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

Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.