The greatest tap dancers could hold an audience’s attention with their charisma,” says Max Pollak, who spent time with legends Buster Brown, Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green and Lon Chaney during weekly tap jam sessions at New York City jazz club La Cave. “Sometimes, you can learn more having breakfast and listening to one of them recalling their life than taking 700 dance classes.” The biggest lesson that Pollak took from the greats? Simply tap dancing isn’t enough to truly make it—every artist needs something special. Pollak studied ballet, jazz, theater and music, and, over time, he developed his own signature style, RumbaTap. Now, he keeps audiences in awe with a unique combination of tapping, singing, clapping, body percussion and fiery music.

An Austria native, Pollak was first introduced to Afro-Cuban music while performing in a band with Latin percussionist Bobby Sanabria, an influence that led to the development of Pollak’s style. “RumbaTap is more of an integrated percussion style than a tap dance style,” he says.

Pollak has toured extensively with his music/dance ensemble, performing, teaching and holding university residencies worldwide. There are three things that he describes as key ingredients: African-American rhythm tap dance, body percussion and, most importantly, Afro-Cuban folkloric music. His classes are structured like music classes, focusing on musicality, rhythmic patterns and how they fit together like puzzle pieces. “At first, the students are making the music,” he says. “Their feet become a metronome, and their voices and hands each do different rhythms. I bring recorded music in a little bit later.” DT

Artist: Los Muñequitos de Matanzas

Album: Afrocubanismo! Live

“Los Muñequitos de Matanzas are my mentors. I’ve performed with them, and they have had a very big impact on my artistic growth. I like to start with Afro-Cuban folkloric music like this, because you can hear all of its parts very clearly, which helps students understand the music that comes later in class.”


Artist: Slavic Soul Party!

Album: Taketron

“This great band from Brooklyn mixes Balkan and Turkish music with New York–style brass-band funk. I use crazier music like this when I teach improvisation. It has odd meters, and it’s a little difficult to decipher. I want to challenge students to really improvise without relying on steps they have rehearsed, so I like to throw them curveballs.”

Artist: Lenine

Album: Lenine

“Lenine has elements of northeastern Brazilian folkloric music. It’s unusual and groovy. People connect to the funkiness, because this guy is a great guitar player. The sound engineering is interesting; it sounds like everything is moving around. And if you speak a little Portuguese, his lyrics are very good.”

Artist: The Paul Carlon Octet

Album: Roots Propaganda

“Roxane Butterfly, Tamango and I used to perform in tap jams with saxophonist Paul Carlon. His band (now called Los Américas) plays music from the Caribbean, Colombia, Brazil and Cuba mixed with jazz. My tap dancing is recorded on some of their CDs. If there’s a certain pattern on the recording, students can listen to it and dance along, then turn it off and try it by themselves.”

Artist: Max Pollak’s RumbaTap

Album: RumbaTap

“My group’s CD comes out this summer. The percussion comes from six tappers dancing on custom-built boxes or cajons. We don’t have a bass or a piano, but a marimba and three saxophones, which represent the three sacred Bata drums in Afro-Cuban spiritual music. And we have two vocalists. The approach is folkloric, but the expression is through dance and through the rhythms of the hands, feet and voice.”

Photo by Michael Melnyk, courtesy of Max Pollak

Dance Buzz
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



The Boy Factor doesn't just have to do with competition scores: It's how we treat boys throughout their dance education. "We idolize the boys," says Ashley Harnish, a teacher at a competition studio. "We build entire dances around one boy, and we teach them that we need them more than we need the girls."

On the surface, The Boy Factor is flagrant sexism. But what's really behind the phenomenon? "So often, young male dancers are bullied because our culture says that dance is for girls," says a second national competition adjudicator. "This stigma pushes some judges to reward boys by scoring them higher than their female competitors." The Boy Factor also stems from a simple fact: There are far more girls than boys in the dance world.

"Judges see boys as valuable commodities," says Marissa Jean, a staff member at Broadway Dance Center's new building for children and teens and a teacher at several competition studios. "To encourage their career in dance, judges will throw a little extra their way. It could be placing them in the top ten or giving them a special award. They nurture them a bit more than the girls."



But by trying to retain more male talent, are we suggesting to girls that they are less valuable to the dance world than boys? "There's so much about this getting into these kids' psyches," says Childress. "Like, 'Oh the boy will beat me no matter what.' How do we teach self-worth knowing that you're going up against a boy, so what's the point?"

The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

So what can be done about The Boy Factor? First, we could change how we encourage boys to continue dancing. Instead of empowering young men by devaluing young women, we could work as a community to dispel the culture of toxic masculinity that discourages boys from pursuing dance in the first place.

But it also falls in the hands of judges and teachers. "We need to increase awareness," says the second adjudicator. "A lot of us judges don't realize what we are promoting and the messages we send through our scoring and awards. If enough of us band together, I think we can make a difference so that this part of our field is less toxic."

How-To
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Q: Do you have any advice for how to clean competition pieces?

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Dance Buzz
Kenedy Kallas (via Instagram)

Every true dancer knows just how valuable a perfectly arched foot that curves effortlessly from the ankle to the end of the toes is to a performance. In fact, it's so important, it seems we've all taken an unofficial pact to spend inordinate amounts of time stretching our feet with ominous looking contraptions that cause us severe pain. We are completely crazy! With good reason, but crazy, nonetheless.

In order to keep us all inspired to stretch our toes until they are drool-worthy, DT compiled a list of five dancers whose feet we have a very real crush on. Honestly, these guys should get their toes insured! Truly, they are perfect.

Check 'em out!

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Q: After running my studio six days a week for 20 years, it's time for me to delegate. How can I transition into a shared-workload system with my teachers?

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Students need strong feet for pointe work, but few concentrate on their toes specifically. "Fatigue sets in and they start knuckling," says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. This puts excess pressure on the nails, causing bruising. The exercises below strengthen the arch and intrinsic muscles, which flex the toes and support the feet.

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Your Studio
What are your non-negotiables? Share on Dance Teacher's Facebook page.

It could be argued that half the battle of owning a dance studio is getting people to follow the rules. To ensure your business will run like a well-oiled machine, it helps to have clear expectations in place for students and their families—and, most important, to make sure everyone knows them from day one. Of course, every school is unique, and behavior that may be acceptable to you might be out of the question for someone else. "There are so many studios out there," says Dana McGuire, a studio co-owner in North Kansas City, Missouri. "Know and stand by what you're about." Here, four seasoned studio directors discuss the issues they consider non-negotiable.

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Dancer Health
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I have a student who's going through a growth spurt, and I'm wondering what advice I should give her. Is there anything you recommend?

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