Why I Dance: Jenai Cutcher

September 23, 2010

Hailing from Northwest, Ohio, Jenai Cutcher infuses her tapping with youthful energy and hip hop flair. She recently completed an MFA in dance at Ohio State University, adding to notable accom­plishments in performance, film, and writing. While in NYC from 2001 to 2006, Cutcher studied and performed with Brenda Bufalino, Derick K. Grant, Lynn Schwab, and Max Pollak. She also taught at Steps on Broadway. Collabo­rations in Columbus, OH, include Brian Casey and Honk, Wail and Moan; Bradley Sowash; and Joe Krygier. Last year she produced a tap documentary entitled
Thinking on Their Feet: Women of the Tap Renaissance. She has published articles in The Village Voice, Dance Magazine, and Dance Teacher and is the author of three children’s books on dance. Cutcher is now a resident artist in the new Arts Alley district of Columbus, where she continues to explore a variety of media.

I have never encountered something as simple and complex as the study of tap dance. I relate to it on the most basic, visceral levels, but also the most abstract. I experience so much of life through dance, from monumental epiphanies to small, quotidian occurrences, and I think all of it is beautiful.

I love the feeling of tap dance: how the impact on the floor and the sound waves bouncing off the walls resonate through my bo

dy. I love the sound of tap because I notice the rhythms that surround me: the number of steps leading to my office, the routine of phrases my grandpa and I exchange when we hang up the phone, the song of birds and the sounds of buses and eggs cooking. Creating music and movement simultaneously allows me to be equally logical and imaginative. That is why moving to music feels so good; moving in order to make music feels even better.

Dancing is a way for me to give substance to the time and space I inhabit. I challenge myself to commit fully to all dimensions of the present moment and fill it from within. Lately, with the other responsibilities in life, dance is the gift to myself of doing just one thing and doing it to my fullest potential.

I believe in the democracy of tap dance. From its inception in the mid-1800s in the Five Points district of downtown New York, tap continues to be sustained by democratic ideals. Both Irish immigrants and African Americans contributed to tap by sharing their percussive dance traditions in social settings. It is still an art form that embraces an incredible diversity coming from such widespread participation. There is room for everyone in tap dance regardless of age, shape, gender, or background. Everyone has a voice. In whatever small way that philosophy might affect the rest of the world, I want to be a part of it.

I am drawn to participatory cultures. I like to explore connections with others, the music, the earth, the present, history, and future. I look for ways to include—not exclude—others, and I can do that through tap. It is a culture that encourages self-expression but also values a larger sense of community.

Dance is a window through which to view the world. I use it to become a better person. My teacher and friend Lynn Schwab taught me that tap dance is like life. One is constantly learning how to balance, when to exert control and when to let it go, how to listen, how to share, how to adapt, and how to leave space for endless possibilities. Dance is an act of giving and reminds me to maintain a generous spirit.

The act of dancing is something we all own and can use however we wish. Dancing expresses any emotion and serves any purpose. It is spiritual, transgressive, meditative. Today, I am regarding dance as celebratory; I relish the joyful practice that it is. It makes me happy. I am dancing to imagine, I am dancing to give, I am dancing because I can. I am dancing because how better to express gratitude for this body, this time, this life?

Photo by Will Shively.