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

FESTIVAL FEATURE- Soul 2 Sole

Operation: Tap had the privilege to sit down with Acia Gray, the director of the Soul To Sole Tap Festival in Austin, Texas! Find out everything you need to know about this amazing festival!

 

OPTAP: Where is Soul To Sole hosted this year? When will it be taking place? 

S2S: Austin, TX / Tapestry Dance Company (4544 South Lamar Blvd. Suite 200, Austin, TX  78745 - 512-695-6560 / REGISTRATION OPEN NOW @ www.tapestry.org

OPTAP: How many years has Soul To Sole been taking place?

S2S: As one of the oldest tap festivals in the world, this is the 16th year of The Soul to Sole Festival but the 25th year of Tapestry hosting a festival!  Soul to Sole’s first “name” - The Austin Tap Jam

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

S2S: Soul to Sole is a very comfortable, non-competitive and loving atmosphere to share rhythm, choreography, stories and technique with mature dancers and teens from around the world! Founded first with the living legends of the field and the leading pioneers of tap on the concert stage - Faculty and performers have included tap legends Fayard Nicholas, Jeni Legon, Harold Cromer as well as living legends Brenda Bufalino (American Tap Dance Orchestra), Jane Goldberg and Dianne Walker as well as leading pioneers of the field including Lynn Dally (Jazz Tap Ensemble), Heather Cornell (Manhattan Tap), Linda Sohl-Donnell (Rapsody in Taps), Tony Waag (NYC Tap Festival), Lane Alexander (Chicago Human Rhythm Project), Sarah Petronio, Roxanne Butterfly, Nicholas Young (Tapestry Dance Company - protege of Acia Gray) and Michelle Dorrance (one of the premiere’s of Dorrance Dance!) among many, many more!  Founded also around Tapestry Dance Company - the only full time professional repertory tap company worldwide), Soul to Sole sets a foundation and focus for concert dance, history and individual expression for all levels from Beginning thru Professional!  Non-commercial / Non-competitive.  AND Austin is the live music capitol of the world!  

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

S2S: Tony Waag, Lane Alexander, Heather Cornell, Ayodele Casel, Acia Gray, Nicholas Young, Nicole Hockenberry, Anthony Morigerato, Siobhan Cook, Andrea Torres and Jeremy Arnold.

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

S2S: Our average dancers are young and older adults and teens. Rare exceptions with higher level dancers under the age of 13.

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

S2S: Yes!  There is our “Rhythm Showcase” held on the Friday night of the festival at The Rollins Theatre / The Long Center. Video submissions are open now!  Send information and video link to Soulsfeet@mac.com.  “Friends In Time” is our faculty concert with live music by the Soul to Sole Trio on Saturday night!  

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

S2S: Opening night tap jam,  two evening concerts, video showings, “Sore Feat Breakfast and Panel Discussion” on Sunday morning as well as a closed (but historically archived) Faculty Conservatory discussing the “State of the Art” and in past year’s the work and development of a chosen master (past has included Fayard Nicholas, Brenda Bufalino and more).

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

S2S: This year’s festival will offer 57 (1.5 hour) classes that are capped at 25 participants each with levels at Adv Beg, INT, INT/ADV and ADV/PRO LEVELS.   There are also morning classes in Music & Drum Foundations, Swing Dance and Jazz.  Also SIX Three day Workshops  (4.5 hours total) in the following: 

Workshops Include: 

NICOLE HOCKENBERRY - Skills, Drills & Progressions (ADV BEG) Learn new skills; secure them with drills & progress in your new found love of tap dance! 

HEATHER CORNELL - Working Polyrhythms (INT) Heather has been working with African griots and playing Djembe and Balafon for over 20 years.  Uncovering the mysteries of the polyrhythms inherent in this music can unlock a whole new approach to building your technique and becoming fluent as an improviser.  Don’t wait too long to incorporate these concepts into your training. Polyrhythms are the foundation of so much of the music that you are already dancing to!

ANTHONY MORIGERATO - The Magic of Oscar Peterson (INT/ADV) Join Anthony for a class working with the tonality, melody, and sophistication of Oscar Peterson.

TONY WAAG - The Art of Comic Dance (INT/ADV) New takes on comic hoofing, off center movement, irregular actions, traditional vaudeville styling and getting in touch with your inner clown.

NICHOLAS YOUNG - Layers & Textures (ADV/PRO) While developing grooves, pocket steps, and solo choreography, we will explore where tap dancers sit in the world of percussion and music. What is our frequency? How do we create room? What is our role in the musical landscape?

AYODELE CASEL - Latin Jazz Rhythm & Grooves (ADV/PRO) An exploration of phrases, grooves and choreography set to great classic Latin music.

Class Schedule for Soul To Sole!

OPTAP: What is the cost of attending Soul To SoleIs 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?

S2S: A dancer can take a la carte classes at $35 each or purchase a level package that includes all classes in that level for $500.00 - a 30% or more savings depending on level!  Neighborhood hotels are listed on the website at www.tapestry.org (Soul to Sole tab) with links to reserve.  Renting a car is a good option (so much to see and EAT in Austin - but bus service is good!  We also have HELPFUL SOULS at the festival that can help arrange volunteer transportation!

OPTAP: Choose one word to describe S2S.

S2S: INSPIRATIONAL!

For more information go to www.tapestry.org

"Imagine Tap!" - a celebration

Ten years later...


Randomly, somewhere in that foggy moment between dreaming and waking up this morning I remembered that 2016 marks ten years since the debut of “Imagine Tap!”, a show created and choreographed by Derick K. Grant with Aaron Tolson as his right hand man. Ten years! Wow. That blows my mind. Time really flies. Around springtime, ten years ago, a truly remarkable group of tap dancers were fiercely rehearsing at Chelsea Studios in NYC. If you're not familiar with "Imagine Tap!" I can tell you it was a pretty significant moment for tap dancers and tap dancing. It was the first major full length show to be produced having tap entirely as its premise since the revolutionary Bring in Da’ Noise/Bring in Da’ Funk ten years prior. "Imagine Tap!" intended to create an impact and these were its players, in no particular order. 

The soloists:

Jason Samuels Smith

Derick Grant

Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards

Ayodele Casel

Bril Barrett

Aaron Tolson

Tre Martin Dumas III

Ray Hesselink

 

The ensemble:

 

Jared Grimes

Michelle Dorrance

Jumaane Taylor

Jess Chapuis

Kelly Kaleta

Chloe Arnold

Joseph Wiggan

Jason Janas

If THAT isn’t a dream team, I don’t know what is.

l to r. Jason Janas, Jumaane Taylor, Jared Grimes, Joseph Wiggan, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Jess Chapuis, Joseph Wiggan, Jumaane Taylor, Chloe Arnold, Ray Hesselink, Derick Grant, Ayodele Casel, Michelle Dorrance, Ephrat Asherie, Ayodele Casel, Kelly Kaleta, Ephrat Asherie

 

Imagine...

I remember being so excited hearing the idea of "Imagine Tap!" and being asked to be a part of the show. Some time in between teaching our individual classes at Steps on Broadway, Derick approached me and said “Dele, I need you.” Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the “I need you” like “I can’t do this without you.” It seemed simply a recognition of really wanting to create something special and gather all who he knew could bring his vision to life in the absolute strongest way possible. He imagined a show that would be diverse,  reconnect audiences with their love of tap dancing and open their minds to what tap was capable of achieving. What I loved most about his vision was his ability to express what he thought was unique and special about each of his potential players. I had felt that our community had been plagued by an inability to articulate appreciation for each other's talents so his candidness was refreshing and much needed.  He knew that I was also an actor and he wanted me to fully express that in the piece he wanted me to lead. I originated the role of “The Doll”. The doll comes to life to a nice waltz after hours in a department store and midway through the number she gets bullied by the other toy soldiers in the store. Not for long. While toy weapons are being pointed at her she makes the decision to fight instead and one by one she takes all of them out in a pulsating, glorious 6/8 time signature. The doll is victorious. (fun anecdote. one evening two of the toy soldiers, Joseph Wiggan and Jumaane Taylor, were nowhere to be found onstage due to some backstage mishap and I was out there, in performance,  fighting alone. I’m sure I looked absolutely crazy.) I was incredibly proud to dance in that segment. I can't think of a time that I didn't eagerly anticipate rehearsals and walking to the theater every day to rehearse and perform felt like a blessing. Any time we get to live out our performance dreams is a blessing.

The show was comprised of tap vignettes brought to life by singers, break dancers and each tap soloist had their own theme and scenario. Jason Samuels Smith was a Samurai meditating in his space while ninjas slowly creeped in on him to attack. The piece begins with a single candle lit downstage and Jason, in tap meditation, can sense that enemies are near. He blows out the candle and the battle ensues! He battles the ninjas and two break dancers, Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and David “Cyclone” Fogler in what was one of the most exciting dance pieces ever. Jason, in true fashion, danced his behind off! Seriously. I wish you could have seen it. If you did, lucky you! Seeing Jason dance in this show reminded me of our time in NYOTs in the late 90's. He was always being inventive on the dance floor. I’d always say “there’s the way we express ourselves and then there’s Jay”. I have always felt so fortunate dancing and performing with friends, especially when your friends are masterful and kick ass! They keep you on your toes and don’t let you get away with nonsense. When you are surrounded by dedicated and highly disciplined individuals it only pushes you to being the best you can be. I can't imagine ever wanting it to be any other way. 

It was such an exciting time (and Chicago in the summertime is pretty awesome). There was camaraderie on and off the stage.  We recognized the power we held as a group and we were so committed to making this the best show possible. Tap was going to be fully alive again, commercially, artistically, and we were giving our all to make sure it had the best chance possible at succeeding. We ran for 6 weeks at The Harris Theater in Chicago. An ambitious commitment for a new piece but we were COMMITTED and our hard work paid off! It was a success. The audiences loved it. Show business brings a lot of legalities and hoops to jump through and I’m not privy to the details that prevented the show from moving forward from that point. A loss to the dance world without a doubt.  A revival with an alternate cast was also in the works in 2011 but never came to fruition. I can imagine it’s also very difficult to recreate the same power with different actors/dancers. It’s one of the reasons a first cast is so special in almost every production. The exciting energy and chemistry is a large part of what contributes to the success of any production.  The revival plans, however, became the subject of a documentary “Tap or Die” but most importantly, the 2006 union moved the community of dancers forward and inspired us to create.

New Leaders Emerge...

Derick had a lot to do with that. From my vantage point, he brought an extraordinary group of talent together and lead us with confidence. Not just in his own ability but he was confident in each of OUR abilities. There was no competition. In rehearsals, he fostered a sense of community and leadership by pairing each of us with another dancer and calling us “cypher buddies”. Jason Janas was my cypher buddy. The “Imagine Tap!” rehearsal process was the first time I’d met him. I was immediately impressed  and inspired by his work ethic and determination. After hours of rehearsals, we’d bump into each other at Fazil’s, NYC's go to studio for tap. Still practicing. Still working on something to bring the best we could to this new venture and to the art form. We have been great friends since. The “Imagine Tap!” experience seemed to generate a lot of energy towards creating. I remember rehearsing bits of Jason Samuels Smith’s tribute to Charlie Parker, “Charlie’s Angels” in the wings at the Harris Theater. He would later go on to present that show in Chicago and at The Joyce Theater. Shortly after our Chicago run, and what I thought was simply a short hiatus from IT, I started co-producing shows and workshops. Dance companies were formed, even more jams were being created, collaborations increased, and more performance opportunities were being created. We grew. I am extremely thankful for that experience in 2006 with exactly this group of people.

So many artists in this cast have achieved an incredible amount of success steadily and since 2006. You need only look at the media to see the multiple appearances on TV shows, Broadway shows, MacArthur Genius Grant recognition, concert dance venues where tap is breaking ground because of these artists. It’s a different kind of revolution and I partially credit the “Imagine Tap!” experience as empowering each of us to forge ahead confidently. I come from a personal tradition of giving credit to those who helped pave the way for me whether they be an elder or a peer. We are not lone entities walking around reaping benefits just by existing. Someone or something has helped us along the way. If they are a part of your journey, claim it. There should be no hierarchy when it comes to expressing gratitude.  Life is too short. Thank you Derick for being a part of the journey and for creating an opportunity for us to do what we love. We haven’t all shared the same stage at the same time since 2006 but what that would look and sound like a decade later,  I can only imagine…

IMG_5960.JPG

TAP OUTSIDE TAP- Al Blackstone

Al Blackstone, NYC.

OPTAP: When did you start tapping, and for how many years did you continue to train and perform?

AB: I started tapping very early, probably 4 or 5 years old. I don't remember my first tap class but I think my Dad was my teacher. I continued studying tap up until I hit my twenties. My Mom's best friend is Germaine Salsberg and she would come and set choreography and teach master classes at our studio fairly often. We were spoiled.  I don't take tap regularly anymore but I try to get into a class at STEPS at least one every couple of months. If I could I would take it all the time!

OPTAP: I know your parents own a studio and your Mom is big fan of tap dancing. Did you have much of a choice as a kid whether you were going to tap or not?

AB: Yes, my Mom is a huge fan of tap dancing! I didn't have much of a choice in the sense that no one ever asked me if I wanted to start. I just got thrown into it. But there was never a time that I didn't want to do it and someone made me.  

Al and his Mom!

OPTAP: I was lucky enough to work with you when you were younger and you were very good at tap. Did you ever consider making tap the center of your training?

AB: I was lucky to have you as a teacher!  You opened up a world of tap to me that I didn't know existed.  I thought about spending more time tap dancing but at that time (late high school) I was very focused on becoming a contemporary dancer. Although it wasn't my focus being so inspired by this whole new world of tap was a huge blessing because my sense of musicality and style evolved quite a bit. It definitely made me better at contemporary and jazz.

OPTAP: How do you feel your tap training has helped your career?

AB: As a performer it helped me work, undoubtedly.  When I got to NYC I was auditioning mainly for musicals.  I was always very confident when an audition process required tapping.  I was studying with Andy Blankenbuehler at the time and he often added moments of tricky soft shoe into his combos.  Half of the room couldn't pick it up and I think it gave me an edge. 

As a choreographer, having solid tap training has been huge for me. The last thing you want to do as a storyteller is only speak one language.  It's so freeing and exciting to know that if I want to use tap to help tell a story I have that option. And let's be honest, audiences LOVE tap!

Al Blackstone's Me Before We Met

OPTAP: You and I both love a lot of the old standards.  Sinatra, Bobby Darin.. Why do you think you are a fan of that style of music?

AB: That’s a great question!  I grew up in a very Italian household and most of my friends were Italian so Sinatra was on a lot.  But also, my sister was a member of the Harry Connick Jr Fan Club.  She had a huge poster of him in her room as a teenager and I heard a lot of the classics for the first time from Harry.  I'm still using that music to choreograph today.  Later on I discovered Bobby Darin and was crazy inspired.  His arrangements are so full of life and energy and style and personality.  That's what I love about the genre.  The songs are amazing but the singer brings them to life with their own brand of charisma and panache.  They make people feel things and as a choreographer that's my number one goal; to make people feel.  

OPTAP: Have you recently choreographed a tap piece? 

AB: I have actually. In December I choreographed the opening number for a benefit here on Broadway called "Gypsy of the Year." It was a modern take on 42nd St about a stage manager that has to learn the show he's working on when a dancer drops out last minute. I was nervous about it but it was a great challenge and because I had such slid training, it came back to me right away.  

Gypsy of the Year, Opening Number

OPTAP: Do you think it benefits dancers to take tap, and what do you look for in a dancer when casting?

AB: All of my favorite dancers have tap training. I think that tap makes dancers understand music and timing in a way that no other kind of dance can and it shows in everything that they do. Musicality is huge for me. Tap training also helps dancers know how to shift their weight quickly which is something I love to do in my work. When casting dancers I look for people that have a strong sense of self and can make unique choices within the framework of what I give them. They also have to be kind and generous and have a great sense of humor. Life is too short to be in a rehearsal room with no laughter!  

OPTAP: What was your favorite moment ever with a pair of tap shoes on?

AB: When I was 16 my parents took me to Las Vegas for spring break and my Mom had heard that Henry Letang was giving private lessons out of his studio there. So we went, her and I, and we took a few private lessons from the master himself. He must have been in his 80's at the time.  The first day we got there he asked me to show him what I could do, to improvise a little, and I froze.  Later on after we had learned some choreography he said to me, "Never be afraid to show 'em what you got. You can tap, so tap!"  It was an honor and I'm so grateful that she took me there. It's a very special memory, tapping next to my Mom in a room with one of the greatest tap dancers of all time.  

You can follow Al Blackstone on Instagram and Twitter @alblackstonechoreo

From The Audience- Harlem Stage Dance

"From The Audience" is a new series on the Operation: Tap Blog that features experiences from tap dancers at LIVE TAP EVENTS throughout the world. This will hopefully serve as a much needed written record of the experience of attending a live show and passing this on for all of us not in attendance!  This past weekend OPTAP asked our special guest contributor, Hillary-Marie Michael to write about her experience seeing Jason Samuels Smith’s new work, "Going The Miles"! Enjoy!

Jason Samuels Smith premiered his new work Going The Miles in collaboration with Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Derick K. Grant, Igmar Thomas (trumpet) and Alex Hernandez (bass) on Thursday, April 7th at Harlem Stage (NYC) as a part of E-Moves. 

The show was a beautiful combination of tap dance, jazz, live music and improvisation in celebration of world-renowned American Jazz musician Miles Davis. Weaving in and out of choreography and improvisation, the heads of the tunes Joshua, Will O' The Wisp and Easy Living were masterfully choreographed and then each artist had their own improvised choruses to flex and share their individual voices. Additionally, Dormeshia shared a one-on-one conversation with trumpeter Igmar and Derick with bassist Alex, both playful and brilliant exhibitions of their technical ability, musical approach and overall expert artfulness. 

With this sophisticated and energetic blend of artistry, the audience couldn't help but have just as much fun as the artists on the stage. Together, we smiled, laughed, applauded, shouted out, and were taken on a musical journey, a tap dance odyssey that culminated in an expert soft shoe that left us all in a standing ovation, wanting more. There's no doubt that every musician and tap dancer in the audience left the theater inspired and ready to shed. I walked away energized, educated, elevated and excited for all who were involved in the production. It was truly an awesome representation of tap dance. 

Program Notes:

Going The Miles takes a step further than simply tributing Mr. Davis, one of the world's greatest American jazz artists who was at the forefront of many of its most important movements. Jason Samuels Smith in collaboration with Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Derick K. Grant, Igmar Thomas and Alex Hernandez, engage on this musical odyssey, celebrating the diversity of contributions that you respective cultures and collective consciousness continues to make through two of the world's most thriving American art forms. Each musicians in their own right, this new work emphasizes interplay inspired by three of Miles iconic tunes, highlighting just why "improvisation" is still the highest expression of these forms. 

will-o'-the-wisp (noun) a phosphorescent light seen hovering or floating at night over marshy ground, thought to result from the combustion of natural gases, ignis fatuus. Or, a person or thing that is difficult or impossible to find, reach, or catch. 

Music included original arrangements of Joshua from album Seven Steps to Heaven (1963), Will O' The Wisp from album Sketches of Spain (1960) and Easy Living from album Blue Moods (1955). 


To take class with Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards, and our author Hillary-Marie Michael make sure to check out OPTAP's Festival Feature of Jersey Tap Fest! All three will be teaching! http://www.jerseytapfest.com

MUSICALITY MONDAY-Musician vs Performer

Every tap dancer has two things inside of them; a musician and a performer.  Tap dancers have the challenging task of having to sound and look good at the same time.  The more I study the art form I realize tap is a balancing act between these two forces. Your own personality is a huge factor in developing who you are as an artist.  It’s amazing to me that some dancers are known for certain steps and essentially create their own styles.  Some performances tip the scale towards the show business aspect of tap, like Donald O’Connor in Make Em Laugh.  And some favor the musical side like Savion Glover performing Live In The Greene Space.  This is not to say that Donald O’Connor isn't musical and Savion Glover is not a performer, it’s just to say that these particular performances tip the scale about as far as you can in either direction. 

Which way do you, as an artist, tip the scale? Are you more of a performer? Do you focus more on the musical aspect?  I was always drawn to the performers that could slide the scale back and forth effortlessly between the two.

Gregory Hines could connect with an audience like nobody else but could be such a musician at the same time.  It was so impressive to see someone so comfortable of an artist that he could connect with everyone musically and emotionally.  Not only could Gregory tap with the best of them, but every time he performed he inevitably had a moment where a perfectly placed pause or a moment of silliness would bring the audience into an uproar.  The combination of his technical skill and his obvious love for the art form is the reason I dedicated my life to tap dancing as well as many others.  

This clip is full of the moments I'm talking about.

Jimmy Slyde is another person that was able to have a visual effect over an audience as well as a musical one.  I learned from watching Jimmy, the few times I was fortunate enough to be around him, that he was a master at focusing the audience’s eye.  If he was doing a wing with his right foot, he would freeze and shape the rest of his body in a way that made you look at the wing.  There is an art to that. His ear and his technique made him masterful enough to be one of the musicians, but at the same time used his slides and personality to be so visual that the whole audience just couldn’t take their eyes off of him.

Writing about these two legends and thinking about tap dancing in general reminds me that tap dancing is an art form that can move people in more than one way. It’s not always about how fast, difficult, or athletic a step may be.  It’s also not always about how theatrical or showy a step may be.  It’s the care and quality of how a step sounds and reads visually that connects the performer and the audience rhythmically.  Like Ella Fitzgerald sings,

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.”

FESTIVAL FEATURE- Jersey Tap Fest

Operation: Tap is pleased to be able to bring you this Festival Feature for the 7th annual Jersey Tap Fest! Check out this article for all things Jersey Tap Fest in the words of it's esteemed director Hilary Marie Michael!

FROM THE DIRECTOR:

"Jersey Tap Fest is New Jersey's sole dance event featuring world-class tap faculty and extravaganza. This summer is our 7th annual celebration! Taking place August 11th-14th with classes held at Dancer's Pointe in Roselle Park, NJ and main stage event TAP 'N TIME at Bloomfield College's Westminster Arts Center. 

Performance from Tap 'N Time from 2014 Jersey Tap Fest.

Jersey Tap Fest is a unique experience because it brings the dancers closer to their favorite teachers so that they can celebrate their love and passion for tap dance together. The program offers opportunities for students to get to know their faculty both inside and outside of the studio and class sizes are limited so that each dancer receives the individual attention that they deserve. It's all about coming together to learn, grow and take responsibility for our art form as a community. 

We have an awesome faculty lineup this year! Jersey Tap Fest's 2016 Faculty includes Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Ayodele Casel, Anthony Morigerato, Hillary-Marie, Claudia Rahardjanoto, Karen Callaway Williams, Kyle Wilder, Jeff Foote, Corey Hutchins, Janille Hill (Step), Josie Say (Lindy Hop) and Andrew Atkinson (Music). 

Jersey Tap Fest Faculty for 2016 and past faculty and participants.

Jersey Tap Fest is appropriate for advanced beginner, intermediate, advanced, pre-professional and professional dancers ages 8 through adult. Class offerings include Tiny Taps (ages 8+ with less than three years of tap experience), Intermediate and Advanced (ages 10+) and Adults Only (advanced beginner adults ages 25+). 

We host a jam session with live music accompaniment and a student showcase in which dancers can share the pieces they've been performing this past season. We also offer a 3-Day Residency experience where dancers learn a piece of the first three days of the festival and then perform it in our main stage event TAP 'N TIME. Additional special events include a company audition for FutureSTEP, a new New Jersey based tap company for intermediate and advanced dancers ages 10-25 and a sit-down "Tap Talks" session with the Jersey Tap Fest faculty. 

The classroom vibe at Jersey Tap Fest is supportive, creative, fun, educational and energetic. Classes are 60-90 minutes depending on age and level and class sizes are limited to ensure that dancers can see their teacher, hear themselves, and walk away feeling energized, enriched and educated. Class themes include Latin Jazz Grooves, World Rhythms, Improvisation, Slides, Technique Tune Up, Music Theory for Tap Dancer, In The Cotton Club, Lindy Hop and more!

Kyle Wilder at work with the students of Jersey Tap Fest.

Jersey Tap Fest is conveniently priced so that dancers can participate in the way that's best for their schedule and budget. Registration options include Individual Classes, Discounted Day Passes and our most popular super-discounted Unlimited Package. There is a host hotel located 5 minutes from the studio and a shuttle from Newark airport to the hotel, as well as a daily shuttle between the hotel and studio each day. If you're coming from out of town, you'll be able to take advantage of this daily shuttle, and of course, there are always dancers willing to help out and carpool. We're known as the Family Festival, so if a dancer ever needs help setting up a carpool, they can contact us and we'll make it happen. 

One word to describe Jersey Tap Fest? Family."

 SAVE THE DATE!

Special Note: Register before National Tap Dance Day, and save 10% with our Early Bird Discount. 

Website: www.JerseyTapFest.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/jerseytapfest

Instagram/Twitter: @jerseytapfest

What Came First? The Timing or The Musicality

When thinking of the musical facility of a tap dancer one is often working on the ability to keep time. “DON’T RUSH,” comes billowing from the mouth of every tap instructor the world over! Keeping time, while essential and vital, is only a small fraction of the musical intuition one needs to be a tap dancer. Dynamics, inflection, and tonality are among the forgotten or last ingredients added when teaching, working, and practicing. I recall one of my ballet professors in college, Katie Langan, always preaching that when you dance you can not divide the technical from the artistic. “How do these things go hand in hand with one another. Where does your technique end and your artistry begin? If you are working correctly the line between technique and artistry should dissolve and they absorb one another.” Taking that logic into tap dancing I propose that we don’t work on musicality as factions and separated entities. Where does your metrical ability combine with all of the other musical elements in your dancing? Today let us take a look at some of the great musical performances of tap dancing's distinguished history.

GENE KELLY, The Master of the Crescendo and Decrescendo

Gene Kelly is often remembered for his contributions as an innovator in film and his contributions as a choreographer. Armed with a very simple tap vocabulary Mr. Kelly made up for this with an incredible sensitivity to the music and the orchestrations with which he danced. This is an element of his artistry that is often overlooked. In the 1950 MGM musical Summer Stock, Kelly famously danced with an array of pedestrian props including a squeaky board and a series of newspapers. The combination of the orchestration in this piece, coupled with Kelly’s personal dynamic choices as a performer, and the use of sound and space make the rise and fall in intensity throughout the piece the undercurrent by which this becomes an iconic dance number. Watch this clip with an eye towards the huge range with which the music and his dancing rise and fall in miraculous connection. 

 

Joseph Wiggan, Phrasing At Its Finest

In today’s tap dance scene there are so many amazing videos of festival performances from dancers all over the globe. To see these dancers in action is to see the state of tap dance, an explosion of technique and musical facility with limited venues as vehicles for these artists to express themselves. Joseph Wiggan is one of tap dance’s finest practitioners not only for his sparkling technique and his sparkling spirit as a human being but because of some of the most beautiful phrasing in tap dance today. Just like a prolific writer, Mr. Wiggan is able to harness his steps into perfectly expressed musical phrases. Take a look at Joseph’s video from the Snowball in 2015 to see his graceful, masterful, virtuosically sublime musicality on display! 

 

Savion Glover, The Musical and Tonal Explorer

Savion Glover is one of our generation's greatest musical dancers. What separates Glover from everyone else is his musicality informs every aspect of his dancing. The physical, the spiritual, and the emotional all flow through his musical thought. For me personally, I am always baffled by Mr. Glover’s enormous tonal range in his taps. The precision with which he can articulate a melody or tonal cadence is uncanny. Armed with heel drops, toe drops, paddles, and slurps watch Mr. Glover explore musical possibility with nuance, subtlety, command, and total mastery. 

Ray Hesselink, MGM's Musical Ambassador

There was a time in show business when knowing tap was a prerequisite for being an entertainer. As with Gene Kelly, these performers had a keen sense of musicality and a sensitivity to orchestrations and personal choice in performance. This seems to have died a bit in the tap world as of late except in the case of NYC choreographer, teacher, and performer Ray Hesselink! A lover of Eleanor Powell and the Hollywood tap dancers of 1930-1950, Mr. Hesselink brings a strong sense of musicality, timing, and technique to his teaching and choreography. In this clip of Michelle Dorrance and Demi Remick watch Mr. Hasselink’s work come to exquisite musical reality in this tribute to Eleanor Powell! (To see the clip go to 36 minutes into the video, however if you have time for the full video you won't be disappointed!)

Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards, Tap's Complete Artist

To see Ms. Sumbry- Edwards in action is to see tap dance’s past, present, and future on display in one masterful moment. Gorgeous phrasing, impeccable technique, phenomenal performance chops, and impeccable musical decision making centers her dancing like no one else working on the planet. If Mr. Glover is the embodiment of the musical tap dancer, Ms. Sumbry-Edwards is the embodiment of the the total and complete tap dancer. No more explanation needed, Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards! 

For obvious reasons we could not make this article about every tap dancer and what makes tap dancing cool is that the voice of each individual is unique. My hope is that you realize that keeping time is only the beginning of becoming musical. Studying musicians and other masterful tap dancers is your key to understanding the concept of communication musically. Every dancer uses the musical vocabulary but is expressive in their own unique way! How are you working on your timing and musicality?  Which one comes first? For me, I am still trying to do like my professor said. “ If you are working correctly, the line between keeping time and being musical should dissolve and they absorb one another.”

Aleksandr Ostanin of Ukraine- Exploring Tap's New Frontier

Aleksandr Ostanin- San Francisco, 2016

The recently completed Technique Tuesday Challenge III was won by 28 year old Aleksandr Ostanin from Odessa, Ukraine! Operation: Tap recently had the opportunity to sit down with the newly crowned champ and talk about his life in tap, tap dancing in the Ukraine, his new festival in Odessa, and his dreams for the world tap community! 

As a young boy in the city of Odessa, Aleksandr Ostanin was an avid basketball player who loved Michael Jordan. Invited by a neighbor to a tap class Ostanin indignantly refused saying that, “dancing was for girls.” After some persuasion from his mother Aleksandr took the leap and went to tap class with his neighbor. Fortunately for the tap scene in Ukraine, the young Ostanin would never dream of playing basketball again. Tap dancing in the Ukraine is made up of a very small yet committed community of dancers and many of the teachers of Aleksandr’s era learned from videos of American dancers. “The community is very small and as a kid we were like the dinosaurs,” Ostanin recalls. “However, my first teachers helped me to love tap dancing!” Being in a country so far removed from the Meccas of tap dancing in the United States and even in Europe was a challenge for Ostanin growing up.

Ostanin in a performance from 2015

In 2002, Ostanin would go to the World Tap Championships in Reisa, Germany for the first time and here he would meet “thousands of tap dancers” he today considers to be his colleagues, peers, and friends. “In 2002, the United States was showing everyone how to tap dance, they were the mold by which we all based our training off of. They were winning every medal, and we would always be standing for the Star Spangled Banner.” The motivation of a dominant American team and a competitive spirit drove Aleksandr and a handful of Ukranian tap dancers to go home hungry to practice, refine, and develop as tap dancers. This paid off in spades as he was crowned the Adult World Champion of Tap dancing in 2012 and 2014. Aleksandr hopes to bring a team from the Ukraine someday that rivals the sheer size of participants of the American Team.

“I hope for there to be more of a connection between the dancers that attend the World Championships and for the hoofers in tap dancing.” When asked about the differences Aleksandr pointed out that the dancers who attend the world championships in Germany are more performance based dancers while as he puts it a “hoofer” is a more deeply musical and improvisational artist. After traveling to the United States and training with the likes of Michelle Dorrance and Jason Samuels Smith, Ostanin recalls that his world was turned upside down by their way of tap dancing. “My dream is for tap dancers in Europe to have a tap show that collaborates all of my friends from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Ukraine, and of course the Unites States. The tap world is waiting for something like this!”

In the meantime Ostanin is developing the first ever tap festival in Odessa, Ukraine this summer and he is using his prize money from the Operation: Tap Challenge to aide in producing this festival. “It is my dream. It is my city. It is my country. To make tap dancing popular and to promote my country is a dream for me!” With international masters of tap dancing on faculty and the backdrop of a beautiful city in the summer of 2016 this will surely be a festival that you won’t want to miss! Operation: Tap is so pleased to have Aleksandr as the champion of our Technique Challenge not only because of his abilities as a tap dancer but because of his spirit as an ambassador for tap dancing in a country very far away from tap’s roots. If Odessa, Ukraine is the new frontier of tap dancing, Ostanin is its John Wayne looking to carry the dance off into the glorious sunset. Let us remember that this American dance is now a global dance and its practitioners in all corners of the globe are looking for a space for it to shine.  

 

MESSAGE FROM FESTIVAL!

We want to introduce you the first Ukranian TapDance Festival at the coast of the Black Sea! Just imagine: beautiful sea, creative atmosphere and loads of tap-dancing!

WHERE: The coast of the Black Sea,  Odessa, Ukraine

WHEN: 23-27 August 2016

Be a part of the historical and incredible festival!

Registration: http://odessatapfestival.com.ua

INST: https://instagram.com/odessatapfestival

FB: https://facebook.com/odessatapfestival/

HURRY UP! :) THE SPECIAL PRICE WILL BE AVAILABLE UNTIL 23 MAY 2016.

TECHNIQUE TUESDAY CHALLENGE III- CHAMPION SUBMISSION

Teaching Moments - Lisa Minery

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.

I wanted to start off this series with my wife.  I get a first hand account of how  much she loves teaching and I get daily reports on the progress of her students.  There was one dance in particular that she choreographed this year that I knew she was nervous about.   A lot of the times, the things we worry most about become the most rewarding in the end.  I'll let her explain.

I was hired at Dance Dimensions in New Milford, NJ when I decided to go to college at Montclair State University.  I started off teaching an hour and a half a week with six kids in my class.  Every year though, the number of students and number of hours increased.  Over the next 13 years, the number increased to 55 students competing in various different tap routines.  Pretty impressive to think that I started with 6.  Thinking about this now, I’m extremely proud of how far the tap program has grown at this studio, but it’s not my proudest moment.

About six years ago, the owner, Annette Romano Merlini, gave me the opportunity to do a “tap production” competition number including all different ages and levels, whoever wanted to join.  The first year started with a number somewhere in the teens.  The next year a few more students joined.  Last year, I hit my highest.  26 students were in the group ranging from ages 9-16.  We had such a successful year with that routine and experienced an amazing week in Ocean City, MD at nationals.  I didn’t think I could be more proud of a dance and the students that were involved. That is until this year.

                      She still has a bruise from this.

                      She still has a bruise from this.

2015/2016 turned out to hold my proudest teaching moment in my career.  Sign-ups for our “tap production” started like any other year.  The number got up to the twenties again.  And then the thirties.  And finally it got up to 40.  40 kids had signed up.  Ages 8-17 this time.  I had no idea how I would do it but I was up for the challenge.

The process was hard and tiring but choreographing almost all dances are, especially when you’re pregnant.  The outcome, for me, was the most amazing feeling.  It made all the stress, the worrying, the countless hours put into it, totally worth it.  Watching them perform on stage was the tip of the iceberg.  Seeing those little 8 year olds try their best to keep up with the 18 year olds was unbelievable.  Seeing 40 kids tap dance on a stage together was even more incredible.  Knowing that I was about to cry in front of the entire studio from pure joy seeing them on stage was, well, not the best feeling, but I didn’t stop the tears.  The tears rolled down from excitement knowing that 40 kids loved tapping and I was the one who guided them.  I don’t think I could be more proud of all of those kids.  I still cry every time I see them perform this dance.  (Even watching them on video.)

             Love you girls!

             Love you girls!

If you have a TEACHING MOMENT you want to share email us at contact@operationtap.com.

Spring is Here and Tap is Blooming!

It is an exciting time for tap dancing. So many shows, projects, festivals, and social media posts are contributing to a continuous flow of tap dancing becoming immersed in the public's consciousness. Here is a list of some of the goings on, in no particular order…

1.   Shuffle Along - currently in previews on Broadway and created by George Wolfe and choreographed by Savion Glover is comprised of an all star cast and is one of the highly anticipated productions of this year’s theater season.  http://deadline.com/2016/03/shuffle-along-broadway-adds-40-dollar-preview-1201727123/

2.   Jared Grimes - one of tap’s vibrant young artists and long time collaborator with Wynton Marsalis will be performing in a new program at Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC in addition to being enlisted as choreographer for a new production ofJelly’s Last Jam. http://www.jazz.org/events/t-4024/Spaces-by-Wynton-Marsalis/

3.    Chloe Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies has the internet abuzz with their latest rendition of a Beyonce tune, “Formation”. The group’s dance video has been viewed over 5 million times (and climbing) and they even garnered an appearance on national television with Good Morning America.

4.   Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards recently set a wonderful, rhythmic tone in a performance for Brooklyn Dance Festival at BAM in NYC.

5.  Jason Samuels Smith, in addition to his appearances at international tap festivals and launching a new shoe offering with Bloch, is preparing for a world premiere titled “And Still You Must Swing.” at Jacob’s Pillow in collaboration with Derick Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry- Edwards.  http://www.jacobspillow.org/festival/2016/07/and-still-you-must-swing/

6. Michelle Dorrance and Dorrance Dance remain hard at work with an upcoming tour schedule that includes The Joyce Theater in NYC and Jacob’s Pillow. Dorrance has also been featured in Crain's recent 40 under 40 Class of 2016 article.  http://www.dorrancedance.com/performances-and-events/upcoming/ 

7. Omar Edwards, one of tap’s most dynamic dancers, just finished flying high in “FLY” at the New Victory Theater in NYC. http://www.newvictory.org/Show-Detail.aspx?ProductionId=6912

8. Ayodele Casel, a co-founder of Operation:Tap, is currently preparing for a concert set this summer at New York’s City Center featuring Broadway favorites Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff. http://www.nycitycenter.org/tickets/productionNew.aspx?performanceNumber=9784#.VvmnkWP9KS0

9.  Roxane Semadeni, Kazu Kamugai, and Caleb Teicher will be performing at Brian Seibert’s tap history book launch “What the Eye hears/A history of Tap Dancing” at the 92nd Street Y in NYC. 

10. Michela Marino Lerman- If you're in Italy April 1-2, don't miss an opportunity to take class with one of tap's finest tap musicians and soloists. https://www.facebook.com/events/580785498746241/

11. Tapestry Dance Company- a professional, non-profit dance organization founded in 1989 by Acia Gray and Deirdre Strand (and one of a select few salaried Tap dance companies)  will be premiering "Passing it Forward" April 21-May 1st at The Long Center in Austin, Texas. http://thelongcenter.org/event/passing-it-forward/

 

In addition to these very exciting performances there are so many tap education opportunities internationally and nationally currently being offered. Please stay tuned for our festival features to learn more about festivals and workshops in your area!

Aspiring to Timelessness- Happy Birthday Harold Nicholas!

Fayard and Harold Nicholas in Stormy Weather

March 27th marks the birthday of one of the halves of the Nicholas Brothers, Harold Nicholas. Seeing his birthday coming up made me reflect on one of show business’ greatest acts and what it means to be truly timeless. Often I show videos to my students as a means of passing on tap dance’s history, giving a lesson or step context, and most importantly as a vehicle to inspire the prospect of possibility. The Nicholas Brothers and their dances from decades ago still to this day move the viewer to awe, shock, amazement, spontaneous applause, and most importantly to wonder. Their dances being physically virtuosic, musically specific, artistically deft, spatially expansive, and spiritually joyous made for the perfect combination of a body of work that defies time and sets a standard. 

Part of what made the Nicholas Brothers the Nicholas Brothers and what makes any great artist a great artist is that they work to have a voice that is unique and is impossible to duplicate. The appearance of it looking easy and arriving to such a state is only possible through years of practice, refining, reflecting, and ultimately struggle. The result of timelessness is the act of putting time in to arrive into that space. This is why the history of an art form is as important to study as the technique of the art form itself. It saddens me to see so many young aspiring dancers not know who Gregory Hines is, or who Fred Astaire is, or who Jimmy Slyde is, or who Bob Fosse is, or who Martha Graham is, or who George Balanchine is, or who Mikhail Baryshnikov is. They along with so many others are timeless artists who gave their lives to dance. They deserve to be celebrated, remembered, and studied. Dance teachers the world over take note that the producing of a dancer is teaching the steps, however the producing of an artist is the teaching of the life behind those steps. 

In an industry today that focuses so much on trendiness, attention spans (or lack there of), affect, surface, and speed of producing/distributing I often wonder what future generations will look at as the timeless artistic works of our generation. What will we leave to inspire possibility to the artists that are coming behind us? What does it take to produce something that is timeless? What of our work will stand against time’s relentless march? What will fall into the ether of the forgotten or even worse the uninspired? These are questions ultimately that history will answer, however as we create for the 21st century and all of the mediums available to us today let us remember the standard that the exceptional artists that came before us created. Let us honor, celebrate, and study the past all while developing our OWN voice here in the present and looking forward to a future with invigorated possibility. With one eye looking back and the other eye looking forward I salute the memory of Harold Nicholas on his birthday and look forward to the next time I show a video of he and his brother to a group of awestruck aspiring tap dancers. 

Tap Outside Tap- Stacey Tookey

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! 

Jim Hibbard.

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

The Values In Technique

Before reading this blog post, please watch these two videos back to back.

The Condos Brothers 

Coles and Atkins

Which of these two dances is technically more challenging? What should one value in dance technique? How much does technique have to do with one’s ability to be artistically expressive? What elements combine to make up for an ideal level of technique and artistry? How much technique does one need to execute any given dance? Is it more impressive to see a dancer perform a dance with incredible speed, accuracy, and athleticism? Or would you prefer to see the same dance executed slower with sustain, space, and command? Which one is more challenging? Which one requires more technique? Which would you rather watch? These are the questions that I am asking myself as I try to evaluate each of the 68 submissions for Technique Tuesday Challenge III, Metronome. I believe these are the questions all tap dancers should ask themselves about the capacity of their own technical ability and the projection of how they want to be artistically perceived. 

The challenging moments in any given dance exist on many levels. These challenges are often technical and visible, worked on in class and refined through determined practice. The deepest challenges often come in the form of artistic demands that hide and cloak the visible elements of the dance. The greatest challenge is when these technical and artistic elements combine to make a statement of beautiful and lasting art. To make this statement you can not have one without the other. Having technique without artistry is like having the peanut butter without the jelly. More over, having the artistry without the technique is like having the peanut butter and jelly but without the bread. The combination of the two comes in many forms with varying levels, recipes and manifestations.

In an era dominated by instant gratification and fueled by the speed of social media these challenges are diminished by an onslaught of 15 second Instagram videos, #hastaginghashtaggingness, and filtered photography of distorted leg extensions with zero alignment. The practice of the things that places gain of likes, followers, and retweets is not the same practice that is needed to attain technical and artistic mastery over an artistic discipline. In a world that increasingly places an emphasis on short attention spans, speed, and flash I find myself in a constant state of agitation at the general lack of attention to quality, care, and accountability that it takes in becoming an artist that has the ability to speak.

I guess what I am trying to say is that much of Operation: Tap is operated in the ether of the Facebook and the Instagram newsfeed. I want to make sure that I am clear about what I value as an artist. I value and stand for having something artistically to say. I value and stand for the practice to give oneself the level of technique to allow a statement to be made with elegance and nuance. I value and stand for the time and process it takes in saying something of truth over the quick and knee jerk posting of a product that is shallow, false, and vacuous. I value and stand for the absolute control over technique in all of its manifestations in order to make any artistic statement you want. I value and stand for working to have the technical range to be able to say anything. I believe in using one’s facility, time, and energy to be introspective and proactive in improving upon this range. I value the time, practice, and energy that the 68 dancers who submitted for Technique Tuesday Challenge III took in making me ask many serious questions about what I believe. They are all winners for having taken the time to practice and improve themselves. Let’s try to be a generation of artists who stands for the importance of valuing craft, artistry and technique and the potential of what you can say when all of these elements are combined.

LITTLE ROCK TAP- FESTIVAL FEATURE

Little Rock Tap Fest is in it's 2nd year. Operation: Tap had the opportunity to sit down with directors Matt Boyce and Savannah Harrington and find out more about Arkansas' Tap Festival!

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

LRTF: Little Rock Tap Festival is hosted in Central Arkansas. This year's host studio is a brand new studio in Little Rock called "The Dance Project". This year's festival is June 6th-9th. 

 

OPTAP: How many years has LRTF been taking place?

LRTF: This is our second year to hold Little Rock Tap Festival. 

 

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

LRTF: Our faculty is what makes Little Rock Tap Festival unique. All of our teachers are true masters of their disciplines, and participants will get to take class from the absolute best of Irish step dancing, body percussion, stepping, music theory, Broadway, drumming, and of course, tap. 

 

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

LRTF: This year's faculty will include festival founders Matt Boyce & Savannah Harrington, master teachers Anthony Morigerato, Nick Dinicolangelo, Aaron Tolson, Jason Nious, and Katelyn Harris, and local artists Mary Rose O'Donovan, Allison Stodola Wilson, Sydney Kneuven, Maegan Hickerson, and Lorri Yung.

 

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

LRTF: Little Rock Tap Festival has a place for all ages and levels of tap dancers. We have 4 levels: 8 & under, Beginner (recommended for dancers age 9-11), Intermediate (recommended for ages 12+ or advanced 10-11), and Advanced (recommended for advanced tap dancers ages 13+).

 

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

LRTF: Participants will have the opportunity to perform their tap solos for live feedback from our acclaimed faculty. At the end of the week, participants will also get to perform their final combo for parents and friends in our final showcase. Also included in registration is a ticket to the Untapped professional tap company show that will be holding performances following the festival, June 10th-11th. They will see several of the festival faculty members perform in this show. 

 

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

LRTF: A special event is held after classes each night. The first night's event is the live solo showcase & critique session. The second night's event is a Q&A session with the faculty. The third night, we will be holding an improv battle for festival participants. Dancers participating will battle until one dancer remains, for amazing prizes from our sponsors! The last night's event is the final showcase performance. 

 

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

LRTF: Dancers will take part in hour-long classes in all different styles. Little Rock Tap Festival is a very high-energy event, filled with excitement for trying new styles of dance. With classes in Irish step, body percussion, stepping, music theory, and drumming, every dancer participating in the festival will walk away a more versatile dancer, knowing something new!

 

OPTAP: What is the cost of attending LRTF? 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?

LRTF: Little Rock Tap Festival is a four-day event, with 8 & under/beginner levels take place in the morning, and intermediate/advanced levels taking place in the afternoon/evening. Online Registration pricing is as follows- 8 & Under: $175  /  Age 9+ (all levels): $250.

Multiple lodging recommendations for participants traveling from out of town are listed on our website, one of which is within walking distance to the host studio. Participants flying in from out of town will be able to rent a car, or utilize local transportation, which is inexpensive, easy to find, and safe. 

 

OPTAP: Choose one word to describe LRTF.

LRTF: Well-rounded. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION and to SIGN UP go to: littlerocktapfest.com

Heather Cornell and "Her Quest For Making Music Dance"

“We have to ask more questions. The search for answers is where improvisation lives.” On Thursday I had the distinct honor of speaking with concert tap dance pioneer and physical musician Heather Cornell. Mrs. Cornell’s work in the rhythm tap community is vast and experienced, her intellect and vantage point razor sharp and uniquely her own. In pursuit of goals past she has come to a new collaboration with several world class musicians in the form of the recorded CD, Making Music Dance. In the lineage of Baby Laurence, among others, Heather Cornell has brought her process of creativity to recording tap dance. She is expressing the desire to ask us as audience members to LISTEN and use our oral facility to take in tap’s expressive and sonic power. I had every intention of speaking to Mrs. Cornell solely about the process, development, and release of the recording however our hour long conversation took several twists and turns into many topics that tap dancers need and should challenge themselves to consider. Selfishly, this interview was also a meeting point with a tap dancer that unbeknownst to her was a major influence in my own path as a tap dancer. Putting this transcript together and reflecting on this hour long conversation has made me realize the scope of how connected we are through tap dancing and how communal the sharing of information is. Before reading our exchange I suggest everyone go to CD Baby (cdbaby.com) and purchase Making Music Dance which is now available. Allow yourself to consider Mrs. Cornell and her collaborator’s world music point of view that defies genre and allows you to view percussive artists as musicians who dance. Enjoy!

OPTAP: I wanted to tell you before we started that Mike Minery is one of my closest and dearest friends. He has been a mentor and teacher to me and so many times he has told me of his times with you and with Manhattan Tap. The way that I came up in tap dancing was within the competition dance community much in the same way he did. I wasn’t trained to function as a musical artist, rather more through technique, steps, and speed. I credit Mike with opening that side of tap dancing up for me and I know that he credits you with opening that side of tap up for him. I just wanted to say thank you! It is an honor for me to speak with you today about your project Making Music Dance!

HC: Mikey is great! I don’t know if he told you but he first auditioned for me when he was 17 and he didn’t know what a 6/8 was. I remember him going, “what is that music doing?” Mikey it’s a 6! (laughter)

OPTAP: He has told me so many stories! The first time he saw Josh (Hilberman) do Jitterbug Waltz and dropping the band out and hearing for the first time what it is to hear a tap dancer playing...what a revelation that was for him. I mean so many stories he told me that were hugely inspiring as a young artist for myself so thank you for that!

HC: Yeah, you’re welcome! Thank you for being such a great support, I appreciate that. It is rare in the scene these days, we need more of it...we need to support each other. I was at an arts meeting last night and at the very end of the meeting this 80 year old woman who has had the most competitive dance studio in the area got up and said, “all I want to say is that we have to support each other a lot more.” I started crying because I thought there is the wisdom. This woman who has been through the whole competition thing and has been up against the wall and has competed and not competed and what she came to the end of it all with was why aren’t we supporting each other more? It was so beautiful, I went up to her and hugged her.

OPTAP: I agree and that is one of the major reasons that I started Operation: Tap was to try and do this...what have I done for tap dancing and for the people who brought me to it? The more exposure I can bring to great projects that are out there the more tap dancers will benefit. So, can you tell me how this group of artists came together in 2012 and the genesis for this project, Making Music Dance?

HC: I have been working my whole career to try and legitimize tap as music and as a musical art form. My first commitment to it was that I would never work with canned music on stage, ever. It has not been easy (laughter), but the positive to that is I have met phenomenal musicians and I have worked with some of the best musicians in the world consistently. When you’re doing that and you’re constantly integrating with music you start to gather your tribe.

Adriel (Williams) is a tap dancer, the violin player, I met him in an improvisation class in Chicago when he was 13, at the Chicago Tap Festival. I walked in the class and the first thing I said, “you can’t teach improv, sorry.” Most of the people in the class rolled their eyes (laughter) and Adriel sparked up and I saw the look on his face. All I can do is put a whole bunch of doors in front of you and encourage you to open them but if you are not willing to open them you are not going to learn anything. That being said, I am not going to teach you anything I am just answering questions for the next five days. Adriel’s arm shot up and he asked a really cool question and the whole five days was me answering Adriel’s questions and a few other people popped in around it but they just weren’t used to guiding their own learning. For me, you can’t teach people improvisation unless you teach people to guide their own learning because that is what improvisation is. Adriel and I became soul mates, he was 13 and we have been soul mates ever since.  

Heather Cornell and Adriel Williams

Andy (Algire) I met when we were both studying djembe, he had graduated from music school and we were in the same performance group. At the same time we started playing balafon...and Andy being being musically trained took off on the balafon and now he is a master balafon player, I am still a beginner so I play back up for him. He is a phenomenal percussionist and plays drums for all of the groups that come in from Africa. Andy started playing for my class 16 years ago at my intensive...I fell in love with working with him because he is phenomenally open and full of joy for the music. 

Andy Algire and Famoro Dioubate

Ana de la Paz is a flamenco dancer locally. She and I have kids the same age and we were showing up on the same stage for every benefit known to man. I said to her “we should get together and get paid to do this sometime and she said, “yeah let’s do that!”. So she had a gig and in two hours we put together a really beautiful evening, this is too good to be true, let’s start developing work! Our work is a fusion of many different cultures. It is obviously African based because of Andy, and jazz based because of Andy and Adriel. Also Adriel plays with a Reggae band in NYC so it has some reggae influence, there is some Indian in there, has flamenco, has tap, and we had Carlos in the original group so it had a flamenco guitar edge to it but we replaced him with Tony Romano who is a jazz guitar player from NYC who has a lot of South American influences in his music. All of that came together and we started making music and all of it is original, except for a cover of Blackbird. I love making music with these people! Ana is leaving and I am bringing in Dayna Szyndrowski who is a student of mine from Vancouver who is doing a Flamenco/Tap fusion right now. Dana will be taking Ana’s place on the second CD because Ana is wanting to get back more into classical flamenco and Dana is really in that fusion place. So that is basically where it all came from.

OPTAP: What is the process by which you guys compose a tune, do you set a structure and use improvisation to find it? When you go into the studio which do you use more improvisation or composition? 


HC: This is the trick when you work with multi-cultural music. You can’t get stuck in a jazz process. I have been trying to teach this to tap students a lot. I don’t get that opportunity to teach composition very often, we don’t have a tradition of teaching composition to tap dancers. YOU know because you are a choreographer that you are kind of left to your own devices to figure out how to choreograph. When I teach composition the first thing I say is that you have to know as much as you can about the music you are working with but you have to without annihilating the rules of the music you are entering into. You have to bring yourself. You can’t say, “I studied African music and now I can create African dance.” The music is going to speak to you in a different way than it would speak to an African and your history is going to enter into the creation whether you like it or not. So for me, every piece that I make has a different process because it has different elements that I am organizing. Lets say Mike’s Movie (track from Making Music Dance), Mike’s Movie was so easy to put together because it is one of Andy’s tunes so it was created but we play it completely different than let’s say Andy’s old band would play it because it has different elements to it and that we have to feature. So the violin ends up playing the bass line at a certain point and I took a very specific drum line and am responsible for delivering that drum line through the entire piece unless I am soloing. There are two dominant notes, “doom” (low pitch), “dat” (high pitch) that have to happen throughout the entire piece or else it isn’t Mike’s Movie. You have stuff like that that has already spoken to you that 90% of your work is done. You have to play this drum line. All you are really choosing is what events are going to happen and who is going to play what part.

Excerpts from Mike's Movie

We just created a tune together because we received a commission from New Music USA and that was a really interesting process because we had a body percussionist, steel pan, battle phone, flamenco, castanets. I can always use sand, tap, or wood and that’s what we started with! We didn’t start with a tune. We started with that, elements. So the process of making that was very different than when Andy walked in with this really cool tune that we just orchestrated in essence and from the orchestration arrived an arrangement. The other thing is even using the word arrangement can be really difficult because often times the minute you talk about an arrangement you are talking jazz. So you don’t want to turn that on too strongly. You don’t want to turn that volume up too strongly if you are collaborating on a piece that has Balinese music and Indian music because there are rules in those forms that need to be respected. So if you walk in with volume up on your jazz arranging you are going to do something that is probably not going to pull the colors out of the music as well as you could. The whole process is in some way to figure out...In some tunes... (pause)

OPTAP: Is defining the parameters?
 

HC: And to bring a new life to the music. Why am I tap dancing instead of drumming? To bring a life to the music that a drummer can't bring. That is why I have been chosen to be the percussionist on these pieces is because I bring something to the pieces that standard percussion does not. I think that is something for tap dancers to keep in mind. We are not just imitating musicians, we are never going to be considered viable musicians until our voice is so strong that people NEED us in that role. We shouldn’t always be replacing the drummer. We have to go beyond replacing the drummer. We have to provide something where we don’t need the drummer, you need us.

OPTAP: That has been something that I have been thinking a lot about lately because you hear tap dancers say that we are equal parts dancer and musician. Much of the time the musical training of most dancers is so far behind their dance training that their perspective is not at the same level as a musicians. What would you say for a dancer who is stuck in a “jazz process”?

HC: Well, to start, its pretty interesting because I have been called renegade and all of those “r” words because I don’t do things the way other people do things. Even in what we were just talking about I even question that because the conversation I was having right before I spoke to you was with Goddard University because I am thinking about doing an MFA and I want to focus a project in a way that will result in a book and I am having a really hard time getting to the book and I am also having a hard time getting a university started in physical music because I don’t have an MFA so I am thinking of marrying those two things. The first thesis that came up in my mind when I first started talking to a potential adviser there was, why have we in our culture killed ear training? Why have we decided that the only way to study music in North America is through an institution and through reading and writing? You have to be literate now to be considered a legit musician so even before we can have a discussion about whether or not dancers are trained musicians we have to qualify what we mean by “training”. I know the recent result of a lot of my discussion with people is there are a number of dancers that are now in institutions that are now learning music with tap as their instrument. That’s cool! 10 years ago this used to be what I said has to happen and now it is happening in places. I realized as this happens, I am wondering what kind of musicians are we training in these institutions? Now we are training musicians who come out stuck to the written word because they feel that validates them as musicians and something I think we have to be careful of as we get back to music in tap is that we don't identify it as the North American paradigm of music which we are stuck in right now but we think more in terms of global music because tap dance comes from African music. If everybody now has the approach that “I’m very trained and I’m a jazz musician and that makes me”.....we are still qualifying ourselves as being dancers who are musicians not being musicians as dancers. I think this is a new trap that we are falling into now that everyone who is trained as a musician is a legit musical dancer. I would question that. I think the best musicians I have worked with in the past 10 years have been the folkloric musicians from South America and Cuba not the European musicians that I have worked with that are really stuck to the page. I don’t think we are going to find our reconnection through that. How do we get back to that ear training generation that really kicked off tap dancing?

OPTAP: Are you advocating for a tap dancer’s personal training be more the personal process of sitting and listening and opening yourself up to different kinds of music. Taking and extrapolating from it using your own experience, your own training, your own history rather than going to an institution and learning theory and being able to read and write music?

HC: No, I would never dictate what a dancer should do to train. What I am saying is and this is something I always say when I am teaching improvisation, is there is no answer to this...yet. This is something, someplace that we need to start going to question. We have to start asking more questions. That’s what I teach when I teach improvisation, how do you generate questions? If you generate questions, then you have to search for answers and the search for answers is where improvisation lives. It doesn’t live from take 4 bars and stand in a circle and listen to the person before you, that’s not an improvisational artist. An improvisational artist is someone who has so many questions that they can’t stop. They are constantly searching for answers to their self generated questions. So in thinking of turning this into a book and a masters thesis I think just that question of what was happening with Panama Francis’s Band and those early big bands where they had a blend of readers and non readers and it didn’t matter whether you read or didn’t read, it mattered your MUSICIANSHIP. Musicianship is a whole different thing than being a trained musician. I can tell you there is this one musician that is in my mind right now that has a Phd and teaches in a university program. I told him, “bring your upright bass when you come to rehearsal.” He said, “I don’t play upright.” YOU TEACH IN A JAZZ DEPARTMENT, BASS and YOU DON’T PLAY UPRIGHT? Well he is a Phd, that’s how he got the job. Musicianship, the guy had none at all, he was highly trained and knew way more than a lot of people around him but could he play, no he couldn’t play. Could he communicate? Not at all. He was surrounded by the veil of fear that comes with when you overtrain a muscle that’s taking the place of ten other muscles. So I don’t know. I think everyone needs to be asking themselves some questions about what they think musicianship really is before figuring out how they want to train. I am turning 60 in April and I am gonna go back for my masters now because I wasn’t ready to go to do this when I was 50. I hadn’t gotten down this deep yet. You know what I mean?

OPTAP: Yes, for sure.

HC: Now I feel that I am down to this place where I am starting to understand on another level what it takes to be a musician, to have real musicianship. I had an epiphany when I was working in Colombia when I integrated with the folkloric musicians down there who are also jazz trained...their balance of intuition and training is here (hand held high) and when I worked with them they could play anything without FEAR. I feel a lot of what our music is full of these days is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of doing things that have not been done. Fear of breaking out of your little box that is safe for you. There is no place in improvisation for fear. That’s the the thing that stops...so I could never advocate for a dancer to train one way or the other. I would advocate for them to do it in the most unique way possible that is the most honest for themselves.

OPTAP: Amazing, that gives me much to think of for myself as well! That I need to consider and think about profoundly for some time. We are getting kind of far from the CD (laughter) I would like to pivot back to that. I was watching your Tap Love Tour interview with Travis Knights and you said, “every dancer in terms of their training should be recording.”

HC: Yes.

Tap Love Tour Interview By: Travis Knights with Heather Cornell

OPTAP: I know that the first time I recorded myself was probably about five years ago and I was horrified by what I heard (laughter). In that moment, I realized I needed to work on nothing but my sound, and that’s what I have been trying to do for the past five years. Could you speak to the first time you recorded yourself and how that process for you has evolved to this point where you have an album where you are collaborating with world class musicians?

HC: It’s funny because I always feel like such a novice at this at all of this stuff. A lot of my musician friends are on 150 CDs so I am a novice. But if I think about it when I had Manhattan Tap we were recording because we were doing Around New York...I have these radio shows on cassette where we do a half hour radio show once a year. We were their fun act because it was all musicians and us. They thought of us as musicians which was really cool and this was back in the 80’s and 90’s. We would go and have an interview, play live and then I would get this cassette and I would have the recording of myself that was being played on the radio. We did that for five years until I stopped the company and started turning down the shows, unfortunately, because I had wished I had continued doing them every year. That was my first recording experience and it was very naive but unbelievably important to me as a soloist because I would always have a piece or two and solo or two. I would listen to those solos, like forever...one minute going, wow I am really good...and the next minute going, oh my God I suck. Depending on my mood, but I learned so much from listening to myself...so that was my first recording experience.  With Finding Synesthesia, I was commissioned by the South Banks Center in London to create the first dance show for the London Jazz Festival 2008. I created it with Andy Milne who is a phenomenal piano player...we spent a week recording ourselves and writing and he wrote a lot of the music in collaboration with me. We came back and hired the side people for the band and made the show and did it at the London Jazz Festival. When we came back we recorded 7 tunes, we never released it. Pieces of it are online, but it was such a phenomenal experience for me because I was in the studio really with people who recorded forever and ever on a million recordings. They were in one room and I was in an isolation both and it was the hardest experience I ever had because I realized we are physical beings as tap dancers, I need the community. I can’t produce with my eyes closed in the other room. It was so hard for me because I did my solos over and over again. These guys were getting it on the second take. I would have a good first take but than they would get this beautiful second take that I wasn’t really in on because I wasn’t in the room. That was a whole other experience. It really is forward thinking music. It works a lot with textures of sounds, its piano, cello, morrocan vocals, and tap and its beautiful music. Max (Pollak) was starting his CD that year so at Tap Motif we did a little recording project with the students that was phenomenal. We recorded everyone doing flaps for eight measures and then we played them back anonymously. It was really an amazing thing. I started doing that on and off at my intensive...we would talk about the time, the groove. It was really a phenomenal experience and sometimes not very happy for some of the students. (laughter) Some of the students didn’t realize that their time was where it was, that would never be me and it turned out to be them. Other students (snap) the minute they heard their sound said, “that’s me, I know that’s me.” They would listen with a discerning ear. That was a fascinating experiment because I saw the range of understanding of who we are orally in this room of 15 people. Some people really are on top of their oral sound and some people are completely oblivious to it.

Heather Cornell with Max Pollack and Stephen Harper

Probably the next recording and I am probably forgetting some is Making Music Dance. We recorded for two days...very quickly. My experience in recording is live recording. I don’t like tracking stuff because of my experience with Synesthesia I realized I am a live recording artist. if you talk to Max about his CD it was months of mastering and tracking and overdubbing because he really engineered that CD and it’s beautiful but this is a completely different approach. One year Max played a cut from his CD and I played a cut from Synesthesia which was also recorded live...live in the studio...it doesn’t change the quality it changes the groove and the vibe, its a different animal to record one way and record the other way. So for me, because I am an improvisational artist I have always needed to record this way. I like the energy and the feeling of people playing together.

I am like a baby in terms of recording. I don’t have 150 recordings. It’s an interesting thought to maybe switch everything to that now. That would be kind of fun to start recording like crazy. We are already raising money for our next CD with Making Music Dance but I would like to get some other projects on. I have been thinking of going back to Manhattan Tap and recording some of the music with and without the tap on it. Just so people can sort of start musically to study the history. Rather than put out a bunch of videos of Manhattan Tap which I could put out a bunch of oral stuff first, soundtracks so people start listening to what was their style? Instead of looking at the visual. Half the time when I am showing Manhattan Tap footage people are talking. It blows my mind.

OPTAP: Yeah that is awful.

HC: But their not listening! They are not used to listening. It is so interesting to me, I am playing with Ray Brown and their not listening. It’s just crazy. That’s the big gap we have to fill in.

OPTAP: When you perform these pieces live...obviously for the listener or the audience the experience of seeing the piece live and hearing it on the album is going to be completely different. How do you negotiate the difference in these experiences and response of just hearing v. hearing and seeing? Do you think that people see you as a tap dancer in the context that most people see a tap dancer or are they experiencing you as a percussionist or musician?

HC: I think it is interesting because there are some people that are never going to see me as a musician and they are just scratching their heads when they are watching me in some situations. Why isn’t she entertaining me? Why isn’t she smiling at me and looking at me? Why isn’t she dancing all over the stage? In terms of answering the beginning of the question it depends on the venue how it becomes visual. In a jazz club where I have this big space the expectations change from the audience which is a very freeing thing...we were playing a Mexican restaurant in town once a month just because I wanted to be free of this need for the audience to expect me to perform in that way. It was interesting because people still wanted it even when they saw you on a tiny little board, “why didn’t you bring a bigger board, so we could see you dance?” You missed the point, but for me it was fun. The thing is I am from the theater. I am a modern dancer...so I love having full tech theaters. I don’t have them enough these days but give me a full tech theater and a day and you will get some really cool visual stuff happening. But it won’t be conforming to what you expect...when you go visual you go theatrical whether you like it or not. That’s a huge lack in the tap world right now, that understanding that visual is theater. We are by definition, tap dancers. The true multidisciplinary artist in North America for music, theater, and dance. These guys when they were in vaudeville, they were the MC’s, they were the guys, telling the jokes, they were the glue for the shows. They were dancing, they were musicians, and they were actors...we are the roots of American Theater. Anytime anything becomes visual it becomes theater for me and I find some kind of theatrical heartbeat for it...we have everything, we have music, theater, and dance. So that for me is how something on the CD becomes visual. It depends on theater and it depends on the tech.

OPTAP: In preparation for this interview I was listening to other recordings I have of tap dancers. Baby Laurence’s album, Gregory Hines and Stanley Clarke, some of Jimmy’s recordings. How much have those recordings influenced your way of recording? It seems to me that you have a completely different approach as these guys were definitely in a jazz process. What other recordings of other tap dancers have been instrumental in maybe doing an opposite approach or taking part of their approach and using it for your own?

HC: Baby Laurence was our Bible. That LP in the 80’s, that was our Bible. So I would be crazy if I said that didn’t influence me on any level because I probably listened to it 3,000 times. We didn’t have the internet in the early 80’s. We had Baby Laurence’s album that was it. We would get together and hang out and listen to it all night long. We would say, “Wow we are never going to be that good.” It kicked our ass...there was no footage for us to see except in Ernie Smith’s apartment. So that album was God to us, that was one of my biggest teachers was listening to that. I probably learned as much as listening to his album as I did from any of the teachers I worked with. So that obviously influenced me, and that probably influenced me more in terms of the level of musicianship that I understood. Everything we have been talking about the instinctive nature, thats the kind of musicianship that I understand is the real connection between music and dance. Ray Brown said to me one time, we were talking about Bebop...”what people don’t understand Heather, was how important the tap dancers were to the Bebop movement. Charlie Parker would be playing and everyone would be in the room and he would invite up Baby Laurence. Why? Because Baby Laurence was instrumental in pushing the drummer into certain avenues and the drummer was instrumental in pushing Baby”...well without that level of instinctive musicianship there wouldn’t have been any pushing and pulling! It would have just been a tap dancer getting up there and doing what we have seen over and over and over again now a days. Slamming away...LOUD...over the top of what was going on. This marrying is starting to come back but that instinct and that need to go deeper than we are even going now comes directly from the swing and groove of that generation. It continues to teach me where I want to go and where I want to lead the scene to go. It continues to teach me that we haven’t gotten there yet and we are still trying to get there. 

For more information on Heather Cornell go to manhattantap.org! And be sure to check out her album "Making Music Dance."

 




FESTIVAL FEATURE DC TAP FEST

OPERATION: TAP had the opportunity to sit down with Chloe and Maud Arnold and talk about the 8th annual DC TAP FEST! Check out all of the details below!

OPERATION: TAP had the opportunity to sit down with Chloe and Maud Arnold and talk about the 8th annual DC TAP FEST! Check out all of the details below!

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

DCTF: The DC Tap Fest dates are March 14-21, 2016. The Headquarters is the Westin Hotel. Washington, DC City Center. We also have residency classes at the American Embassy of Dance and our All Star Concert at University of The District Of Columbia Theatre. 

OPTAP: How many years has DCTF been taking place?

This is the 8th Annual DC Tap Fest!

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

DCTF: The DC Tap Fest, located in the heart of the nations capitol, and is a cultural haven for dancers from around the world. We welcome dancers of all levels and ages.  Whether it's your first day, or you are a professional dancer, we provide all of the students with a First Class world renowned faculty, and over 75 classes to choose from. Our students are incredibly diverse in culture (hailing from all across the globe), and socio economic status, making for an incredibly inspiring celebration of Arts & Culture. We create a very loving and caring environment to make everyone feel welcomed and a part of the community.  We also offer classes in film, vocal, acting, performance, afro-funk, footwork, self esteem and entrepreneurship and 2 choreography residencies.

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

DCTF: Chloe Arnold, Maud Arnold, Ted Louis Levy, Anthony Morigerato, Derick Grant, Michelle Dorrance, Jason Janas, Bril Barrett, Jumaane Taylor, Melinda Sullivan, Anissa Lee, Star Dixon, Evan Ruggeiro, Melissa Tannus, Christiane Matallo,Donnetta “Lil’ Bit" Jackson, Leonardo Sandoval, Charles Renato, Baakari Wilder, Joseph Webb, DeWitt Fleming, Aaron Tolson, Justin Lewis,  Mark Orsborn, Aaron Williams, Alyssa Batastini, Lisa Swenton, Marjuan Canady, and Cecily.

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

DCTF: It is geared to the absolutely beginner all the way up to the professional and everything in between! ALL AGES! 

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

DCTF: THURSDAY, MARCH 17 - We have a Competition 4 Tap judges  

FRIDAY, MARCH 18 -  we have an All- Star Concert where faculty and professional companies perform alongside a 6 piece band! 

SATURDAY, MARCH 19 - A Jam session, and dance party and movie screening.

SUNDAY, MARCH 20 - The Cutting Contest (an improvisational Tap battle) and a Student showcase where students can present their own work, not exclusive to tap. 

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

DCTF: We have 2 choreography residencies with Derick Grant and Jason Janas. Breakfast with Ted Louis Levy, The cutting contest ( one-on-one battle), Jam session party, film screening, Tap on film class & competition, Self-esteem & Entrepreneurship building seminar.

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

DCTF: Classes are 75 minutes with the exception of the 2-hour intensive and the 5 hour film class. Classes are 40-50 students. The vibe is FUN, friendly, passionate, welcoming, challenging and nurturing. In tap we have technique, improvisation, performance, choreography and a mock-audition.

OPTAP: What is the cost of attending DCTF? 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?

DCTF: Individual classes are $30, packages range from $175-$315. We have a host hotel, the Westin City Center as well as the Beacon hotel. You do not need a car in DC, the hotels are 5 minute walks to the metro and there are tons of restaurants, site-seeing and activities in the area.

OPTAP: Choose one word to describe DCTF.

DCTF: LIFE-ELEVATING.

Go to DCTAPFEST.COM for more details on this FESTIVAL!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY- Gregory Hines (Originally Published 2/14/2016)

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GREGORY HINES

ESSAY BY: Anthony Morigerato

On a freezing cold February night in 1995, I eagerly got ready to go to Proctor’s Theater in downtown Schenectady, NY. My mom, my tap teacher, and my friends from dance all caravanned to the theater together and despite the chill in the air the sense of excitement was palpable! Gregory Hines was playing Proctor’s Theater to a sold out crowd that night. He sang, he danced, he told jokes, he honored a legend of tap dancing, and on display that night was the spirit of one of tap dance’s greatest ambassadors. For my own personal experience, I sat directly across the aisle from Peg Leg Bates, I got the opportunity to go on stage and dance with Mr. Hines, and after the show in the freezing cold outside the stage door Mr. Hines stayed, spoke to, and signed tap shoes for every person who was there for almost 2 hours. It was this night, as an almost 10 year old kid I knew I had to be a tap dancer, and that no matter what it took, I would give everything I had to being the best I could be. It is this night I keep in mind when I go into a room to teach students or go on stage to perform. It is such a blessing to know with certainty what you want to be in life and what your calling is to be. Gregory Hines and that cold February night will always be etched into the ether of my life because this moment represents the awakening of a dream and the genesis of a journey of a young boy. A journey that now that I have found Operation: Tap is only truly beginning to unfold. 

I think as tap dancers we must always remember the kind of ambassador Gregory Hines was not only for tap dancing and the advocacy of tap dancers but also for the spirit of generosity with how he carried himself as a human being. I hope that this week has reminded us all that not only was Gregory Hines an extraordinary artist but he embodied the spirit and soul of a dance that connected tap dancing across the generations with exceptional kindness and warmth. He is our example of what it is to use your talent, time, and facility to inspire and influence others. He is our example of what it is to express yourself as an artist. He is our example of what it means to be giving as a performer and as an educator and that this giving is more than just the steps you teach and perform but also the example of your words and actions. He is our example of how one should conduct one's life in tap. 

I have trouble remembering vividly the picture of moments happening in my life. However, the piercing cold of that February night over 20 years ago, the image of Mr. Hines standing in that cold, and the possession of a signed beige Capezio tap shoe with his name on it serve as a reminder to me of how much tap dancing, the people who tap danced before me, the people who tap dance now, and the people who will tap dance have given to me. In service of why I started Operation: Tap, I wish Gregory Hines and his memory a Happy Birthday. As we continue forward on our journey in rhythm together, let us all try in our own way to be an ambassador that would make him proud. 

With Love, Respect, and Admiration

Anthony Morigerato