Tappers Won’t Stop: Tap City’s first night

July 11, 2008

Tap dancers don’t even stop dancing when they accept their awards. That was evident on Tuesday night at Symphony Space when Tony Waag and Constance Valis Hill presented a Hoofer award to Tina Pratt. She just kept floating around the stage, tapping in her easy gentle style, even when she said her Thank Yous. She got Hill and Waag moving too, so it was all a little confusing, but more fun that way.

    Some of the other treats of Monday night were Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards dancing with one high-heeled shoe and one flat shoe, thus embodying the choices of women tappers today; the smooth and sensual Josette Wiggan in her solo Bahia; a young and fresh Japanese trio under Derick Grant’s tutelage called Zen; Jason Janas leading a team of body percussion of Tapestry Dance Company (choreography by Acia Gray); the unpredictable Kazu Kumagai dancing to a lovely rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” (with guitarist Masa Shimizu); and Jason Samuels Smith giving it his all, with wonderful rhythmic surprises. Chloe Arnold danced while she spoke her “adapted” version of a Maya Angelou poem (“I am a woman”). I noticed that the speaking forced her to look out at the audience, something that many of these tappers don’t do a lot of cause they get so hunkered down—which I like, but it does deprive us of their faces.

    The second Hoofer Award went to Derick Grant, who bounded up onto the stage—and also never stopped moving. His Tribute to D, (D as in Derick) closed the show, the first of the four-day NYC Tap Festival. None of us New Yorkers got to see Derick Grant’s Imagine Tap! extravaganza in Chicago, so it was nice to get a glimpse of it here, in the form of Tribute to D. He filled the stage with some of the best tappers of the day: Jason Samuels Smith, Michelle Dorrance, Jared Grimes, Kendrick Jones, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Kazu Kumagai, and Chloe Arnold. The star power was dazzling. It was like watching fireworks in all different parts of the sky. Trouble was, it was only a five-minute number—even with a pair of hip hoppers thrown in (Ephrat Asherie, aka “Bounce,” a Dance Magazine “25 to Watch,” and DP One)—and I was hungry for more. But it reminded me how race-and-gender diverse tap has become. In the 70s when you saw great tappers, they were invariably black men—people like Charles Honi Coles, Chuck Green, Peg Leg Bates, and, the last to go, Jimmy Slyde. But a lot of white women, like Jane Goldberg, Brenda Bufalino, and Lynn Dally have kept the field alive and moved it forward. And now the new generation is made up of every race, nationality, and gender—and so was the audience at Tap City.