What is Tap Music? Sarah Reich's New Album Uses Tap Dancing As an Instrument

Sarah Reich has turned her tap shoes into instruments. Photo by Christopher Erk

Perhaps the most precious tradition in tap dance is honoring the elders, reflecting a belief that dancers cannot tap a sound without re-sounding the steps of the masters. This show of gratitude is not nostalgic but regenerative: the practice of realizing the future from the past while making one's own inscription on the tradition.

And so it is with Sarah Reich and the release of her debut album, New Change, a mix of original tunes composed of percussive tap rhythms performed by Reich and an ensemble of jazz musicians. The tunes are dedicated to and named after jazz tap masters—from Harold Cromer, the tap dancer/vaudevillian who was Reich's decade-long mentor, to such notables as Ted Louis Levy, Arthur Duncan, Ivery Wheeler, Jason Samuels Smith, Brenda Bufalino and Dianne "Lady Di" Walker.

What is "new" in New Change is the common-sense idea that tap dance is music—and that it can be composed by tap dancers.


Tap Music By a Tap Dancer

"I always had a dream of writing music. My mother was born in Mexico City, and my grandma always had Latin music around. My father made sure to make me culturally aware of black music, jazz. I especially loved Tito Puente. These rhythmic melodic ideas are what I hear in my head when I tap dance.

"I studied with Denise Scheerer, who would bring a drum kit to class. And she would have a drum manual, Syncopation, by Ted Reed. Exercise Number One was just eighth notes, and then we would improvise on quarter notes, and sixteenth-note triplets. That's when I realized that tap is music. And that tap dancers are musicians.

"Instead of always dancing to jazz standards, which is traditional, I want to compose original music, collaborate with musicians, create a rhythm, have the musician learn it, and then build a song together."

How to Make Tap Music

"The whole process took four years. I wrote the first song, 'Gemini Vibe', with my good friend Danny Janklow, a saxophonist. I told him I would improvise an idea, and when I liked it, I would scat it to him melodically, how I hear it, and he would transcribe it the way he hears it. So instead of playing all the notes, we shared them!"

Honoring The Elders

"I want the audience to hear the voices of these legends. On 'Harold Cromer,' you hear a message he sent me, which I have always saved, since he passed away in 2013. On 'The Groove,' you hear vocal samples from two 1980s documentaries, About Tap and No Maps On My Taps. On 'Ted Louis Levy,' you hear him scatting 'You're a pure, honest connection to rhythm, everything rhythm.' After you listen to 'Arthur Duncan,' you will want to Google his name and find out more about this wonderful artist who appeared for many years on the Lawrence Welk Show. For 'Dianne Walker,' my idol, and 'Brenda Bufalino,' who I spent a week with at the Beantown Tapfest in Boston, I wanted people to experience what I have experienced as a tap dancer—to be taught by the legends."

An Emotional Time Signature

" 'For Chance' was written for my friend and teacher, Chance Taylor, who committed suicide. When Chance passed, it was really hard for me. I set the tune in 6/8 time because it sounded like a heartbeat. It helped me to channel him and to experience what I thought was the mental state he was going through. I recorded a first and second track to create polyrhythm. It was nice to show that rhythm can be emotional."

What It Was Like To Work With a Vocalist

"I composed 'My Baby Just Cares for Me' with Maya Sykes as vocalist, and we toured it with Postmodern Jukebox, with Scott Bradley on piano. I wanted to be the drummer on this tune, not to go over her sound. I like for others to solo, for people to listen to tap like they would listen to drummers doing the brushes."

Her Grammy Dreams

"I applied for consideration for Tap Music to be considered for the Grammy Awards! I want audiences to understand that tap can be respected as a musical instrument, and that tap has always been a large part of jazz history."

New Change is available on Sarah Reich's website, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Spotify.

News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

Keep reading... Show less
In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox