From the Subway to Madison Square Garden

In the dance world, it pays to stand out. In March 2012, Harlem native Joshua Johnson made The New York Times by tap-dancing on the subway to pay for his Pennsylvania State University tuition. Next week, the college senior will perform at a much larger venue: Madison Square Garden at the New York Knicks’ opening night of the NBA season.

Johnson learned to tap in school from Broadway Dance Center faculty member and Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk performer Omar Edwards. The rhythms came naturally to him, Johnson said. When grants and scholarships fell short of covering the cost of college, he supplemented his off-campus job with weekend trips to his home city, where he would earn $200–$400 performing on subway trains.

Since first capturing the media’s attention, the marketing and communications double major made a charming, starstruck appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," where he demonstrated that public speaking skills can help dancers win over audiences as much as their technique. He also appeared on "ABC World News with Diane Sawyer," performed on "Dancing with the Stars," and even taught Katie Couric a few tap moves.

For his MSG debut, Johnson—a huge basketball fan—will be joined by other tappers as well as members of the Knicks City Dancers. And the performance (game, to sports fans) is already sold out! “The love for basketball has been with me since day one,” said Johnson. “Now I have the opportunity to take something else [tap-dancing] I hold dear to my heart and perform in the world's most famous arena in my hometown of New York.”

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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