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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."

Artist: First Choice Song: "Let No Man Put Asunder"

"I like this song particularly for the warm-up. It's inspirational and gets the body moving at a very comfortable and inviting pace. The genre of disco with the mix of funk and soul are very important characteristics for allowing the body to move and speak more honestly."

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Cynthia Oliver in her office. Photo by Natalie Fiol

When it comes to Cynthia Oliver's classes, you always bring your A game. (As her student for the last two and a half years in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I feel uniquely equipped to make this statement.) You never skip the reading she assigns; you turn in not your first draft but your third or fourth for her end-of-semester research paper; and you always do the final combination of her technique class full-out, even if you're exhausted.

Oliver's arrival at UIUC 20 years ago jolted new life into the dance department. "It may seem odd to think of this now, but the whole concept of an artist-scholar was new when she first arrived," says Sara Hook, who also joined the UIUC dance faculty in 2000. "You were either a technique teacher or a theory/history teacher. Cynthia's had to very patiently educate all of us about the nature of her work, and I think that has increased our passion for the kind of excavation she brings to her research."

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Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

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This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

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