The Heart of Texas Tap

Third Coast Rhythm Project celebrates National Tap Dance Day and fosters the Texas tap community.

Third Coast’s 2014 Tap Fest faculty (from left):
Sarah Savelli, Dianne Walker, Max Pollak, Lisa La Touche, Martin “Tre” Dumas and Derick K. Grant.

San Antonians can get their fill of tap this month when an intergenerational lineup of dancers convenes onstage for the National Tap Dance Day Celebration, an event that kick-started Barbara Phillips’ Third Coast Rhythm Project 17 years ago. The yearly performance has brought visibility to tap in San Antonio and statewide.

“No one even knew there was a National Tap Dance Day,” Phillips says. “I talked with Gracey Tune, who runs National Tap Day in Fort Worth, and she helped me start the event. We did it just as a community thing, bringing studio groups together and forging collaborations. Now we bring youth and adult groups from across the state to come together and do this concert.”

Third Coast Rhythm Project began in 1998, when Chicago Human Rhythm Project founder Lane Alexander encouraged Phillips to make the artistic leap and start the company. “I had been going to Chicago for the CHRP, and Lane and I forged a friendship and dancing collaboration,” she says.

Phillips launched the Third Coast dance festival, which consisted of classes around the city at different dance studios and culminated in a gala performance. Nearly two decades later, the festival has 60 master classes and world-renowned faculty (Max Pollak, Sam Weber and Sarah Savelli, to name a few). Tap dancers from across the globe travel to San Antonio each July. “We have anywhere from 200 to 300 students. What started out as a community effort quickly grew to a national effort, and now it’s an international event,” Phillips says.

She also runs an active and popular studio, the Tap Academy. “We offer the only community-based adult classes in San Antonio. There are hundreds of studios in the city geared toward children and young adults. My passion is teaching adults,” Phillips says. The studio’s growth over the years has been largely due to the interest in her adult classes (dancers range in age from early 20s to 80s).

But Phillips has a knack for fostering young talent, too. RPM Youth Tap Ensemble, Third Coast’s performing youth tap company, is now in its 14th season. “The ensemble provides an opportunity for young dancers who want to continue their training after high school, those who are making decisions about college and scholarship opportunities,” she says. One of her recent success stories is New York City–based dancer Karissa Royster, who joined the ensemble in 2006 and has gone on to perform in Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards’ Sophisticated Ladies.

This year’s Third Coast National Tap Dance Day Celebration takes place May 17 at the Jo Long Theatre for the Performing Arts at the Carver Community Cultural Center. DT

For more: thirdcoastrhythm.com.

Emily Macel Theys is a former Dance Magazine editor and writes on dance from the Pittsburgh area.

Photo courtesy of Third Coast Rhythm Project

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.