Melinda Sullivan on Music for tap

Melinda Sullivan (photo by Jeremy Jackson)

When tap dancer and “So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Melinda Sullivan walked away with the 2012 Capezio A.C.E. Award, she initially felt intimidated by the prize—she would be crafting her first evening-length show. By the time Gone premiered at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, though, she'd expanded her original five minutes of choreography into 50. Her go-to choreographic devices are closely aligned with music: When she's found a piece that she feels drawn to, she often listens to the song over and over again, focusing each time on a different instrument's rhythm. Another favorite trick is to start with one simple step—to keep the time to the music—and use that as a theme she can return to. “You don't need to do every step you know in a dance," she says. “It should be arranged and thoughtful. You need to keep in mind the overarching composition of not just the picture but the music, too."


In her tap classes at The Colburn School in Los Angeles and with the New York City Dance Alliance, Sullivan maintains a consistent vision: imparting the lineage of tap and reminding her students that they are musicians themselves. “A lot of tap that's done today is just about the show—and I'm all about the show, I get it—but you have these shoes on your feet that are instruments," she says. “If you're going to dance and not pay any attention to your instruments, you may as well just take off your shoes." DT


Artists: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Album: Ella & Louis

“This album is really swingy, which is important, because swing is really hard to explain. I can write out the musical notes and the rhythm, but it's better to just feel it. Some of the songs are a bit slower, so I use it a lot when I teach adult tap."

[JXS3WP1505471643]

Artist: HAIM

Album: Days Are Gone

“This rock-pop band of three sisters from Los Angeles is super fun—and they play all the instruments themselves. I think it's important if you're a tap dancer to at least attempt another instrument. It really helps your craft. You can start thinking about music in a different way."


Artist: Emily King

Song: “Georgia"

“I teach a class called 'Untapped,' which is a soft-shoe class, to get dancers who aren't into tap exposed to basics like footwork and weight-changing. Emily King's vocals are so smooth, and the track is pretty open, so it's nice to pair that with the texture of the soft shoe brushing on the floor."

Album: Newsies movie soundtrack

“I know it's kind of cheesy, but I'm a cheeseball. I teach musical theater dance sometimes, so I love tracks that already have dance breaks in them. One of my first tap dances as a kid was to 'King of New York' from this soundtrack."

Artist: Nikos Syropoulos

Album: Gone

“This composer wrote this original music for my show Gone, and I've been using it to teach. I have all of this choreography that I can pull from. It's a really beautiful score, and I like seeing how people react when they listen to it for class or if they choreograph to it."

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.