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

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