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By Wendy Perron
In a tap class, everyone knows when you make a mistake. If your shuffle comes a beat late, other students can hear it. It can be pretty humiliating, and that’s why you need to take class at your own level.
I’ve been lucky to find a truly basic level at Steps on Broadway taught by Derick Grant. I take such pleasure in getting the rhythm right—even if it’s just “shuffle, fuh-lap, riff, change.” For the more complicated steps, Derick vocalizes: “wap, dum bahhhhh.” This makes me feel at home because it’s the kind of thing that a modern or ballet teacher would do—anything to help students get the phrasing. In this month’s “Teacher’s Wisdom” you’ll hear Derick Grant tell us about other similarities too: knowing where your weight is, finding the right amount of effort, and having the courage to take chances.
Mention Michelle Dorrance to Derick Grant and he says, “She’s my girl.” Mention Jared Grimes (our cover story last May) to Michelle Dorrance and she says, “He’s my little brother.” Mention Derick Grant to Pam Raff, a protégée of the great Leon Collins who runs her own studio in Boston, and she says, “I watched Derick grow up.” Tap is a small enough world that it’s still all in the family. Dance Magazine’s associate editor Emily Macel got to join that family during our cover shoot with Michelle. She interviewed the tapper and wrote the cover story, and, as you can see from this photo, she got to borrow a bit of Michelle’s moxie during the shoot.
Jerome Robbins makes choreography for the heart. In his ballets, you really care about the people onstage. From the girl in green in Dances at a Gathering who has nobody to walk with, to the troublemaking Jets of West Side Story Suite, you know exactly what his characters are feeling. Certain themes, like having three guys and only two girls, get played out with humor and pathos in ballets like Fancy Free; Ives, Songs; and The Concert. For those of us who love to see Robbins—need to see Robbins—New York City Ballet’s Robbins celebration this spring will be a feast. In “Capturing the Heart,” Joseph Carman tells us what’s so brilliant about Robbins’ choreography and what dancers learned from him about performing. And Sylviane Gold, in her “On Broadway” column, tells us the one sovereign rule that Robbins never broke while choreographing his landmark musicals.
With this issue, we invite you to join the tap family and get to know the family of Robbins master works.
Photo by Matthew Karas.