I come from a lineage of survivors: African Americans who endured the brutality of slavery, Native Americans who survived forced genocidal migration, and my Jewish grandmother who escaped the Holocaust. My ancestors' enduring spirits live inside of me, giving me an indelible foundation of strength and compassion.
On the bookshelves my mom filled in our one-bedroom apartment in inner-city Washington, DC, sat a book called To Be Young, Gifted and Black, written by Lorraine Hansberry. Those words were aspirational, and empowered me to imagine a place beyond our limited conditions.
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."
Michelle Dorrance has just returned from Stockholm, where she was teaching without pause for much of the previous week. Before that, she had a pit stop in New York, a quick gig in Los Angeles and performances in New Hampshire. "It was relentless," she says in a huskier-than-usual voice, owing to a cold. The breakneck itinerary is an apt illustration of what an in-demand artist she has become, especially since receiving a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2015.
While that recognition may have introduced her to a new audience, dance fans and critics were already swooning for her sophisticated musicality, thrilling ensemble arrangements and layered choreography that hits a wide range of emotional notes.
Yet Dorrance would rather not be the subject of this profile. Though a proud ambassador for her art form and always eager to promote it, she resists the false narrative that often accompanies stories about her of a so-called tap revival, and the impulse to identify a "lone ranger" to represent it. "Tap's always been around. There's always been brilliant artists, it's just not in the spotlight," she says. "It was the same conversation when I was a teenager in the '90s." (Then, Savion Glover, with whom Dorrance has performed, was the "It" tapper.)