Ayodele Casel

Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

"In Tap Dancing, I Found Another Language"

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.


But as children, we are resilient, we absorb information quickly, and I learned the language with the help of my grandmother. I wound up returning to New York City six years later where I then struggled with English since I'd been out of practice. Determined, I walked around with a pocket-sized dictionary and thesaurus in my backpack.

Ayodele Casel hops on one foot against a white backdrop. She is wearing tan tap boots, gray jeans and a black tank.

Michael Higgins, Courtesy In The Lights PR

During my senior year of high school, I discovered the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They were magical to me. I wanted the ability to move like them, and I started to teach myself. I took my first tap class as a sophomore in college and became obsessed.

At the time, I thought tap dance was simply a joyful way of moving one's feet and body. But when I learned about its origins being rooted in the power of communication, self-expression and traditions of African-American people, I found myself tethered to this art form for life. In tap dancing, I found another language.

I dance because I still get excited every single time I lace up my tap shoes. I dance to express joy and to express gratitude for the gifts I've received in my life. Though it was difficult as a child to leave a place of familiarity, I am so thankful for the experience of being placed in an environment where I had to learn to communicate, to learn another culture and another way of living. I love sharing that part of who I've become.

I love that after all these years of practice and performance, I am still inspired and intrigued by this musical art form. I am still trying to figure it out. Still learning. Still growing.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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