.  He touched thousands of lives and inspired so many to pursue careers in the arts, especially generations of tap dancers.

I'm one of those people.  I only met Gregory Hines one time. That's it, once.  When I was 16 I took his class at a studio in NYC called Woodpecker's.  He was teaching a master class at one of their intensives and I was thrilled when I was able to sign up.  I had only known who Gregory Hines was for a year or so.  The style of tap that I learned from the ages 3-15 was more of a musical theater style of tap.  Lots of arms and lots of sequins.  When I was 16 the studio I attended hired a new tap teacher named, Susan Hebach.  Susan was the first person to ever teach me rhythm tap.  She also gave me a VHS after class one day and said to go home and watch this.  It was a recording of a PBS special entitled, "Tap Dance In America."  This video changed my life.  Within 5 minutes of watching Gregory Hines dance I was hooked and I started to scream, "Mom, Mom come here and look at this guy!  He's got no arms and no sequins!" My Mom, who was also a dancer, sat and watched the whole special with me.  I must have watched it hundreds of more times after that trying to learn all of the steps.  But it was literally during that video I knew I wanted to be a tap dancer.  The style of tap and the uniqueness of all the performers, most of all Gregory, really had a profound affect on me.  I danced my whole life but never really identified with a particular style until that day.  I became obsessed with tap dancing and I started to shape my training and life to becoming a professional tap dancer.  

I truly doubt I would have ever pursued the career path I did without seeing that video of Gregory Hines that day.  That's how far reaching and inspiring his talent was.  He was like a super hero to me and I'm very grateful to him for inspiring me to become a tap dancer.  After watching Gregory Hines, I couldn't figure out why anyone would ever want to be anything else.

MUSIC IDEAS FOR CHOREOGRAPHY-VOLUME 1

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Another season of competition is almost upon us, and if you're like me, you're swimming in a sea of choreography.  It feels like we just finished last year's material, doesn't it?  Never the less, it's time to download the latest version of iTunes and start searching.  The never ending search for new and inspiring music to tap dance to continues.  

One of my biggest fears is walking into a rehearsal without a solid musical idea.  You know, when you've searched the whole night before but just can't find anything you love.  Sometimes it seems like the harder you look the more hopeless it gets.  

For Musicality Monday I thought it would be helpful to give you my 3 favorite artists that I can always go to when nothing else is inspiring me.  These 3 artists all have different styles but have multiple albums and tracks that are great for choreography.  

1. RODRIGO Y GABRIELA

Rodrigo y Gabriela (Rodrigo and Gabriela) are a Mexican acoustic guitar duo whose music is influenced by a number of genres including nuevo flamencorock, and heavy metal. The duo's recordings consist largely of instrumental duets on the classical guitar.  They have released five studio albums, three live albums and one EP.  Their music is a lot of fun to tap dance to.  As a choreographer, they give you very strong and interesting rhythms to work with.

My favorite tracks: Buster Voodoo, Diablo Rojo, Tamacun, Hanuman                                                     

2. POSTMODERN JUKEBOX

Postmodern Jukebox, also widely known by the acronym PMJ, is a rotating music collective founded by arranger and pianist Scott Bradlee in 2011. PMJ is known for reworking popular modern music into different vintage genres, especially early 20th century forms such as swing and jazz.  They cover tons of popular songs in a style that is very conducive to tap dancing.  

My Favorites:  Thrift Shop, Lean On, Criminal, Straight Up

3. BOYCE AVENUE

Boyce Avenue is an American Rock Band made up of three  brothers.  They mainly do covers of popular songs with an acoustic rock feel.  They arrange and perform the songs in a way that the vocals, acoustic guitar and taps blend really well together.  They've released 15 cover EPs since 2007.

My Favorites: Lovestones, Fast Car, Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall, Glad You Came

 

These three artists all have dozens of songs that would make great tap pieces.  The covers really work well with the younger generation because they're songs they know but are done in a new and interesting way.  Hopefully these artists will help you choose music this season and keep tap dancing fresh and exciting at your studio and competitions this year!

 

 

 

What Is Your Intention?

 

As Choreographer Challenge II gets under way this coming week I wanted to do a brief article about choreographic intention in tap dance. As defined by Webster intention is the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose. In tap dance the choreographic intention that is almost always the driving force is the music and how this musicality informs the dancing. This happens so often, and for very good reason. We hear a rhythm, a groove, a melody, phrasing, dynamic choices, and stylizations of music that inspires us to use certain vocabulary in our dancing to blend with the choices of the musicians. So this begs the question does this make us a choreographer or a musical arranger? What other forms can intention take in tap choreography and can another intention ever take precedence over the musical intention? What flow or order does your intention take? I think that these are complicated questions, that deserve pause and thought by all of the choreographers who are thinking of entering into this challenge. Here are some other points of intention to think about when you are creating your new work as I share some examples of my process in choreography.  

 

HISTORY FOLLOWED BY MUSIC

Another way to inspire your work is tap dance's rich and bold history. Choosing to frame your dance in the work or style of one of tap dance's great artists will allow for you to give your work context and also pay homage to the great dancers of our history. For my piece that I choreographed on SYTYCD last year I decided that I wanted to make the dance an homage to the great dancers of Hollywood Film. I used influences, pieces of vocabulary, concepts, props, and performance qualities of several dancers to make this piece. Influences included Bill Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, The Miller Brothers and Lois, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Eleanor Powell. These decisions made all prior to picking out the music and the dancers studied these dancers meticulously in rehearsal. The result was one of the stronger dances I have created for this show and this was all because I allowed the history before the musical choices.

 

MUSIC FOLLOWED BY HISTORY

 

In the short film that Ayodele and I made last year The Text, we followed this example. In the actual choreographing of the steps we made this piece just based solely off of the beautiful music of Oscar Peterson. Ayodele and I spent over a year in the studio tinkering with the melodies, phrasing, and sophistication of Oscar’s arrangement of Cheek to Cheek. We decided that we wanted to make the dance into a short film but we didn’t know how we would do it. Upon much reflection and collaboration we arrived at a “historical” conclusion. Both of us were inspired to start tap dancing by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, we would select a era specific ballroom to shoot the dance in, shoot the dance in one take and aspect ratio of those films, and stylize the look of the film to match a Fred and Ginger movie of the 1930’s RKO Studios. The dancing and steps are totally and absolutely “music driven” however the sentiment and stylization is historical. Which one comes first in your process matters and will arrive you at a different conclusion. 

 

EMOTION FOLLOWED BY MUSIC

 

I am currently working on a new short dance film that is titled, the inneR piecE. This piece is being made for film but is being discovered through improvisation in live performance. I have currently performed the live version at Soul to Sole Tap Festival and 25 LIVE at Dancerpalooza. This particular piece was born out of my need to deal with some deeply personal issues. I was struggling with them in my life and for me the best therapy is to set the struggles I have down in the dances that I make. This led me to two beautiful pieces of music, Maria by: Oscar Peterson and Threnody by: Goldmund. The music spoke to the nature of my emotion and in live performance I gear the scope of my intention as an improviser based on these specifics emotional thoughts. How they manifest themselves in movement and in sound is the surprise element of the piece. I am hoping to use the recordings of both of these performances to create the choreography that surrounds this short film. I am excited for this project because I am allowing my intention to flow in an order it ordinarily would not flow. Typically I would allow the music to dictate what steps I choose and how I phrase them. What steps and phrasing I choose would dictate my emotional feeling. In this case, I already feel what emotion the piece requires me to feel, and I allow this to filter through the musical choice and steps that I am choosing. I can’t wait to film this in December and share it with you all next year. It might be terrible and it might be the worst thing I have ever made. The prospect of changing the scope, order, and nature of my process excites me. Remember this in those moments when you feel stuck in your own choreography. Try something in a different order, with a different approach, or something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. You will be so excited by the results even if they are not the greatest and most likely you will no longer be stuck and find a route to an exciting piece of choreography!

LINK TO PERFORMANCE FROM DANCERPALOOZA!

https://www.facebook.com/amorigeratotap/videos/vb.27101954/10100111231223802/?type=2&theater

So what is your intention behind the choreography that you create? What flow or order does your intention take? Contribute to the conversation on our Facebook page and try your hand out in Choreographer Challenge II…If you have a thought, if you have an urge, or if you have the desire to be a creative person…you should act on that today and not wait for anyone to tell or give you the permission to be creative. It is your right as a human being and as an artist! Go Forth with Intention and Create! -AM

Letter To The Master: Gene Kelly

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams." Gene Kelly

 

Dear Mr. Kelly,

 

To say that you are my hero is no understatement. I wanted to be you. I still want to be you. Your work is the reason I am a professional dancer today. Your work is a standard by which I measure everything I choreograph, everything I produce, and everything I work on. I am still trying and working to get into that space and up to that standard that you so effortlessly occupied in all you did. 

 

I remember my mother buying the movie Singin In The Rain for me when I was 7 years old. To that point in my young life I thought Fred Astaire was the greatest dancer I had ever seen. I can remember like it was yesterday seeing you for the first time dancing so effortlessly through that replica rain storm, hanging off that lamp post, and skipping up and down that curbside. After seeing that movie for a large portion of my youth, there was no one else but you. I watched Singin In The Rain everyday after school, I could recite every word of the movie, I wrote every dance step from the movie in a note book, I practiced the steps everyday, I asked Santa Clause to bring me a pair of your tap shoes, and you took the place of the greatest dancer to that point I had ever seen. I still get choked up every time I see you turn around, smile at that cop, and sing, “I am dancin and singin in the rain.” It moves me so deeply because that moment locks and incapsulates the dreams of my entire childhood and seeing it today gives me such a sense of gratitude, humility, and reinvigorates the possibility of dreaming where I want to go today.

 

To start I was so impressed with you as a dancer. As I started to get older I learned of your work as a choreographer, as a director, and as a producer. The innovations, the quality, the boundaries you pushed, and again the standard that your work resides in is of the highest order. Your status in my mind grew not only because of your dancing but because of the control over your work that you projected in front of and behind the camera. The Worry Song, The Alter Ego Dance, The American in Paris Ballet, The Broadway Melody Ballet, and so many others stand as an example of what dance on film should be, what vision from pre-production through collaboration to the final product looks like, and most importantly what the strive for artistic perfection should embody. Your works, your versatility, your genius has stood the test of time and every year that passes you become more celebrated. As a dancer and as an artist this makes my soul burst with joy. 

 

I remember that you passed away two days before my 11th Birthday. I remember that it was a cold February day. I remember my mom telling me. I remember feeling so sad that I would never get to meet you, that I would never get to dance for you, or that I would never be able to deliver the sentiments that are in this letter to you personally. I had the privilege to meet your wife Patricia a few years ago at a show I was dancing in. To have met her after that show and for her to give me such kind praise gave me a small sense in that moment of closure on an old wound that subconsciously will never heal. Meeting someone who was close to you, who cared for you, and shared in life with you was and still is one of the most joyful meetings of another human being I have experienced. I profoundly wish you could have attended that show with her, that I could have met you, and danced for you too. 

 

In the end, I will never achieve anything that closely resembles your work. I will strive to for as long as I am an artist. However it isn’t the artistic perfection I seek. I only hope that when my career is done and that I am long gone that I will have inspired the dreams of just one young person in the same fashion that you inspired mine. If that is at all a possibility, my life as an artist will have been one that I am truly proud of. I thank you for your work, your life, and your contributions to the dreams of so many.

 

With profound love and respect,

Anthony Morigerato    

 

Is There An Epidemic of Not Keeping Time?

Almost always the posts made by Operation: Tap focus on the positive aspects of tap dancing, the great success stories of our masters, and the cheerleading of our current artists. I wanted to take the opportunity today to make a blog post on a topic that is of great concern to me and to the education of the young dancers that are coming up in tap dance. The question I am posing is, “is there an epidemic among young dancers in a seemingly widening gap in being able to keep and hold time?” If I had to answer this question based on the last year of traveling and teaching I would say that there absolutely is. I am writing this article today because of the danger I feel that it poses within tap education in the dance studio environment. 

 

When I was 16 years old I was musically awakened into tap dance and ever since that day I have focused on the nuances of keeping time and the kind of musicality it takes in becoming a more musical dancer. It is hard work, especially if it does not come naturally. It requires focus, self reflection, self correction, and most importantly to seek out information and knowledge that will be helpful in the quest to become more musical. At 31, I only am starting to really feel the results of all of these years of work paying off in performances and improvisation. These small and infrequent moments of true musical proficiency keep me practicing and keep me striving to become more musical and as I improve the ceiling for what is possible becomes higher. Having teachers who made it a priority to be musical, to count, to work on shading/dynamics, and be proficient in all of the areas of tap dance have formed my world view not only as a tap dancer but as an educator.

 

I have been doing some reflecting as of late. This reflection has led me to thinking about the work I do with my students and what topics and energy I want to spend in my classes. The conclusion is that for the most part the young dancers coming up in tap have an exceptional weakness in this area. The interest in the topic is non existent and the proficiency for many is at a beginner level. I am encouraging all tap teachers this year to focus on the topics of keeping time, meter, note values, counting, song forms, improvisation, musical entrances and exits, and the connection of the dancers musical facility to their technical one. This will mean having to slow down and it may mean that we ourselves as teachers have to improve on our own ability to keep time and possibly learning some basic musical knowledge.   

 

I have to say for the record that an advanced student in tap dancing is not someone who only knows “a lot of steps.” An advanced student in tap dancing is someone who is rooted in the musical understandings of the dance, a sense of history, and a connection to vocabulary that justifies the first two points. In many “advanced” classes recently I have had to slow the work down to a crawl because the students:

 

  1. Could not keep time.
  2. Have never heard the expression, “keeping time” and what it means to a tap dancer and their dancing.
  3. An inability to hear where the “one” is or maintain where it is.
  4. A lack of basic musical knowledge as it pertains to what rhythms they are playing and what song form they are playing in.
  5. An inability to count both the meter and/or the number of bars that they are working on.

 

If as a tap dancer you are struggling to understand what any of these sentences mean there is probably a strong probability that the quality of your training and dancing is suffering as a result of not focusing on the musical aspects of the dance. Tap dance is sound and movement, you can not have one without the other and it still be tap dance. I am pleading for focus in this area because it will be of great benefit.

 

For our part at Operation: Tap we will be focusing starting in the Fall on more Musicality Monday exercises to assist in this area and to bring on more guest artists who can lend their expertise to our group. Let’s make the 2016-2017 dance season a musical one. Lets put the focus on the perspective of growing our technique and musicality hand in hand.  

"Who Do You Listen To?"

So many people are always asking me, “what jazz artists do you have on your iTunes and who do you recommend that I can dance to for improvisation?” This question screams for a MUSICALITY MONDAY blog post on the subject. Today I am going to dive into 6 jazz pianists that all tap dancers should have a selection of on their iTunes and you should be listening for on a regular basis. These by no means are the only musicians but they are my recommendations to get you started in listening to jazz piano, ENJOY!

 

Art Tatum (1909-1956)

I would venture to use the analogy that Art Tatum is the Michael Jordan of jazz piano, widely considered to be an innovator in many areas that reverberate in music even to this day. His phenomenal technique coupled with his harmonic intuition provided for a virtuosic style that to this day has rarely been matched. Using stride techniques and classical training Tatum lead a generation of musicians that focused on improvisation and dovetailed into the Bebop era and after. Oscar Peterson (also on this list) said of Art Tatum, “"If you speak of pianists, the most complete pianist that we have known and possibly will know, from what I've heard to date, is Art Tatum.”

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Art Tatum: Tea For Two, Sweet Lorraine, and Tiger Rag

 

Nat King Cole (1919-1965)

Often regarded as one of the greatest vocalists of all time, Nat King Cole is also one of jazz’s great piano players. Known for simple yet elegant phrasing and an impeccable sense of time Cole’s standards are among my favorites to just purely sit and listen too. Oscar Peterson said of Cole’s playing, “he just didn’t know what to play he knew what to leave out.” There is something to think about! Just recently purchase 100 songs of Nat King Coles in the iTunes store for only $40, an amazing deal and even more amazing music! 

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Nat Cole: Blues in My Shower, Straighten Up and Fly Right, and Easy Listening Blues

Oscar Peterson gives a piano lesson!

*Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)

Recently speaking to a friend of mine in Texas whose Dad is a musician and composer said, “There is something about tap dancers and Oscar Peterson, they just love him!” How true a statement there is. Oscar’s phrasing, his technique, and his spirit all scream for a tap dancer to please tap dance to his music. I personally advise all of my students who want to learn about how to choreograph a phrase melodically to listen to Oscar. “"Technique is something you use to make your ideas listenable", he once told jazz writer Len Lyons. "You learn to play the instrument so you have a musical vocabulary, and you practice to get your technique to the point you need to express yourself, depending on how heavy your ideas are.” 

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Oscar Peterson: Maria, Hymn To Freedom, and Tenderly

Anthony and Ayodele dance to Oscar!

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Dave Brubeck isn’t personally one of my favorite players in jazz but his contributions in mixed meter playing are not to be discounted. Mike Minery told me when I was 16 years old that if I wanted to learn about other time signatures outside of 4/4 to purchase Brubeck’s album Time Out. This is a must for all tap dance students because it will be the most friendly way of learning about other time signatures outside common time. I have personally choreographed almost all of the tunes on the Time Out album and I count all of those experiences as valuable when I am on stage or at work in the studio. 

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Dave Brubeck: Take Five, Unsquare Dance, and Far More Blues

Dave Brubeck plays the standard Take Five!

Bill Evans (1929-1980)

Tap dancer Jason Janas recently got me into Bill Evans, I wasn’t always super connected to his playing. In fact as I write this I am reminded that I bought him an Evans’ vinyl LP as a present for getting me into him! Bill Evans harmonic invention is a contribution to jazz playing that is still inspired by today’s players. Do yourself a favor, before you dance to his music make sure that you really take the time to LISTEN to him, and in fact you should do that with all of these players on this list if you are unfamiliar with their work. Get used to their voice, how they shape a tune, and use their considerable skill to communicate!

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Bill Evans: Just by the album Portraits in Jazz and by done with it!

Herbie Hancock (1940-Present)

Herbie Hancock is one of the first jazz piano players to introduce synthesizers and electric instruments into his playing. For me his tune Chameleon is always a favorite to improvise and work out new ideas. It is a long tune, but the vamp and the groove is consistent to give you the work on your ideas. In 2013, Hancock was awarded at the Kennedy Center for achievements in the performing arts.

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Herbie Hancock: Cantaloupe Island, the entire Maiden Voyage album, and Chameleon. 

As I make this list of amazing jazz piano players I am reminded of so many other amazing players. Here is Part 1 of many to come! Hope this list will expand your jazz piano horizons, HAPPY MONDAY!


*One of our OPTAP PREMIUM classes features Oscar Peterson and Milt Jackson in a delicious blues, sign up today for the free trial to dance with me to this spectacular music! operationtap.com/optap-premium

SUMMER IS HERE! How are you staying sharp?!

Summer officially began on June 21st and school is letting out all over the nation! So many dancers ask me over the course of the summer what they can be doing to stay in shape until their studio starts up the fall session. Here are my TOP 5 suggestions for staying in shape all summer long:

 

  1. ATTEND A TAP INTENSIVE, FESTIVAL, or WORKSHOP!

 

There are soooooo many festivals and tap focused events going on this summer! I guarantee there is at least one that is within driving distance of you in the US going on.  SLIDE (Long Beach), Tap City (NYC), SO FLO Tap Fest (Florida), LA Tap Fest (LA), TAPademics (St. Louis), Motor City Tap Fest (Michigan), Jersey Tap Fest (New Jersey), Tap United (Boston), Third Coast Summer Tap Festival (San Antonio), and Tap Kids (Vermont) are just a few of the amazing events going on across the country. Attending a workshop will give you information, inspiration, and fuel for going back to your new season at your studio. As a teacher I can always tell the students who have taken the summer off and the students who trained throughout the summer months!

 

2. STUDY FOOTAGE!

 

One of the best ways to improve as a tap dancer is to study other tap dancers. So often during the school year my students are in over their head with homework, band rehearsal, soccer practice, prom planning committee, AP classes, Yearbook, NHS, nightly dance classes, and chess club that the dedicated study of tap dance footage is pushed off. The summer months when you have down time again is the perfect opportunity to study as much footage as possible! There is no excuse, YouTube is a wealth of information. If you don’t know where to start check out OPTAP’s VIDEO REWIND playlist to get you started. Dedicate 30 minutes every morning or every evening before you sleep to this and your cup will over flow with inspiration.

 

3. OPEN YOURSELF UP TO NEW KINDS OF MUSIC!

 

Adding new music, world music, more jazz, alternative music, or just the opposite of what you listen to on a regular basis can be a hugely influential practice for tap dancers. Take the summer to enhance your musical horizons as you will have the time to do so. Practicing tap dancing is not just going into a studio and practicing steps. It is exposing your musical mind to different thoughts, sounds, rhythms, grooves, tones, and ideas. Make this summer be one that you challenge your musical ear. At the end of your practice sessions shuffle your NEW MUSIC and force yourself to improvise to a new tune or new feel. You will be surprised at the doors that open to you!

 

4. CREATE!

 

Have you ever felt the need to choreograph? Make a short dance film? These things take time and the summer is the perfect time to get together with a friend and create a project. You don’t need permission to be creative…you need time and dedication. The summer will give you the time, decide to give yourself the dedication it takes in creating something new. Post it on the OPTAP Facebook page and see how many people you will touch with your new creation.

 

5. PERSONAL PRACTICE!

 

At the end of the day nothing will ever beat going into a studio and practicing on your own. Set goals for your practice sessions and make it be something you make as part of your summer schedule. If you don’t know what to practice start with some of the OPTAP Technique Tuesday’s that are at your level. There are over 100 FREE Videos on our YouTube page, see how many of them you can master. In addition OPTAP PREMIUM has over 6 hours of amazing classes available now at the click of button, don't miss that opportunity as well! Take a certain amount of time every session and improvise. You will find that the more you practice, the more you will want to practice. Ask any tap dancer what advice they would give in becoming proficient at this dance, most likely it will include this tip.

 

HAPPY SUMMER EVERYONE!

 

 

 

FESTIVAL FEATURE- TAP LABS with HEATHER CORNELL

Tap Labs is a great opportunity for tap dancers to think about tap dancing in a whole new way.  I was a competition kid who loved tap but had little knowledge of music or dancing with live musicians.  On the recommendation of Germaine Salsberg I attended one of Heather's Tab Labs in 1996.  It was one of the few pivotal moments in my dancing that propelled me to becoming a professional tap dancer.  I struggled the whole time and had to practice every night to keep up.  Heather approaches tap dancing in a very intellectual way and coming from 2 minute competition routines it was training I desperately needed.  After that intensive I was lucky enough to be asked by Heather to be an apprentice in her company, Manhattan Tap.  I call working with Heather my college education and cherish that time in my life.  

Here is how Heather describes Tab Labs.

Three Weeks Aug. 4- 8, 10-14 and 17-21. Come for one, two or three weeks. 10 students maximum per week. 30 hours of classes per week.

Why a Tap Lab? I started my intensives 25 years ago in an effort to morph the way that we were studying and teaching tap. After studying with my mentors in the studio and on stage (Charles Cookie Cook, James Buster Brown, Steve Condos, Eddie Brown, Chuck Green and Harriet Browne), starting my company, Manhattan Tap, and meeting and working with my music mentor, bassist Ray Brown, I realized that if I wanted to really present tap dance, I was going to have to train the dancers in thinking and creating as a musician/dancer. And that doesn't happen in a two hour master class. So I started teaching intensives with my musicians, to get a dialogue going about how we connect, to spend time listening and learning and to give the students time to create and discover their own unique voice.

Heather and Ray Brown

Heather and Ray Brown

25 years later, I'm refining the focus. If you are looking for a direction, wanting to feed yourself in a supportive community, wanting to try out ideas, wanting to share ideas, or just soak in wisdom, then this is where you want to be. My musicians and I will mentor, but we won't tell....we'll encourage you to take risks, to listen deeply and to discover new roads to travel. And we'll play a lot of music...physical music.

Week one: Musical Tap Composition Week two: Enhancing your Solo Voice Week three: Teacher's Week

Interested: Check out more info at : www.manhattantap.org

"Heather Cornell you've inspired and gave hope to so many of us - It is thanks to you that I truly found my passion and felt that it was possible - thank you for making people realize that they are good enough and should cherish their gift" Student, Geneviève Cleary, Montreal, Canada

"Taking part in a 2 week intensive with Heather Cornell opened a new door for me in tap, and has had a great and very constructive impact on my approach to what I do. Free your mind, and the rest will follow! I was so lucky to be there!", Student, Janne Eraker,, Norway

Links:
Tap Love Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/the-tap-love-tour/episode-12-heather-cornell-making-music-dance

Tap Love Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkuTMvx2Py0

Making Music Dance CD: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/makingmusicdance

Facebook Groups: Heather Cornell’s Rhythm Tap Percussion Updates Making Music Dance

WHAT DO THE JUDGES THINK?

BEING A TAP CHOREOGRAPHER FOR COMPETITION IS NOT ALWAYS EASY.  A LOT OF TIMES THERE ISN'T EVEN A TAP JUDGE ON THE PANEL.  EVEN WHEN THERE IS, IT'S HARD FOR THE JUDGES TO REALLY CRITIQUE THE PIECES WHILE THEY ARE HAPPENING IN REAL TIME.  THEY CAN USUALLY TELL YOU WHAT'S WRONG AT THAT MOMENT BUT HARDLY EVER GET A CHANCE TO TELL THE TEACHERS AND THE DANCERS WHAT THEY ARE REALLY LOOKING FOR.   WHAT'S THEIR PHILOSOPHY? WHAT DO THEY EXPECT OUT OF YOUR CHOREOGRAPHY AND YOUR DANCERS? HERE IS THE POINT OF VIEW OF 4 JUDGES WHO'VE COLLECTIVELY JUDGED FOR OVER A DOZEN DANCE COMPETITIONS AND CONVENTIONS.  

HERE'S WHAT THE JUDGES THINK.

JASON JANAS

JASON JANAS

1. First I look for organization. Are they clean when they walk out on stage. Prepared? Focused? Confident? 

2. The beginning of the dance is crucial because it's a first impression. Choose your first phrase or step or idea wisely. 

3. Timing is major. Rushing is a big big "NO"

4. Clarity of steps or the language of the dance is vital. If it's not it shows that your not prepared and/or sloppy and you cannot be understood.

5. Then we get to how the piece is choreographed to the music. You shouldn't do the exact same steps to a swing tune the exact same way you would dance to a Latin song. 

6. Then we get to the range of the stows or phrases. How creative is the choreography and do the dancers look good doing the choreography. Sometimes the steps are there but the rest of the body is almost forgotten. And relaxed and forgotten are two very different things. 

7. I love to watch tap dance and to hear it. Lots of times just a clean (doesn't have to be crazy hard) well thought out tap dance is more than enough to make me smile from ear to ear!!

SARAH FAZIO

SARAH FAZIO

Things I look for in a tap piece at competition-

1. I find it very important that a tap dance be filled with a large tap vocabulary. I often take off points for dances where the majority of the routine is jazz dancing with just a few tap steps in it. You need almost all of the dance to have footwork involved to make it a true tap routine.
2. I want the transitions to be many different kinds of steps and rhythms. I feel the flap in often overused as the only step for transition. There are many ways to move from place to place. You can actually move any step in any direction at anytime. Try teaching a 16 count combination of steps and have the students practice moving it in all directions. That will make it very easy for them to move any step in a routine.
3. Make sure that if you have 2 separate sections where the dancers are doing totally different step that the sounds are compatible. If you have too many things happening at once you end up with sound over load and the entire thing becomes mushy. The two groups have to reference each other and somehow connect while being different.
4. Remember when tap dancing that I can see you and hear you. Both your look, costume and formations need to be a complete package with your feet. You need to look as good as you sound and sound as good as you look.  
5. Most importantly, make sure to have the gift of rhythm and silence. Often people will put so many steps into a dance that it is constant sound which will take away the rhythm and syncopation of the sound. Silence every once is awhile, or a break in rhythm will make what you are doing much more complex. Find your pocket, have some shading, and be sure to surprise my ears.

RYAN FOLEY

RYAN FOLEY

     As a Professional tap dancer I will admit that there is quite a difference between the competitive world and the professional world of tap dancing. When I have the opportunity to adjudicate at a competition there are definitely certain things I look for. One is not more important to me than the other. They are all equally the same. They all contribute equally to tap dance and are in my mind major players in honoring this art form in the way we should and in the way our pioneers did in the past.

TIME: It is so imperative that we as tap dancers professional or not hold time. We need to find the pulse and hold onto it, from the beginning to the end. Without it we are lost, along with our audience and if you’re lucky enough the musicians your playing with. Time is the foundation to build from, weather it’s improve or choreographery time is everything.

RHYTHM & PHRASING:  To me this is “the conversation” weather lifting a section of a tune or laying something down over top. Rhythm & Phrasing (what you are saying) is so important and something I feel there’s not enough of in competitions.  

TECHNIQUE:  I think this is pretty much self explanatory. Without technique we wouldn’t understand the rhythms or phrasing, weather you were in time or not it wouldn’t matter. Bad technique leads to sounds missed and sloppy conversations. This why THE PRACTICE is very important.

SWING & SYNCOPATION:   Again something I wish I heard more of in competition. Swing and syncopation give a tap dancer and a tap routine an entire different dimension and feel.   Something that needs to be felt and taught and something I feel is very important as a tap dancer.

GROOVE:  This is last on my list but most definitely not least. In fact it’s one of my favorite’s. Groove is the soul of the dance, it’s what makes me sit up and listen. True passion brings out true groove and it can’t be taught except shown by those who have it. I could go on and on about this subject but to truly sum up groove...

The era...the 1960’s

The place...Fells Point Baltimore

The tap dancer... my all time favorite Baby Laurence in “An Afternoon in percussion” It’s up on YouTube thanks to tap dancer Jumaane Taylor and definitely worth the watch!

JUSTIN LEWIS

JUSTIN LEWIS

In a tap piece what I generally look for is entertainment and sheer value of the piece. When I judge tap dancers, sometimes it's easy to look past the performance as a whole and just focus on the technique. Technique is extremely important in the art form considering every sound is able to be heard and seen at the same time. The technique for tap dancers is like any other style of dance. It takes years of practice, But the great thing about it is that tap dancers can create new and innovative steps/combinations where as you can't necessarily do that in any other dance form. This means the performance level should come at a higher caliber and should help improve the visual aspect to a judge. Generally, tap dancers get looked over at competitions because the judges are so focused on the footwork as opposed to the entire picture. It's not just about the feet but about the performance as a whole. I applaud competitions who seek out tap judges because they know it is a very important piece of the puzzle in ones dance training and helps to gauge a better grasp on becoming a well rounded dancer. 

FESTIVAL FEATURE- TAPademics

OPTAP had the opportunity to catch up with Anthony Russo and talk about Tapademics! 

OPTAP: Where is  TAPademics  hosted this year? When will it be taking place?

TA:  TAPademics is being held at the Performing Arts Centre in St Charles, MO August 5-7, 2016  (15min from STL airport) 1540-A Country Club Plaza Dr. St Charles, MO 63303  (636) 946-6787. 

OPTAP: How many years has TAPademics been taking place? 

TA: TAPademics is celebrating its 11th year here in St Charles.    

OPTAP: What for you makes TAPademics a unique experience among all of the events available to tap dancers?

TA:  One thing we focus on when organizing the festival is the diversity and professionalism of our faculty.  Students gain an understanding that variety and balance are important in creating a unique and productive learning environment.  

OPTAP: Who will be apart of the faculty this year? 

TA: Our faculty line-up this year consists of Anthony J Russo (Director), Chris Erk, Kaelyn Gray, Justin Myles, and Jumaane Taylor.

OPTAP: What level of tap dancer and age is this event geared towards? 

Chris Erk, Anthony Russo, and Jumaane Taylor!

TA: We have two levels of classes during the workshop; Beginner/Intermediate (10-13) and Advanced (14+).  In addition we offer a Sunday Mini program for kids 7-9, and the Parent Tap Class is on Saturday afternoon.  We provide age levels as a guide, but we encourage students to take class in the level where they feel most comfortable.  

OPTAP: Are there performance opportunities for the participants? or a Performance for the participants to attend?

TA: The workshop kicks off with a Friday night open level class followed by a concert with The StepHounds, a Rock/Blues/Tap Dance band featuring the faculty of TAPademics.  This event will also include performances by local St Louis tap dancers, selected routines submitted by festival participants, as well as a student/faculty tap jam! 

OPTAP: What special events will be taking place at the festival this year? 

TA: The Friday night Parking Lot Party is our newest addition to the event.  We will have a couple food trucks, live music, and plenty of dancing.  Hosted by The StepHounds (Anthony J Russo, Phil Russo, Justin Myles, and Chris Erk), participants and parents have the opportunity to see the versatility of our faculty as they play, sing, AND dance!  

OPTAP: What is the classroom experience/vibe at TAPademics? Class size? Class length? Topics? Etc? 

TA: We offer a nice range of material in classes throughout the weekend.  Classes are 1-hour and we offer Tap technique, combo classes, Improvisation, Body Percussion, Hip Hop, Scholarship Audition, Footage, Faculty Q&A, and Show & Tell for the parents at the end of the workshop on Sunday.  The festival venue is in a studio, not a convention hall.  This brings a more personal and intimate vibe to the event, for sure.

OPTAP: What is the cost of attending TAPademics  Is there a host hotel? What kind of opportunities are there for lodging? If I am coming from out of town do I need to rent a car to get around or is public transportation and walking an option for me?

TA: The cost to attend TAPademics is $200.  There are hotel options listed on our website, each within 1.5 miles of the venue.  (www.TAPademics.com)  If you're flying into STL, it is suggested you rent a car, as there is no public transit in the area.  

OPTAP: Choose one word to describe TAPademics.

TA: Family.

For more information go to Tapademics.com!

HAPPY NATIONAL TAP DANCE DAY- Tap Lives

 

 

“Oh that is so nice that you are a tap dancer, it is such a dying thing.”

 

Why as tap dancers do we allow people to make this statement?  With what information do they possess that would allow them to make such an assumption? I believe that there is a famous saying about assuming things, mostly dealing with the aspect that the assumer and those of us that buy into the assumption are deemed an ass. 

 

With all of the talented dancers and young students out there, I am offended when I hear that tap dancing is dying. As long as human beings make the choice to lace a pair of shoes and lay metal to wood with honesty and passion, even if only one person, the dance will remain alive in their spirit. In the end it is our own responsibility to keep the dance going forward in our own way.  It is our responsibility to make sure that people know we are here and that we are heard. It is our responsibility to honor our past while forging forward a bright future. It is our responsibility to educate ignorance and reshape perceptions. It is our responsibility to accept that tap dancing has given us everything and that in return we owe it all of our energy, our fortitude, our tenacity, and our infinite humility in making all realize that tap is alive and well in the hearts of all who practice, nurture, and above all love it. It is our responsibility to tell those who think that tap is dying, NO! TAP LIVES!

 

For many years I have smiled and deflected when any variation of tap dancing is a dying art arises and I have decided that it is time to use whatever force I have to make sure that people know that TAP LIVES!

I believe the following:

 

Tap lives in the sweat and tears shed on wood floors.

 

Tap lives in the spirit of the dancers who came before us.

 

Tap lives in the possibility of the dancers who will come.

 

Tap lives in the smile of the listener who is transported by it’s sound.

 

Tap lives in the bonds that are forged between people of all backgrounds.

 

Tap lives in the communication of things that words can’t express.

 

Tap lives in our own personal history.

 

Tap lives in our own personal pain and growth as human beings.

 

Tap lives in you.

 

Tap lives in me.

 

I am here. I am still learning. I am evolving. I am alive. I am a tap dancer. Go forth and tell everyone how tap lives in you! Happy National Tap Dance Day from OPTAP!

FESTIVAL FEATURE-SLIDE

SLIDE

When- August 1-7

Where- Long Beach, CA.

Part of the dance festival, DANCERPALOOZA!

SLIDE is a unique tap workshop that really puts the focus on the attendees.  SLIDE is directed by Mike Minery and has an amazing faculty featuring Anthony Morigerato, Jason Janas, Ayodele Casel, Lisa Minery, AJ Russo, Jade Whitmire, Aaron Parkhurst and many more.  But the difference between SLIDE and other festivals is that the students not only take class, they learn a ton of choreography!  Each attendee is cast in 2 pieces each for our closing show at the beautiful Long Beach Performing Arts Center.

These are two full routines that are cast based on age and level.  This is what pushes the dancers in a way they've never been pushed before.  To learn a piece from Anthony Morigerato in a week and then be expected to perform it on stage is no easy task.  It will put even the most talented of tap dancers to the test.  All the pieces are challenging and fun and everyone leaves the event feeling like they've gotten better.  

We've been doing SLIDE for 13 years and have had some amazing young tap dancers attend year after year.  This is what one of our alumni had to say about SLIDE:

Aaron Earl Turner on season 10 of SYTYCD!

Aaron Earl Turner on season 10 of SYTYCD!

Aaron  Earl Turner: "Slide was one of the first opportunities where I was capable of truly pursuing tap dance at an advanced level. I was surrounded by people serious about their craft, just like myself, and in an environment that was positive and uplifting. The tap education was thorough beginning with the history of tap dance, up until the most current and modern tips and tricks. I will never forget, at the dress rehearsal for our Off-Broadway Showcase, Savion Glover came and stopped by to show his support. I made a multitude of friends at the Slide Dance Intensive, and many professional connections that I hold dear to this day (Mike Minery, Anthony Morigerato, and Nick Dinicolangelo etc.)

 

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I'm thrilled that SLIDE is representing tap dance at DANCERPALOOZA. There are so many wonderful events happening at DANCERPALOOZA that you have to go to the website to see them all.  Go to DANCERPALOOZA.COM to register for SLIDE and you'll realize that being a part of an event like this can change your life!

Can't wait to see you at SLIDE!

 

TEACHING MOMENTS- JADE WHITMIRE

Proud teaching moments can come with the smallest of achievements.  They can come with students overcoming the largest of obstacles.  You can have many a week or maybe just one a month.  Sometimes the students' progress seems to move slowly and if you ask my students, they will tell you that I think they never practice enough.  But throughout the course of each student's training, we have these special moments where we see it sinking in and it starts to click.  These are the moments that make us fall in love with teaching.

The purpose of this blog, Teaching Moments, is not only to inspire each other as teachers but to let our students know how greatly they affect us.  I'm hoping this blog gives us a platform to share our stories and tell our students how proud of them we really are.

This edition will feature Jade Whitmire and her student Chloe Madding.  Chloe was asked to be part of Dancerpalooza's performance on "The Ellen Show."  Here is how Jade felt about that.

As a dance teacher, I experience daily moments of pride and triumph.  Whether it is witnessing a student master a difficult step, support a fellow dancer, or take creative risks; I always feel so grateful to be a part of that growth.  I always knew dance would be a monumental part of my life, but I NEVER dreamed I would fall in love with teaching, and I resisted it every step of the way.  

I started teaching tap in a small town at age 16…. much too young to take over an entire tap program!  I had no real interest in teaching at the time, but there was a lack of tap talent in the Houston community and I sort of fell into the job.  I continued teaching while in college and enjoyed working with the kids each week, but it paled in comparison to how dancing made me feel.  There was just no spark there yet, so I moved to NYC with intentions of dancing for a few years and attending law school.  I ended up subbing here and there, and the next thing I knew, I was teaching dance more than I was training or auditioning.  Somewhere along the way, the small spark was lit, and I began to embrace being a teacher and let go of being a “dancer” as a priority.

My first year after returning to Houston, I had a tiny, shy 6 year old student named Chloe Madding in my classes.  At the time, I had no idea how lucky I was to teach her, or how she would change my life, but she smiled and worked hard, and that is all one can ask from a student that young.  Two years later, I choreographed her first tap solo.  Not everyone believed she could pull it off, as she was not the kid who “got it” right away … but she WAS the kid that would go home and work until she did, and at age 8 she blew us away with her first tap solo performance. As she grew stronger over the next few years, I began to realize just how rare and special she was, as she constantly challenged and inspired me to grow as a teacher and choreographer.  I realized THIS is what teaching is all about, and felt the artistic fulfillment and pride I hadn’t felt since I was a “dancer”.  Pushing and inspiring kids, and having them push and inspire you.  

Chloe is the type of student who always instills an instructor with pride, and many teaching moments stand out in our time together.  Most recently, Chloe booked her first professional paid gig.  I received the call last month that Chloe had been invited to dance on the Ellen show with 30 of the nation’s most talented young dancers, representing “Dancerpalooza”.  I mean, who gets to say their first job is with the Ellen show??  I was so proud and excited for her, I cried.  My little Clo would get paid to perform on national television!  Even though the tap section was short, I knew it would be one of those life-changing moments for her, which in turn made it special for me.  I will never forget watching the live show, and how proud I felt when I spotted her bright red tap shoes and big smile on the TV screen.  As dance teachers, we are always proud of our students…but that is definitely a “teaching moment” I will cherish and never forget. 

Here's Chloe on "The Ellen Show."

Golden Years On Silver Plates

Huge thank you to Alyson Meador for sharing her story of teaching seniors in California! ENJOY!

 

Growing older comes with its own set of positives and negatives. One of the most obvious positives is that upon retirement you might find yourself with a lot of free time. You also find yourself with a lot of options as to what  to do with this new found freedom such as traveling, making new friends, spending more time with family, or learning a new hobby.

 

 

I started working at Sun City Lincoln Hills in 2000. Ethel Henry had tap danced at her original Sun City home in Las Vegas, and set out to find a tap teacher for her new home in Lincoln. She thoroughly enjoyed tap dancing in Las Vegas and was looking to start something similar. She had been given my name through a reference  and next thing you know I am hired and teaching women 55 and up. I was 39 at the time so I had some learning to do about the best ways to instruct with their somewhat “older” facilities! We don’t do tap tricks or turns, but other than that we can do pretty much everything else as long as the speed stays reasonable and there is a lot of review done. As with all things started in our senior years, it takes a little longer to learn and master.

 

 

Working with these ladies proved to be one of the biggest blessings in my life. First of all they taught me to slow down and explain in better detail when I teach (which was beneficial in working with my youth dancers as well). They showed me that although they did not have the energy of my young dancers, their appreciation and spirit far surpassed that of most young dancers. I went from one class with eight dancers  to eight classes totalling over 100 dancers. One of the dancers, Muriel Menig, initiated a talent show so we would have some place to perform our new skill and have something to strive for. That talent show with a humble beginning became quite a yearly production including other performers (actors, singers, hula dancers, etc.). We did a halftime performance for a Sacramento Kings game and a special group of talented ladies, known as my “Diamonds”, did local dance competitions for several years. I also started working at another Sun City in Roseville and then recently was chosen to work with “The Hot Flashes”, a group that has been together for over 30 years.

 

 

The stories that some of the women share about what tap has brought to their lives is simply uplifting to me. Some of these women danced when they were young and hadn’t put a pair of tap shoes on for over forty years. Some women always wanted to dance as a child, but their family could not afford the financial commitment.

 

 

The bottom line about tap dance is that you are never too old. You can start learning as late as your 50’s or 60’s and still be a decent tap dancer with a pretty good understanding of the art form. You can learn teamwork, form friendships, and step out of the box to try something new. Imagine stepping onto the stage at age 62 for the first time EVER. Pretty scary and rewarding at the same time.

 

 

The health benefits as well as the emotional benefits are definitely worth the time invested. Everything a tap dancer does to the right, they have to be able to do the same way to the left. Tap is a percussive art form that requires rhythm and musicality. The physical part is a good workout and the constant balance that is involved creates a stronger body. The complexity of learning the sequences and the timing and then adding arms as well can be very challenging. Once you add the emotional release, you have created a well rounded choice for an activity that is good for your body and good for your mind.

 

 

Maybe this article will help find other pockets of senior dancers so we can learn what they are doing with their new found talent.

 

 

May 10th, 1899-1977-1988

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Fred Astaire, May 10th, 1899

May 10th is a significant date to me. Fred Astaire, born this day in 1899, was the first tap dancer I had seen outside of my dance studio in Albany, NY. I was dancing a tap solo to Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails and my mother decided it was important for me to see the man that inspired this dance. As a six year old boy I sat transfixed to the television as I watched the VHS tape of the film Top Hat. Astaire magically glided from the screen into the ether of my imagination. This viewing of Astaire at six years old started my mother on purchasing every film that had tap dancing in it, to which I would watch and write in a notebook as many of the steps as I could figure out to go and practice. The first dance I choreographed when I was nine years old was comprised almost totally of steps by Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and the Nicholas Brothers. To say that I idolized these dancers and loved the films that they produced is a vast understatement. I don’t think there is a word that embodies the feeling that I had as a child watching them, it is something that I still to this day try to incapsulate when I put on my tap shoes. These men introduced me to new vocabulary. They introduced me to musicality and it’s power. They introduced me to style and story telling through movement. They introduced me to a standard that I still view today as excellence. They introduced me to dreaming of the prospect of being a professional dancer. While I could look at Fred Astaire and say that I wanted to be like that, there was nothing in 1995 that looked like Astaire. To me he represented my future, to everyone else he represented an era past. 

Top Hat, Fred Astaire Solo

 

This brings me back to May 10th. Mike Minery, our beloved OPTAP Director, was born this day in 1977. I first met Mike Minery when I was 8 years old at a Showbiz Regional Competition at the Notre Dame High School in New Jersey. Coming to the competition with my tuxedo and my top hat I met a 17 year old Minery who was tap dancing in jeans, a t shirt, and was improvising his dances. While Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were my idols, they were untouchable and accessed through my mother’s VCR. Watching Mike dance gave me a tangible hero that I could reach out, touch, walk up and talk to. A few years later I began to study with Mike at Broadway Dance Center as my mom would take me once a month to take classes. A few years later Mike asked me to be in his tap company. A few years later I asked Mike to be a guest in my dance company. A few years later we started Operation: Tap with Ayodele Casel. And here we are today and I can proudly say that he not only was my teacher and mentor but he is also one of my best friends. Mike introduced me to rhythm tap. He introduced me to properly counting. He introduced me to improvisation. He introduced me to….well he introduced me to a few things that probably don’t bear mentioning in a nice article like this! I am so grateful to Mike for how much he taught me about tap dancing and how to TEACH tap dancing, because this is one of his greatest gifts.

Mike Minery tap solo from Tapaholics 2006

This brings us back one more time to May 10th. Aaron Parkhurst, one of my first students, was born this day in 1988. Even though Aaron is only a few years younger than I am, I started teaching him when he was 14 years old. I think back to those days and the only thing I had as a teacher was raw enthusiasm. I really shouldn’t have been teaching at that age and I learned so much about how to teach by teaching Aaron and all of my students of that time. To see Aaron and so many other students today carving their path out and making their way in the world as tap dancers and artists gives me enormous pride and satisfaction. I wanted to include Aaron as part of this article to say thank you to all of the students I have ever had the opportunity to teach. Being on stage and having the opportunity to dance has been a dream come true, however seeing the dreams and potential of my students come to fruition is the greatest gift I have been given in tap dancing. 

Anthony and Aaron at NJPAC in 2008

 

As I sit and reflect on what May 10th has given me, I realize that it has given me all the facets and components of my career. Fred Astaire gave me the permission to dream of being a dancer and still continues to be a standard of excellence to aspire to attain. Mike Minery gave me the tools and support to execute on those dreams and still continues to be a mentor in dance and in life. Aaron Pankhurst and my students gave me the opportunity to share my love with the next generation of dancers and to realize that being backstage can be as powerful as being on it. So yeah like I said, May 10th is a significant date to me!

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY and WELCOME TO ASTAIRE WEEK

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

On behalf of OPTAP, I want to say Happy Mothers Day to all of the Moms out there! I would also like to welcome you to Operation: Tap's Astaire Week! My mom is single handedly the biggest influence on me not only as a human but as an artist. As a kid she practiced with me, she cut my music for competition, she spent money she didn’t have so I could pursue my life as a dancer, and most importantly she loved me unconditionally. As we embark on a week dedicated to Fred Astaire I wanted to share a dance I did when I was 7 years old because my mom introduced me to Fred Astaire and he was the reason I truly fell in love with tap dancing. I owe him so much, but I owe my mother everything. I hope that all of the moms out there have an amazing day surrounded by family and love! 

THE THINGS MY MOTHER TOLD ME THAT I TRY TO LIVE MY LIFE BY: 

“With hard work, practice, and some more practice you can be anything in this world you want.”

“You will experience failure, look at yourself and what YOU can do better. Don’t blame others.”

“You will experience success, remain humble and make sure you acknowledge everyone who put you in that position to be successful. Nothing matters more than humility.”

“You are not competing with others when you dance. You are only competing with yourself to be the best possible version you can be. Don’t be envious of others because no matter how good you may think you are getting, there is always going to be someone who is better.”

“You can learn something from every teacher you take from, in any subject. If you didn’t learn something that wasn’t their fault, it was yours.”

“You are not perfect, and you will never will be, but you need to aspire to perfection. Practice it again…and again….and again!”

“Be inspired by masterful work of others, learn from them, pay homage to them, and aspire in your own way to be like them.”

“Be respectful, be kind, if you are in a position to give to someone, make sure you give your best.”

“Do what you love and do it as well as you can.”

“I love you with all my heart” SAID EVERYDAY ACCOMPANIED BY AN INFINITE NUMBER OF ACTS DEMONSTRATING THAT.

Anthony performing in 1992

LETTERS TO THE MASTERS- John Bubbles

Letters To The Masters is a new series brought to you by Operation: Tap. We hope that this forum will allow today’s masters of tap dance to express why a certain master was of importance to them by writing them a letter! We hope you enjoy this beautiful piece written by our good friend Jason Janas to the ever masterful John Bubbles!

Dear Mr. Sublett


Hello sir, I hope that this letter finds you relaxed and happy. I'm doing pretty good for the most part. Being in my 30's now I usually wake up in pain, but that's too be expected at this point in the game as you I'm sure know all too well. But that's why we have meds, hot tubs, ice buckets, and whiskey!

I've actually been doing well as far as pain goes, I've been taking a lot of supplements for my joints. All natural stuff so it's not bad for me and there's no side effects thank goodness. I wonder if you had any major injuries. Every time I have seen you dance which isn't nearly enough, you've looked super agile and controlled. But the more miles we put on our bodies, the more we have to maintain them and I'll tell you what, it's easier to maintain than to overhaul. Right? So yea I'm always making sure I do my best to stretch and keep in shape. I want to dance for a long long time just like you did sir.

I've been on the road a lot lately and as you know that means not being able to practice at my spot. And/or at my favorite time. This makes me grumpy a little and anxious as well. Did you experience that as well? Bad floors and stages? Those are things I can't control and therefore cause anxiety lol. But just as you did, I make the time and make the spot and I make it happen. Easier to maintain right?. You always pop in my head in the practice room. Just your blend of tap dancing steps and jazz improvisation rhythms/music, is such a great platform to begin to create something. The perfect blend. I love your attention to detail sir, and your phrases. Some people may see steps, but I see past the actual step. I see and admire the attention to detail and the mastery of the step as you make it seem effortless and anyone else who sees it would think that they could do it too! That's genius sir!! The varsity show is my favorite and we'll talk about that later, but cabin in the sky and a song is born must have been so amazing to create. My favorite clip by you may be the Lucile ball show with Mel torme..I believe it was Called "Main Street USA". Your acting and timing vocally and dance wise, is simply off the charts incredible.

On the days I'm so tired I think about how you must have had days way worse and that motivates me. No matter how hard my journey has been, yours must have been way harder for different reasons and I admire you persistence and dedication. Your truly amazing sir. I know they say Mr. Bill Robinson was the grandfather, but your the father of tap dance sir. You've been apart of so many Important days in tap dance history!! I wish I could have been there in 1932 in London, when you and Ford (Buck) were the first black artists to appear on TV!! So incredible!! You were the true king that night!!

I wish i could dance with you sir..just once. I realize I'm not worthy but I promise I love tap dance with all my heart and I strive and fail for perfection. Talking about perfection, what was it like to teach Fred Astaire? That must have been intense! Did you know that Fred said you were the finest tap dancer of your generation?! I 100% agree lol! In my eye without your contribution, tap dance would be incomplete. Haha I wish you could see me do your cross over and single wing step. I practiced that varsity show clip so much sir. Younger dancers will see that step and go "oh I like that new step" and my first rhythm tap teacher Deborah Mitchell always said "whatever's old is new again". And it's so true. I just tell the dancers "sir John Bubbles!"

I wish you here sir, maybe we could play chess, as long as you don't cheat like you did on the Lucile Ball show with Mel Torme lol. "A jiggle is not a move". You were such a great actor and singer too! What was it like playing with Mel Torme and Lucile Ball? Were they cool? In fact, were most people black and white in showbiz respectful and cool? I'm sure that you faced some pretty weird and hurtful people but I hope that a lot of the people in showbiz treated you with the respect and alore that you deserve.

I wish you could see the impact that you have had on tap dancing sir!! So many young and hungry dancers not only in the US but around the world!! I've had the chance to teach and perform at tap festivals worldwide! The world loves tap dance sir and your such a big part of this!! I remember listening to Dianne Walker talk about you and I would just listen for hours, as she masterfully talked about you and made you sound almost God-like. And that was so amazing and inspiring for a young dancer like me who was searching for something to sink into. Once I got a taste of your rhythms and ideas from Derick Grant when I was in Imagine Tap, I was so intrigued and hungry for more. And after IT, when I went back to tapestry, Acia Gray gave me the opportunity to actually play you (The Varsity show) on tour in a show called "The souls of our feet". I was so honored and to this day is something that I'm so proud of. I spent 5 days a week, 3 hours a day for 3 months trying to recreate your solo. I was and am amazed by you. Like how is that much attention to detail humanly possible?! I'm not trying to blow smoke or whatever, but seriously they just don't "make them like you anymore" not too many anyway. Your creativity and imagination of how tap dancing should look, sound, and be perceived is perfect IMO. I can remember telling either Chris or Jumaane awhile back that if Tap dancing had a professional league you would be Jerry West! The logo! That silhouette of you in the beginning of the varsity show, sliding down the railing. BTW, what was that like? Scary? Fun? Acia never allowed me to try it. Smart on her part but I asked! How many takes did that take? Knowing you it was most likely the first take!

Jason Janas performing a tribute to John Bubbles.

And getting back to that whole GTA (global tap association) you would indeed be the logo and a unanimous first ballot hall of famer!! Sometimes it makes me sad to think that your greatness wasn't celebrated like it should have been but sir to me your batman, Magic Johnson, your the OG.

Without you I know that my dreams wouldn't have happened at all. Watching you dance gives me confidence. Your swagger, your style, and how you always smile even as you amaze. Your steps and abilities have transcended generations. You are loved and admired by many (not enough) but you have motivated, inspired, and helped so many. I wish you were here sir. I wonder if you can tell when ever I do or try one of your steps or if I watch your videos. I hope so. Your legacy I will never forget, Louisville, KY was so lucky to be your home and Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck were and are not the only leading men to have called Indianapolis their home.

Everyone I love and Respect today
It's a fact if you ask them, they all tend to say
That Bubbles is the pops, and he brought the heel drops
And Febuary one nine his life is the tops!!

Mr. Sublett I really hope this letter had found you well, I think about you often and I wish you were here sir. I can never say it enough, but thank you so much sir Bubbles, aka the logo, aka the pops with the heel drops..thank you for the inspiration. I owe you so much and I will do everything I can to make you proud.

Respect and Admiration
Jason Janas

PS. There was no sky scrapers in my home town either..


You can follow Jason Janas on Instagram and Twitter @jayjan300