Music for Class: Gray's Got Rhythm

“I firmly believe that everybody has rhythm,” says Acia Gray, who originally found her tap-dancing beat playing the drums in R&B and country western bands. Gray co-founded Tapestry Dance Company in Austin, Texas, 20 years ago and teaches students from beginner- to professional-level at the Tapestry Dance Company Academy.

 

No matter a student’s level, Gray’s first step is to take them back to basics. Since most students learn to tap by routines, she likes to teach them, instead, to “speak tap” by practicing the fundamental elements of tap dance and playing with speed, accents and finesse. “We have to work these steps just like a piano player would with scales and arpeggios,” she says. “Then we can go on from there.”

 

Gray has danced, choreographed and taught for numerous organizations and festivals and is artistic director of TDC’s annual Soul to Sole Tap Festival. Her book, The Souls of Your Feet: A Tap Dance Guide for Rhythm Explorers, focuses, like her teaching, on returning tappers to the roots of their movement.

 

“When you listen to a piece of music, it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, but the tap dancer should add another instrument without stepping on the rhythm that’s already there,” Gray says. “My main goal as a tap teacher is to have students understand that they are an instrument themselves.” DT

 

Click here for a video of Gray demonstrating the technique referenced in her book, The Souls of Your Feet.

 

Artist: Oscar Peterson

Album: Night Train

“These slow, spacious works help to build control. Kids, especially, move at a faster tempo and are not comfortable at a slower one where they can gain control. When using music that’s got a lot of space, students have to grab those downbeats and control their legs to stay on the beat.”

 

 

Artist: Hidden Beach Recordings

Album: Unwrapped

“This four-volume series is a cutting-edge fusion of hip-hop and jazz instrumental music. I use it in beginner or low-intermediate classes. The album’s steady hip-hop groove with a solid downbeat allows students to feel the tempo of the song, but it also exposes them to some incredible jazz solo riffs that are going all these different places.”

 

 

Artist: Club des Balugas

Album: Swop

“This lounge, nujazz project is an eclectic group that swings, hits and plays with interesting textures and grooves. Swop has a ’50s, campy, lounge music feel. The album is lighthearted and

playful, and it sets a great foundation for a fun warm-up or a teasing piece of choreography.”

 

Artist: Ellis Marsalis

Album: Heart of Gold

“Ellis Marsalis is a cool cat. This collection of standards and original works has a warm and cozy feel that lends itself to melodic play and traditional choreographic structure. The waltz selections are beautiful and a great introduction to 3/4 timing.”

 

 

Artist: Ahmad Jamal

Album: Digital Works

“This album holds great challenges in phrasing, solo voices and improvisational study for intermediate and advanced dancers, especially the versions of two songs, ‘Poinciana’ and ‘Wave.’”

 

 

Artist: Keith Terry

Album: SLAMMIN all-body band

“This has to be one of my all-time favorite albums. This brilliant group of vocal and body percussionists puts a tap dancer’s soul in a beautiful place. I’ve used this for choreography, percussive study and classes. It just makes you want to dance, and it’s a live album, so you actually hear them play off of each other. This is true rhythmic art.”

 

 

Photo by Farid Zarrinabadi, courtesy of Acia Gray

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"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."

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