Meet the Choreographer Who's Tapping Into Pop Culture–Literally
There may be six musicians playing right behind her, but in "Evolution of Tap Dance," a viral video from music group Postmodern Jukebox, tap dancer Sarah Reich is clearly the bandleader. Her transitions are seamless as she guides the band from a sultry, understated rendition of the bossa nova classic "Wave" to a hard-hitting tribute to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk." It's the perfect role for a budding choreographer exploring how tap can become an integral part of popular music.
The 28-year-old not only wants to help earn tap more recognition as percussive music, but also use that music to get more people excited about tap as an art form. "I want to continue to bring tap into mass media with great respect and quality," she says, focusing on "reprogramming the minds of the general public on their perception of tap dance."
She certainly has the chops to do it: The Los Angeles native has performed with Chloe Arnold's Syncopated Ladies and Jason Samuels Smith's A.C.G.I. (Anybody Can Get It), and with Melinda Sullivan, she's one half of the Sole Sisters.
On her own, she has become one of the art form's pop culture ambassadors, thanks to her appearances in videos with Postmodern Jukebox. (A Star Wars–themed tribute, "The Tap Awakens," has garnered over 1 million views on YouTube.) The comment sections on many of these videos are replete with viewers marveling at Reich's technical prowess or confessing that they have been inspired to try tap lessons.
"It's cool to get stopped on the street because people recognize you as a tap dancer—especially in Europe!" she says.
Reich is also working on an album of original music that features tap as if it were a bongo or conga drum in the band. As a Latina, she wants to reach the Latino community in particular. "I know I can bring tap to their attention by doing it to music they already know and like," she says.
With her Tap Music Project intensives in various cities, Reich teaches tappers how to dance with more musicality, communicate with musicians and write music. Using a live band in class, she instructs students on how to "scat" rhythms or transcribe choreography with rhythm notation, among other skills.
She'll be showcasing her own skills on a larger platform soon, as she finishes recording her album and filming music videos to accompany its release—which she hopes is just the beginning: "I want to be the first tap dancer to win a Grammy Award!"
Most people may know Derek Dunn for his impeccable turns and alluring onstage charisma. But the Boston Ballet principal dancer is just as charming offstage, whether he's playing with his 3-year-old miniature labradoodle or working in the studio. Dance Magazine recently spent the day with Dunn as he prepared for his debut as Albrecht in the company's upcoming run of Giselle.
You know compelling musicality when you see it. But how do you cultivate it? It's not as elusive as it might seem. Musicality, like any facet of dance, can be developed and honed over time—with dedicated, detailed practice. At its most fundamental, it's "respect for the music, that this is your partner," says Kate Linsley, academy principal of the School of Nashville Ballet.
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Notable dancer and beloved teacher, Ross Parkes, 79, passed away on August 5, 2019 in New York City. He was a founding faculty member at Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan, where he taught from 1984 to 2006. Lin Hwai-min, artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, said: "He nurtured two generations of dancers in Taiwan, and his legacy will continue."
About his dancing, Tonia Shimin, professor emerita at UC Santa Barbara and producer of Mary Anthony: A Life in Modern Dance, said this: "He was an exquisite, eloquent dancer who inhabited his roles completely."