Trending

Jason Samuels Smith Encourages Teachers to Use Classic Jazz Music

Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."


The founder of the Los Angeles Tap Festival and an Emmy Award–winning choreographer, who's been referred to as the "Prince of Tap," credits his mom, Sue Samuels of Broadway Dance Center, for informing his diverse musical palate. He also studied with tap icons like Savion Glover and Henry LeTang, who introduced him to a range of styles, from hip hop to basic piano music.

"LeTang would teach a mean routine and then go to the piano and play beautiful chords and melodic changes," says Samuels Smith, who at 15 was the understudy to the lead, Savion Glover, in the Broadway hit Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk.

Now considered one of tap's cutting-edge teachers around the country and internationally, Samuels Smith stays true to his roots. "Students will say 'We want to dance to the Top 40 or more popular music,' but I have to be honest," he says. "As a teacher and elder to these kids, you have to know what's good and what's not so good."

He starts class with an improv circle or a series of time steps. Beginning with these exercises a capella gives dancers the structure to learn the steps in a musical way. "I might want to change time signatures from a 4/4 to a 5/4 or a 7/4. When you change the time signatures, you change the groove," he says. This kind of challenge also helps students be less mechanical and to develop a relationship with the music. "A lot of students are only thinking about the steps," he says, "but as a tap dancer, you have to also be a musician."

Artist: Count Basie

Song: "Shiny Stockings"

Album: Long Live the Chief

"This has a great tempo for beginners and slow, swinging grooves."

Count Basie 1958 - Shiny Stockings www.youtube.com

Artist: Lee Morgan

Song: "You Go to My Head"

Album: The Gigolo

"The bossa nova and swing feel makes this track perfect for all class levels."


You Go To My Head (Remastered) www.youtube.com

Artist: Miles Davis

Song: "Someday My Prince Will Come"

"This is a waltz feel, so playing with phrases that fit in a 3/4 or 4/4 feels good."


Miles Davis: Someday My Prince Will Come www.youtube.com

Artist: Ella Fitzgerald

Song: "How High the Moon"

Album: The Best of Ella Fitzgerald

"This is a great rendition of this classic, and it swings! Plus, the tempo switches, which challenges the dancers."


Ella Fitzgerald - How High The Moon (High Quality - Remastered) www.youtube.com

Artist: James Ingram

Song: "Never Felt So Good"

"It has that '90s, R&B vibe, à la Gregory Hines feeling."


JAMES INGRAM : NEVER FELT SO GOOD www.youtube.com

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.