"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.




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.




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




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."




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


"Absolutely," he says.




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.




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.