Tap at its Best

On Friday, July 10, I saw Jason Samuels-Smith, Derick K. Grant, Michelle Dorrance, Joseph Webb and Kendrick Jones, on one stage. It is an understatement to say these phenomenal dancers highlighted the Main Event of American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tap City in New York City, as instead, they stole the show. That was no easy feat, as tap legends like Brenda Buffalino, Barbara Duffy and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards also performed that evening, and the New Tap Dance Orchestra performed a reconstruction of Buffalino’s 1988 work, Haitian Fight Song.

Yet Smith, Grant, Dorrance, Webb and Jones were the most cool, and exciting performers—not only because of their unbelievable footwork—because of their ability to connect with audiences in a real, and human way. Their performances were about fusing their rhythms with music and sharing that experience with the audience, rather than presenting false emotion or hamming it up for the audience’s approval.

Want more Tap City? Read our May 2009 Cover Feature, “A New Take on New York Tap” about Susan Hebach and Tap City Youth Ensemble here!

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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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.

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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.

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