Tap dance is making some noise as America’s indigenous percussive dance form combines tradition with hip-hop, jazz and contemporary dance – and spreads the news through new platforms and technology.
That will certainly be the case this weekend with the fifth annual Tap Fest! — a day of intensive workshops that organizers say are designed to “educate and stimulate interest in the art form’s past, present and future.”
Before you put on your dancing shoes, though, here’s a brief history: The old masters, including the Nicholas Brothers, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Jimmy Slyde, Lon Chaney, Henry LeTang and George Hillman, handed down their influences to a generation that included the suave dancer/actor/singer Gregory Hines and his brother Maurice.
Gregory Hines kept tap in the public eye through such movies as “The Cottonwood Club” and “White Nights,” which features the famous dance-off scene in which he competes with Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Then in 2000 Savion Glover burst onto the tap scene, capturing the world’s attention with his lightning speed and improvisational creativity. Glover was anointed by the entertainment world as “the man who saved tap dancing” and by his mentor, Hines, as the person who “redefined the art of tap dancing.” He performed to a sold-out crowd at Abravanel Hall during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Tap flew respectfully under the radar for most of us until 2015, when Michelle Dorrance shook up the dance world by winning a McArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in tap. The foundation wrote: “Dorrance has moved beyond the episodic nature of traditional tap pieces … [to] combine the musicality of tap with the choreographic intricacies of contemporary dance.”
Debby Robertson, director of SLC Tap and Utah’s International Tap Association representative, has taught the dance style for more than 30 years. Robertson, who holds a master’s degree in dance, saw Dorrance’s company perform last year and was amazed: “Dorrance Dance is not only the best tap performance, but the best dance performance I’ve ever seen.”
Robertson and fellow tapper Wendi Isaacson are collaborating to produce Tap Fest! It’s got something for everyone, from musical theater to how to survive tap auditions, with respected teachers from around the Salt Lake Valley.
Another tap teacher gaining plenty of buzz in Salt Lake is Patrick Cubbedge, on the faculty at Ballet West Academy and Millennium Dance Complex. The 26-year-old teaches all forms of commercial dance and has an impressive professional résumé that includes awards, film, television and stage. Ask him what makes tap relevant today, and Cubbedge turns professorial, relating the history of tap and its place in the larger profession of dance, and makes a convincing argument for how the foot is like a drum set.
Cubbedge is excited about the future of tap as he points to such rising stars as Ayodel Casel, Chloe Arnold and Nick Young.
Young lives in L.A. and started his tap company, Rhythmatic, with its first evening-length work to be performed at the Bermuda Performing Arts Festival in February. A video Young made for the 2016 Capezio Ace Awards, “Come Together,” has more than 100,000 hits on YouTube. Viewers are drawn to the casual, loose upper body in contrast to complex rhythms and smart subtle footwork.
Young said choreographers like Dorrance have altered how people think about tap composition, offering an opportunity for tap to speak to a wider audience.
“I want what all choreographers want — for the audience to be emotionally invested,” Young said. “Sharing knowledge as a student, teacher and performer is what makes being a dancer so fantastic and fulfilling.”
Utah Tap Fest!<br>When • Saturday, Aug, 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.<br>Where • Sugar Space Arts Warehouse, 132 S. 800 West, Salt Lake City<br>Details • Individual classes are $25, multi-workshop packages from $70-$110; www.slctap.com for details or contact Debby Robertson at 801-680-3201 or email Utahtapfest@gmail.com