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!"
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.