Jason E. Bernard Brings His Own Authentic Style to How He Chooses Music for Tap

Bernard teaches all over New York City, including for Tap Takeover, an organization that brings tap to communities lacking dance education. Photo by Sam Bourland, courtesy of Bernard

When Jason E. Bernard was a 17-year-old junior in high school, studying at Broadway Dance Center in New York, he booked his first-ever Broadway audition, Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. The Tony Award–winnning show, choreographed by Savion Glover, not only put a fresh spin on the tap scene, but it informed Bernard's own authentic style that led him to tour internationally with Riverdance for a decade and dance alongside tap legend Gregory Hines. "Improvisational tap was going through a renaissance at the time," says Bernard. "It was no longer just simple flap-ball-changes."

Now, as a teacher, he's inspiring a new generation of tappers with the same ingenuity. Whether he's leading a class at Broadway Dance Center or Rosie's Theater Kids or for Inside Broadway, a nonprofit that brings dance to New York City public schools, he always emphasizes the importance of rhythm. "You want to scat like Ella Fitzgerald, da-ba-da-ba-do-dah" he says, "but with your feet."

Before introducing the music, Bernard teaches the steps using a call-and-response with either counts or scatting. Verbalizing sound with the steps, he finds, connects the dancers and allows them to tell a better story with the movement. "You want to start with a loud capital letter," he says, "then color the steps with your own spice and personality and finish with a period."

When he does incorporate the music, he encourages dancers to first become familiar with the elements of a song—the chorus, the verses and the melody. "Learning the structure allows kids to play in those in-between moments," says Bernard. "And that's where the life of the dance is found."

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