Meet the Choreographer Who's Tapping Into Pop Culture–Literally
PC Andreas Branch
There may be six musicians playing right behind her, but in "Evolution of Tap Dance," aviral 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!"
My best running buddy was on my left. To my right, a total stranger with whom I'd suddenly become competitive. As the 15-person group headed into a two-minute push, the instructor got hyped, and the remix blasting Rihanna's "We Found Love" transitioned to "Smooth Criminal."