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.

Latest Posts


BalletMet costume shop manager Erin Rollins in a costume fitting with Leiland Charles. Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet

A Costume Shop Manager's Expert Advice for Making Your Dancewear Last Longer

What's the best way to extend the life of your favorite leotard or piece of workout wear? Aside from fabric quality, it largely comes down to what you do on laundry day.

We spoke with Erin Rollins, costume shop manager at BalletMet, for her top tips on keeping your beloved dancewear in rotation for years to come. (Spoiler alert: No, washing and drying everything on the same setting isn't advised.)

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS