Tapping Across the Universe
Last December, 28 teens, 17 adults, a seven-piece band and a five-member tech crew traveled to Beijing, China, to perform in JUBA! Masters of Tap, an all-American tap extravaganza at the Fifth Annual Beijing International Dance Festival. The performers came from six youth ensembles—Tappers With Attitude Youth Ensemble (DC), Footprints Tap Ensemble (IL), Keane Sense of Rhythm (MN), North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (NC), RPM (TX) and Soul-2-Soles (IL)—and were assembled by Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Lane Alexander, who put the whirlwind show together.
In addition to the teens, the show featured an all-star cast, including Harold Cromer, Tre Dumas, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Ted Levy, Jason Samuels Smith, Sam Weber and Lane Alexander.
Each youth ensemble rehearsed the choreography in its hometown; the group came together for the first time in Beijing. Hours of rehearsals resulted in three incredible two-hour concerts. The youth ensembles performed nine pieces, including a closing number featuring 45 young Chinese tap dancers from Yan Ling Dance School.
Four members of the award-winning Tappers With Attitude—a preprofessional dance company based at Knock On Wood Tap Studio in Silver Spring, MD—kept a diary to share with DS readers! Here are some excerpts.
—Victoria Moss, artistic director, TWA
December 17-18, 2007
Liza Mayman (15): “Ni hao!” (Hello!) It was so exciting to get on the plane with five other youth companies to go to the Beijing Dance Festival! By the time we got to Tokyo, 24 other teens from North Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas were on our plane, along with many of the adult dancers, our jazz band from Chicago’s Columbia College and our Chicago-based tech crew.
December 19, 2007
Maria Guerrero (17): Breakfast at the Beijing Exhibition Centre Hotel is a mix of typical American and Chinese breakfast and lunch foods: eggs, bread, cheese, muesli, fried rice, pickled and stir-fried vegetables and congee—a rice porridge similar to oatmeal.
Justin Allen (15): The Beizhan Theatre has 2,900 seats and beautiful decorations. Performing on such a big stage is going to be overwhelming.
Hannah Kenton (15): Today we went to Tiananmen Square and the very beautiful Forbidden City, which is the Ming Dynasty Imperial Palace. It’s funny that so many Chinese people take our pictures, while we all want to take their pictures! Being in China is amazing times 10 million.
Maria: Our guide taught us to keep vendors away by saying “Wo bu yao,” which means, “I don’t want it.” That didn’t stop one vendor from hitting me on the head with a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao!
December 20, 2007
Hannah: We rehearsed from 9:45 am to 5 pm. At one point in Harold Cromer’s Opus One, the dancers all yell out “Ti Ta Wu,” which means “tap dance” in Mandarin. That was a lot of fun! We did a million trenches; we’re going to be so sore in the morning!
Justin: We were joined by the pros for the Shim Sham and the Walkaround. Working alongside tap geniuses like Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Jason Samuels Smith, Sam Weber and Harold Cromer is beyond belief.
December 21, 2007
Hannah: During rehearsal, Jason Samuels Smith gave us complicated steps to try. It was cool!
Liza: Harold, Tre Dumas, Dormeshia, Ted Levy, Jason and Sam all performed great solos. Mr. Cromer was especially great—I love watching him sing and dance. It’s such an honor to be here with him!
Maria: It was amazing to dance the national anthem of tap, the Shim Sham, with the teen dancers from Beijing’s Yan Ling Dance School, in Beijing! We knew tap was pretty popular in China. This school has some great teachers and hot young dancers.
Justin: Although most of the Chinese dancers didn’t speak much English, nor did we speak Mandarin, we were still able to communicate through our art, which was beautiful.
December 22, 2007
Maria: The audience here is very different from the audience back home—they take flash photos, videotape and talk on cell phones during the show. One guy was even waving glow sticks around! In the U.S., we make sure no one films choreography without proper permission, but in China intellectual property rights don’t really exist, so we just had to accept it.
December 23, 2007
Liza: Today we shopped at the Pearl Market. Our bargaining skills are better now, so we saved a lot of money. Then we went out to dinner; the food was spicy but good. We all had to use chopsticks. Tonight was our last show. The audience loved the Chair Dance, which is a fun piece because we perform sitting on chairs.
Hannah: I would give anything to live this experience again.
December 24, 2007
Liza: We woke up at 4:30 am to go to the airport. It was sad to say goodbye to our friends, but I know we will see them at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Youth Tap Ensemble Conference this summer. I learned so much from this experience. People here are very polite, and yet shopping and bargaining can get very aggressive. It was interesting to learn how to bargain without being insulting. Even though we weren’t able to communicate with words, I hope that our show opened people up to a different culture and dance style.
Justin: As an American teenager this experience taught me a very valuable lesson: If we want a safe and peaceful world, we have to learn to work together. We have to understand each other, and figure out how we are similar, instead of just looking at how we are different. We must meet on common ground, and art can be that common ground. It’s funny to think that a teenager, no matter what nationality, can change the world with something like the Shim Sham. It made me think about how petty our usual daily concerns seem, when compared with the bigger issues in the world today.
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.
Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
My mom was a dancer growing up, and she went on to become a dance teacher, so I've really grown up in the studio. I started classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 9, I was training at The Dance Club and knew I wanted to dedicate all my time to dance.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.