Working Out With Aaron Tolson

Bernardo Nogueira, Courtesy Só Dança

The hoofer created his own tap-based workout class to get fit.

Despite an exhausting weekly schedule rehearsing for upcoming performances, teaching at Broadway Dance Center, working with private students and traveling for workshops and shows, New York hoofer Aaron Tolson had a surprising realization: “As I get older, tap dancing is not keeping me physically fit.”

The father of two decided to find a way to make his career last longer—and fulfill one of his dreams: “I wanted to get as many people tapping as I could.”

So he developed a combination cardio, strengthening and tap class called Sole Power. It fuses his tap expertise with knowledge he gained from his record-setting track career, which had earned him a full scholarship to St. John’s University and an invitation to the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials. “It’s a tap class that never stops moving,” says Tolson, with a laugh.

Intended for non-dancers, Sole Power requires no previous dance experience or rhythmic ability. Each class begins with an introduction of basic tap steps—such as shuffles, flaps, step-heels and heel-toes—that eventually form a short sequence that students repeat in between exercises to keep their heart rates up. Students alternate between learning simple tap technique and performing exercises like lunges and squats, to which a tap component (like heel drops) is added. Even as Tolson demonstrates the next activity, the class stays in motion by repeating the interval or doing marches and step-touches.

The final exercise is tap trenches, which require alternately sliding each leg back while reaching the opposite arm perpendicular to the floor. Then students work on a long combination and end the class by cooling down with stretching.

Sole Power recently launched at Crunch Gym locations around New York City and Los Angeles, and will soon be in more cities as Tolson trains new teachers, or “Solemates.”

Tolson estimates that students can burn between 300 and 600 calories in each hour-long class. “It exercises your body and your mind,” he says. “When you tap, you have to focus—you can’t let your mind wander. You don’t even realize how hard you’re working.”

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Sole Power Results

Tolson credits his own creation with making him healthier and stronger. Teaching the class has helped him to lose about 30 pounds and relieve his tendonitis and knee pain. His other secret? Eliminating peanut butter and desserts from his diet.

No Tap Shoes Necessary

Students wear Power Soles, shoe covers with plastic taps that don’t ruin floors. They can also be used as beginner tap shoes, so students can practice anywhere.

Dedicated Dad

“I want to be fit for my kids,” Tolson says, referring to his daughters Charlotte, 3, and Alexis, 10 months. “The more fit I am now, the better off I’ll be in the long run with them.”

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When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

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"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

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She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

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Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

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