Michelle Dorrance

Mastering the art of the tap pickup company

Ask hoofer Michelle Dorrance about anything—upcoming projects, inspiration, musical influences—and she’ll find a way to take the focus off herself and instead gush about her collaborators. Nicholas Young is “a world-class percussionist” and “changing the game for tap dance” with his innovative work on tap dance instruments. She loves to feature Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards “as often as she is available and as much as possible.” She calls Karida Griffith “The Pro,” spouting off her resumé as if it’s her own: former Rockette, Cirque du Soleil dancer, “Boardwalk Empire” cast member. When she brings up Jason Samuels Smith, Dorrance sputters for a moment in awe: “Are you kidding? I mean, I’d love to be able to design a work around him.”

It’s this reverence for her peers that has no doubt helped Dorrance surround herself with so much talent in her pickup tap dance company, Dorrance Dance / New York. The troupe’s weeklong run at the Spoleto Festival USA, May 31–June 8, is a chance to give that virtuosity a chance to shine: The company is offering two different programs—the percussively surprising SOUNDspace and the live band–accompanied Delta to Dusk.

On production needs: “The tech rider for The Blues Project [premiered 2013; touring this fall] is a lot for a venue to deal with—we need a tap floor and the entire backline for a rock band. I work with a tap floor specialist, who’s also our production manager. A lot of venues have a really good wood floor, but they’re just not comfortable with people dancing on it. Or it’s covered in marley, and they’re not willing to move it.”

On flexibility: “I’ll use a different group of dancers, depending on the gig or their skill set or who’s available. If there’s someone I really value as a dancer, I’ll work around her schedule. I have multiform dancers, and I want them to be able to pursue everything. With my younger dancers—I have 17-year-olds who I work with, I have people I bring in as apprentices—I feel like I have to be more of a stickler about their rehearsal consistency, because that’s the age you need to learn that kind of commitment.”

Beyond tap: “My dream is to stop doing everything and just be a student of music and other forms of dance for a year. I’m kind of a bootlegger on most of the instruments I play. I play guitar, ukulele and bass very casually. I would love to be able to read and chart music.” DT

Training: Ballet School of Chapel Hill (founded by her mom); BA, New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study

Performance: North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble; STOMP off-Broadway run and North American tour

Choreography: founded Dorrance Dance / New York in 2011; received Princess Grace Award to create Push Past Break for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s BAM! group in 2013

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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