Tap has always depended on one dancer passing her knowledge down to another. So when you watch a famous hoofer perform, you're also seeing—and hearing—her tap heritage. "In tap, through a teacher or a mentor, you're not just learning the steps or rhythm," says Jared Grimes. "You're learning who you are. And that identity is crucial."
Which young tappers today are branching out while paying tribute to the tradition that has helped shape them? We asked some of the biggest names in tap to talk about the up-and-coming dancers who are carrying the style into the future.
In "Sunday Candy," one of Caleb Teicher's popular "Chance Raps | Caleb Taps" videos, the Bessie Award-winning performer has as much to say with his upper body as he does with his feet. In one section, his hands whack the air in front of him as though he's at a drum set; in another, they point skyward to accent Chance the Rapper's lyrics with the precise lines of a jazz or musical theater routine. His arms help propel him off the ground for a one-footed wing, but also add style to a mambo-inspired step. The grace and musicality of his upper body in contrast to such busy footwork is a multisensory delight. It's also a lesson in how tap dancers can use their arms to their full potential.
With so much focus on your feet during tap work, it's easy to forget the importance of using your upper body properly. "You need your whole body in order to achieve the sounds you're trying to make," says Ray Hesselink, a popular teacher at Broadway Dance Center, Steps on Broadway, and the Juilliard School in NYC. "When you dance, you're sending your energy in multiple directions, so when you don't use your arms, there's a certain heaviness, a slump, to your dancing."
These days, tap dancers can reach huge audiences through social media, where videos from stars like Chloe Arnold and Sarah Reich have gone viral. But in the 1920s and '30s, the best way for tappers to gain a following was to have an act on the vaudeville circuit, which allowed them to perform in theaters across the country. Every tap dancer had their own routine, but there arose a desire for a simple dance that all tappers could know and perform at any time—especially so local dancers at each tour stop could join in. One of those dances became known as the BS Chorus.
Remember when Maddie Ziegler taught Jimmy Kimmel a thing or two from Sia's "Chandelier" video? Well, the producers at "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" tried something similar, and though I hate to say it, it didn't go as well. On Monday, Katie Holmes appeared on Ellen's show to promote her new film, Miss Meadow. Ellen brought up a moment from the movie, in which Katie, playing the title character, tap dances. Ellen said she wishes she knew how to tap, and just like that, the two of them filed across the stage for a very quick lesson. (Katie played the part of the teacher.)
They had props—but not a whole lotta chops. (photo by Michael Rozman/Warner Bros)
OK. You know DS LOVES when Ellen's show features dancers. I mean, we just can't get enough appearances from tWitch. And we even love when non-dancers, like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, do silly dance things on her show—like campaign to appear on "Dancing with the Stars." But Katie Holmes' tap lesson just makes us a little bit sad, tbh.
Maybe the joke is that Katie doesn't really know what she's doing either. Like when she says, "I think the thing about tapping is, you just kinda—," Ellen cuts in: "Make noise?" "Yeah," says Katie. Can you hear my heart sinking? Tap dancing is fun. Tap dancing is challenging. And as you know, tap dancing takes a lot more than just making noise.
Luckily for us all, Ellen saves the bit with her hilarious take on the flashiest step she knows—a wing. Watch the clip below, and let us know what you think. Am I being too critical of the lesson? Or should tap dancers everywhere stand up for their art?
After watching the Miss America competition this weekend, I have a whole new respect for pageant contestants. Not only are they drop-dead gorgeous (and so fit—I mean, dang girls!), but they're articulate, super-talented and insanely hard working. (I can't fathom the crazy number of hours they put in preparing for Saturday night!)
But it was the talent portion of the competition that really caught my eye. I was shocked to see four of the ten women dance: three tappers and one lyrical-ish dancer. Aside from the lyrical number (I'll save my thoughts about that for another day), I was actually pretty impressed. Even the winner, Miss New York Mallory Hagan, tapped (in rhinestoned tap shoes, no less)! While her tap technique wasn't perfect, her showmanship and song choice (James Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing") took the cake.
Take a look:
What do you think? Did you watch the competition? Did Miss New York deserve the crown? Tell us in the comments below!