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."