During the 1980s, my tap education amounted to endless flaps and paradiddles, working with ballet-based arms and jazz hands. Although I learned a great deal from my teachers, we didn’t have any direct influence from a tap master or any real understanding of the artform. I had never heard of hoofin’, never experienced the magic of improvisation. I grew to love tap, but some part of me knew there was more to it than shuffling off to buffalo.
I got the chance to explore the artform further when I began attending festivals. I went to the Southern California Tap Festival in 1997 (where I first improvised and saw Brenda Bufalino teach class) and to the Detroit Tap Festival in 1999 (where Jimmy Slyde watched as Van Porter schooled a room full of us 20-somethings), and eventually began performing with Footnotes Tap Ensemble in North Carolina. I found myself becoming part of a community rich with historical awareness and generosity of spirit, and I began to see how what I’m doing now is the result of certain tappers’ hard work more than 25 years ago. In fact, the ’80s have emerged as one of the most important eras in tap’s history.
In a Nutshell
Tap suffered a serious drought in the middle of the 20th century; funds, support and promotions were almost nonexistent. By the late ’50s, work for tap dancers had completely dried up. Then, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, tap experienced a renaissance. Hoofers could once again find work hoofin’, instead of tapping underground while making a living with other skills. This work came thanks to two venues that were never before very welcoming of tap: dance festivals and the concert stage.
The movement to revive tap was driven by a handful of women who realized that the artform they loved could only survive and grow with the leadership and experience of the previous generation’s great masters. According to teacher and choreographer Brenda Bufalino, these women worked hard for little to no pay, for the love of their art. Tap historian Jane Goldberg adds that they sought out the masters, organized “tap happenings,” raised money, got grants, documented their history, produced new tap shows and started the first tap festivals.
By apprenticing themselves to the masters of tap, many of whom have since passed away, these female tappers ensured that the masters’ legacies would live on. The partnerships born in the 1980s led to new onstage possibilities and a lifetime of mutual respect. Among them: Bufalino and Charles “Honi” Coles, Dianne Walker and Leon Collins, Goldberg and Charles “Cookie” Cook, and Sarah Petronio and Jimmy Slyde.
The Rise of Festivals
Goldberg, assisted by Katherine Kramer, organized and produced one of the earliest tap festivals, By Word of Foot, held at the Village Gate in NYC in 1980. This festival was the gathering place of tap legends Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, Bunny Briggs, Leon Collins, “Honi” Coles, John Bubbles and Gregory Hines (who at the time was filling in for Chuck Green).
The 1986 Colorado Mile High Tap Summit, created by International Tap Association executive director, Marda Kirn, and Sali Ann Kriegsman, evolved the festival format to include classes, performances with old masters, films and panels on various topics relevant to tap. This format is now seen all over the world.
Bufalino recalls that although Gregory Hines was getting work in nightclubs and as a dancer on Broadway during the 1980s, his style truly emerged at festivals. “A lot of dancers changed their style through festivals,” she says, perhaps because it was a space devoted to education and exchange. Festivals ensured a focused, intensive time for students to absorb tap’s rhythmic and artistic complexity while considering how to preserve and express traditions. These gatherings were vital to starting a multi-generational dialogue about what was, what is and what could be for the art of tap.
Gene Medler, artistic director of the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, attended By Word of Foot and recalls the nightly “cocktail hour” with John Bubbles, where he heard stories from years past and how tap dance was redefined by each generation. Mark Yonally, artistic director of Chicago Tap Theatre, attended festivals as a teen and recalls learning the Walk Around from “Honi” Coles himself and witnessing the reunion between Coles and his longtime dance partner, Charles “Cholly” Atkins. At the St. Louis Tap Festival, Dianne “Lady Di” Walker let Yonally know that he had an obligation to give what he learned to others. “These festivals provided myriad opportunities to interact with artists,” Yonally explains. “We learned what the artform is and can be.”
The tap community was growing by leaps and bounds during the ’80s, exploring new frontiers in dance and music. And yet, says Bufalino, “Tap still wasn’t considered an artform.” Bufalino’s American Tap Dance Orchestra, founded in 1986, was one of the first tap companies to present works on the concert stage, previously the realm of modern and ballet companies. With innovative and sophisticated choreography and adventurous artistic direction, tap companies like ATDO, Lynn Dally’s Jazz Tap Ensemble and Acia Gray’s Tapestry Dance Company (to name just a few!) presented concerts and toured, engaging audiences and spreading awareness of their teachers, mentors and exceptional craft. Thanks to these efforts to get tap recognized, today’s tap soloists, companies, youth ensembles and even a few of the living legends perform with master musicians, jazz ensembles and full orchestras, transforming the eyes and ears of audiences everywhere.
Taking It All In
Do you know and appreciate all that you’re being given when you sign up for a festival? I didn’t realize the immense significance of learning about the Shim Sham Shimmy from Leonard Reed himself until years afterward, but now I recognize the history and tradition I’m a part of. So with the abundance of tap festivals, ensembles, jam sessions and concerts available, be picky—and be grateful!
It's time to get your pirouette on! From September 5th to September 30th, we're hosting a contest to find out who's the best turner of them all.
Put together your most impressive turning combo. Post a video online. Share your turns with us and thousands of other dancers around the world. And if our editors think you're the top turner, you'll win a fabulous prize.
All of 18-year-old Kaylin Maggard's dreams—from scoring the title of National Senior Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals to winning the 2017 Dance Spirit Cover Model Search—are coming true. And to anyone who knows the gorgeous contemporary dancer, that's no surprise.
From the moment the Dance Spirit staff met Kaylin, it was obvious her humility and talent would take her far. Not only did she go full-out during the photo shoot and class at Broadway Dance Center, but she was always cheering on, laughing with, and supporting her fellow CMS contestants Haley Hartsfield and Michelle Quiner. During the voting period, the social media world was abuzz with praise for her work ethic, positive attitude, and generosity.
Since her CMS trip to NYC, Kaylin's moved from her hometown of Columbia, MO, to the Big Apple for her freshman year at Juilliard, and is busy getting acquainted with the city. As for the future? She's taking it one opportunity at a time, but something tells us we'll be seeing this contemporary queen reach new heights every year.
New York City principal Lauren Lovette has become an icon thanks to her emotional maturity and exceptional musicality. The 26-year-old quickly rose through the ranks after joining the company as an apprentice in 2009, reaching principal status in 2015. A Thousand Oaks, CA, native, Lovette started studying ballet seriously at age 11, at the Cary Ballet Conservatory in Cary, NC. After attending two summer courses at the School of American Ballet, she enrolled as a full-time student in 2006. Last year, she made her choreographic debut with For Clara, her first piece for NYCB. Catch her latest work this month during the company's fall season. —Courtney Bowers
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
I know I'm not getting good enough dance training from any of my local studios. But I'm not sure I'm ready to move away to study at a big-name school, either. How do you know when you're ready to leave home to pursue your passion?
Instagram star Kylie Shea has built a following of nearly 170,000 with her playful workout videos, which combine traditional fitness activities, like jumping rope or running on the treadmill, with pointe shoes and sassy choreography. Shea's effortless cool-girl-next-door vibe and solid ballet technique make her vids totally irresistible.
Now Shea's using her platform to address the body image issues that tend to plague dancers. In a poignant video, she sheds her clothes and tugs at her skin. The caption explains her relationship with her body and the pressure she feels to maintain a certain aesthetic as a dancer.
Physical discomfort is inevitable when you're spending tons of hours in the studio every day, but some pain shouldn't be suffered through. "Dancing through pain can make an injury worse and lead to more time away from dance," says Dr. Joel Brenner, medical director of dance medicine at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters in Norfolk, VA. "Failing to rest and recover when you're in serious pain could even lead to the point where you're unable to dance in the future."
That may sound scary, but there's good news: If you take precautions and listen to your body, many injuries can be stopped in their tracks. The first step? Knowing what's normal—and what's not.
Think about it: How often do you see a ballet pas de deux for two women? Almost never, right? Sometimes, choreographers will forgo the traditional danseur-ballerina pas to make a duet for two guys, since they can lift and partner each other easily. But a dance for two ballerinas is a rare thing.
That's part of what makes "Duet," a new video by director Andrew Margetson featuring Royal Ballet beauties Yasmin Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell, so compelling.