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!
From competing on "So You Think You Can Dance" to performing on "Dancing with the Stars" for seven seasons (and earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the latter), Chelsie Hightower has lived the pro dance dream. Though Hightower retired from "DWTS" several years ago and now teaches and choreographs in her home state of Utah, she admits that her dance career exceeded even her own high expectations. "I've accomplished things that I didn't know were possible," she says.
But most fans of "DWTS" would never have guessed that while filming, the talented and seemingly fearless ballroom pro was facing her fiercest competitor off-camera. Hightower has struggled with anxiety for most of her life, but the issue became especially severe during her years on the show.
With the help of therapy and other coping exercises, Hightower has found healthy ways to manage her anxiety. Now, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire other dancers struggling with mental illness to get help.
More fabulous TWall routines. More passengers on the Hot Tamale Train. MORE CAT DEELEY BEING DELIGHTFUL.
That's right, y'all: "So You Think You Can Dance" was just renewed for a 16th (!) season, to air this summer on Fox. And audition dates have already been announced.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.
Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.
The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!
What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.
Y'all, it's time to call a spade a spade: The first month of any New Year kind of sucks. It's way too cold, you're probs failing at one or two of those ambitious resolutions, and spring (with its exciting performing opportunities) feels so very far away. And yet, in the midst of so much darkness, a hero has emerged. His name is Donté Colley, and you're about to double-tap every single thing he's ever posted.
It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.
Think back to your newbie dancer days. Can you remember your introduction to spotting? It might've involved staring hard at your own reflection in the mirror as you wrestled with your first pirouette. Or maybe your teacher had you put your hands on your shoulders as you attempted a series of half-chaînés across the floor.
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Dance teachers have to deal with a lot. While open communication with your teacher is obviously key, lame excuses for less-than-great behavior are guaranteed to get on her nerves. Always avoid these seven excuses that will 100 percent get your dance teacher's blood boiling.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
There are dance routines, and then there are dance routines. Andrew, a 21-year-old dancer with Down Syndrome, performed the latter on the new British reality dance show "The Greatest Dancer." He brought the audience to tears as he unabashedly freestyled to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling."
Today, January 11, is #AlexanderHamiltonDay: A very happy 264th birthday to Alexander Hamilton! Thanks to this most unlikely of Founding Fathers—a brilliant and ballsy orphaned immigrant who dramatically rose, then fell, then rose again—we have possibly the most successful musical of all time. We also, of course, got priceless GIFs such as this one:
Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, while we can't get you "in the room where it happens" with tickets to the show's current Broadway, touring, or Puerto Rico productions—the last of which opens tonight!—we CAN offer up some fun ways to fête A.Ham's day of birth. Just you wait:
Every once in a while, the stars align, things fall precisely into place, and the perfect marketing campaign is born. Such is the case with New York City Ballet's new trailer for their upcoming run of The Sleeping Beauty, which was conceived and directed by company soloist Sean Suozzi.
Washington Ballet's Nardia Boodoo is turning heads these days, and not just at the barre. The brilliant ballerina shines in Tory Sport's latest commercial and we can't help but feel a little bit of pride as our March 2018 cover star brings ballet to the masses. What better way to show off stylish and comfy athletic wear than with Boodoo's strong and luminous dancing?
As the name suggests, summer intensives are, well, intense, encouraging you to eat, sleep, and breathe dance for a significant chunk of the summer. But they're not for every dancer—or every summer. Maybe you're not ready to be away from home just yet, or you want to spend your last summer with family before going off to college. Intensives can also be expensive, and not every household has the financial flexibility to cover the high cost of auditions, travel, room and board, and tuition. Whatever your reasons for seeking alternatives, it's important to recognize that, when it comes to summer study, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. "The most important thing is to keep dancing," says Lindy Mandradjieff, owner of the Dance Conservatory of Charleston in South Carolina. "Without the added stress of school, you can improve as much in one summer as you would in an entire school year." Here's how to keep up your training even if you don't plan on attending an intensive.