Tap Outside Tap is a new blog series brought to you by Operation: Tap. We are profiling successful individuals who have a back ground in tap dancing but are not necessarily tap dancers today in their work. For our first profile we bring you multi-EMMY nominated choreographer Stacey Tookey. While you may be familiar with Stacey’s sweepingly beautiful contemporary movement as seen on FOX’s "So You Think You Can Dance" you may not know that her background includes almost 20 years of tap dancing, being an award winning highland dancer, working as a professional ballet dancer, and being a hip hop dancer for an NBA franchise. Join us today as Stacey recalls her years of tap experience and it’s returned value on her life today as an artist.
One of many beautiful Stacey Tookey routines from her work on SYTYCD!
OPTAP: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today to lend your insight to our community and to the dance community at large about your experience in tap dancing!
ST: Of course, thank you for having me.
OPTAP: I first want to ask you about when you started tap dancing? How old were you and how long did you tap dance for?
ST: When I was 2 and 1/2 my dancing started via a tap and ballet combination class. I studied all the way until...gosh I am trying to remember when I actually stopped! I studied it my whole competitive dance life. When I went on to a professional career, tap was still a big part of it. I still took classes and joined a tap ensemble in Vancouver, Canada. I definitely tap danced up until 2000 but...yeah it was a long time, I would definitely say that from 2 and 1/2 until my early 20’s I was tap dancing. And even after that I still would have to tap dance at auditions, so even though I wasn’t a tap dancer specifically I still was doing it throughout most of my professional dance career.
OPTAP: Can you tell us a little bit about your time spent in the tap ensemble in Vancouver?
ST: One of my first professional jobs, it was called Hoofers Incorporated. It was a professional tap ensemble led by James Hibbard, and we were a group of 5-6 dancers that would do performances throughout Vancouver. It wasn’t a consistent job but it was consistent training! We would get together 2-3 times per week and work on choreography and have jam sessions. Jim was really leading the way in tap in Vancouver at that time and I was really honored to have been chosen because I was in a ballet company at the time and also (laugh) cheerleading for the NBA so I was doing hip hop and ballet primarily as my main source of income. From taking Jim’s class he invited me to join and it was a way for me to actually keep tap dancing and a way for me to keep improving my skill. Although it wasn’t something that was extremely lucrative it was something that was deeply artistically fulfilling!
OPTAP: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the lessons that stick with you from your days as a tap dancer and how maybe those lessons apply to your work today as both an educator and a working choreographer in the industry?
ST: I think early on as I said I started tap dancing when I was 2 and 1/2 years old. I think it is important to introduce that early on because that is where musicality is going to start and getting that basic musical understanding was ingrained in my naturally from such a young age. As I grew up my primary tap teacher was my mom and her main thing was always teaching tap. That was kind of our focus! We would study Brian Foley’s syllabus and later Al Gilbert’s syllabus. For me the lessons always stood out because tap was such a challenge because I knew that there was a challenge that I had to over come. Every year when I would complete my exams it felt that there was something to be achieved, to be completed in order to move on. That early message set a very powerful work ethic in me. It also made me very hungry to continue to learn more. That kind of dedication and persistence that is required to tap dance along with qualities that I posses today is what I take pride in using in my professional jobs.
OPTAP: You have spoken about the intellectual and musical side of tap dancing, is there anything physically about tap that you carry with you in your work today?
ST: Physically, tap dancing is hard! It definitely is a different type of training than any other dance but it still ties in. I did everything tap, jazz, ballet, highland...you name it I did it and while they are all different they still all tie in with one another. I can’t see a separation of all of the styles of dance so much as I see all of my training equally in my whole self now. Without tap I would be missing a part of myself both as a person and as an artist!
OPTAP: What is the state of versatility in dance today? Do you find that dancers today are more specialists than they were maybe 20 years ago or do you find that the level of versatility still exists?
ST: I kind of feel that the versatility of dancer’s is dying out a bit. I feel that when I was growing up that all of the dancers around me studied tap, jazz, and ballet and I do find that today dancers tend to be more specialized. I am not sure if that is because of what is on TV or YouTube. I think that studying as many kinds of things as you can growing up is going to to make you a more well rounded artist in the end. I definitely know that when you hit your professional career you will take a more specialized route. For myself even though I trained in tap, jazz, and ballet and all of these things and I danced professionally in a ballet company and I danced professionally in a tap company...I don’t think a ballet company was my home and I don't think a tap company was my home but I EXPERIENCED it and I used those experiences to get me to those places in my career where I really feel at home.
OPTAP: Do you find you prefer to work with a highly specialized contemporary dancer or do you prefer a dancer with more versatile training?
ST: The more versatile you can be, it’s like having more tools in your tool box as a professional dancer. The more tools you have separates you from the person beside you. Even if it is not going to literally be a tap section in a work that I am creating, having that ability or having that knowledge in some kind of ethnic dance might set you apart. I have been in auditions where they have asked what your special skill is and I have done Scottish Highland Dancing, I have been set apart in auditions because I could tap. Even if it is not in the literal sense but just the artistic sense having more knowledge and having more experience is valuable so you are not a one trick pony. Dancers who dance more musically will always be recognized. Dancers who have exceptional technique but choose not to dance in a musical way can sometimes peter out. Having that musical ability is always going to make you stand out.
OPTAP: Are there any professional tap dancers that influences you as much as contemporary or ballet dancers in your work today?
ST: Definitely the old movies, and for sure Gregory Hines! In my time I saw Savion Glover perform in Bring in Da’ Noise Bring in Da’ Funk. I remember sitting there and having the same sensation as when I would watch Baryshnikov and even though I didn’t excel in tap in the way I did in ballet watching Savion Glover is like watching Michael Jordan. It is like watching any exceptional artist or athlete at the top of their game. I remember walking out of that show and being so inspired just by possibility.
Savion Glover's Master Piece, Noise Funk
OPTAP: Can you tell me your most memorable moment in tap shoes?
ST: That’s a good question....the first memory that pops out is that (laughter)... is that I broke my mom’s mirror at her studio with my tap shoe because I was so tired and she made me do it one more time and I threw my shoe!
OPTAP: (laughter) That is amazing!
ST: (laughter) Yeah, that definitely happened!
OPTAP: Lastly, how would you describe your relationship to tap dancing today?
ST: Even though I don’t tap dance anymore I will always be that girl who is tap dancing in the grocery store and it is so true! Anytime I am ever at a stand still in my life, my feet are always moving!
You can follow Stacey on Instagram and Twitter @sjtookey