Why I Dance: Michelle Dorrance

March 31, 2015

I never decided to be a professional tap dancer. I just always knew that I would never stop tap dancing. There is nothing in the world like embodying music and dance at the same time. There is nothing like dancing for the very purpose of creating a specific rhythm, or a crescendo, or a feel. Hoofers don’t have to dance to jazz, to create jazz. We don’t have to dance to funk, to bring the funk. The music I want to create defines my movement; the music I feel inside is often why I dance.

My mom, M’Liss Dorrance, is the reason I first fell in love with dance. I started at age 3 at the school she founded, the Ballet School of Chapel Hill, in North Carolina. Despite her professional career in ballet, feet so strong she’d often demonstrate pointe work in her slippers, I had a tough time in ballet. My dad, Anson Dorrance, a record-breaking soccer coach, gifted me with flat feet, tight hamstrings and a more reckless approach to movement. Even my best efforts garnered me the nickname “noodle arms.” However, my mom always applauded my natural musicality, whether it was pretty or not, and soon I was old enough to study with one of her partners at the school, Gene Medler. Dancing with his North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble changed my life. He is the reason I found my life’s passion in tap.

Gene taught me what a tremendous honor it is to be a tap dancer. He brought me to study with the living legends before they passed away. Can you imagine hanging out with “Peg Leg” Bates as a young teenager? This man lost his leg in a cotton gin accident at 12, and went on to be a game changer in the form with a wooden peg for a leg! Why do I dance? I dance to honor the oppressive circumstances my tap ancestors had to overcome to impact our culture. I dance because tap dance has been around for decades longer than jazz music and modern dance but is still not institutionalized academically. I tap-dance because it is still vastly considered only entertainment and not art. Some of the most groundbreaking technicians and most sophisticated improvisational dancers in the world are tap dancers. I dance so that they are no longer neglected in the study of movement development and dance history. I dance to embody the sophistication and nuance of the different techniques and styles that these men and women innovated. I dance in hopes to show how much more cutting-edge the form can be. I tap-dance because of the thrill of its improvisation, the complexity of its music and the endless possibilities of its movement. I dance to simultaneously lose myself and be myself.