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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Physical stillness can be one of the hardest things to master in dance. But stillness in the bigger sense—like when your career and life are on hold—goes against every dancers' natural instincts.

"Dancers are less comfortable with stillness and change than most," says TaraMarie Perri, founder and director of Perri Institute for Mind and Body and Mind Body Dancer. "Through daily discipline, we are trained to move through space and are attracted to forward momentum. Simply put, dancers are far more comfortable when they have a sense of control over the movements and when life is 'in action.' "

To regain that sense of control, and soothe some of the anxiety most of us are feeling right now, it helps to do what we know best: Get back into our bodies. Certain movements and shapes can help ground us, calm our nervous system and bring us into the present.

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