How do you build a tap dance community?
Do you schedule classes, jams, special workshops, shows, build a studio?
How do you mobilize people to dance? How do you get people to care about what you do?
Way before The Philadelphia Community Tap Project, I was confronted with those questions for the first time around 2003, when I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia for graduate school. I ostensibly moved down there to get a Masters degree and study and write and maybe get a private school teaching certification, but no surprise, I ended up dancing the entire time I was there. In 2003, there was actually a very cool and high-quality modern dance scene in Charlottesville, and I jumped right in. One of the first places I found was McGuffey Art Center, where I started taking class with Miki Liszt, Dinah Gray and Ashley Thorndike. Also, at that time, Zen Monkey Dance Project was producing a lot of great work, under the direction of Katharine Birdsall. Eventually, I started rehearsing and performing with the Miki Liszt Dance Company and Prospect Dance Group, (directed by Dinah and Ashley). Oh, and yes, minor side note....I was also living in Charlottesville, when I got to perform a jazzy opening number with Tony Bennett at the Paramount Theater! (That's a blog post for another time).
So, when was I tap dancing? I wasn't really. I kind of didn't tap dance for the first 6-12 months I was in Charlottesville. After a half-hearted attempt to find an existing class, I concluded that tap dance just wasn't happening there. There was definitely tap dance in Washington D.C., but that was about 2 hours away by train. I figured I wouldn't be in Charlottesville long enough to start something up. I didn't have the time to get around to scheduling my own class, (the whole graduate school thing).
Then, as it always does, tap dance found me.
1) I answered an ad for a part-time summer dance instructor job through the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department. After my interview, the director decided I should spearhead and run an entire tap dance program for kids and adults. From 2004-2006, I taught 3-4 classes a week around the city.
2) Word got out and I started teaching a weekly adult tap dance class at McGuffey Art Center, and the class got pretty popular.
3) I started meeting other tap dancers! This is one of my favorite tap dance stories, so get ready.
In 2004, I was setting up for one of my adult tap classes at Carver Recreation Center, when I hear these shuffle pullbacks of death, positively barreling down the wood stage. The feet were CR-ispy clean. When I heard these sounds, it was akin to hearing angels singing, "HALLELUJAH!" I look up, and I see this girl in tap shoes standing there. I'm thinking, "OK, feet of death, hello to you, too." Her name was Lauren Squires, and we struck up a tap dance friendship that exists to this day. Lauren now directs her own wildly successful tap dance company in Columbus, OH called Movement Afoot.
And then after that first shuffle pullback meeting, Lauren and I made a couple of pieces for a show, and that was a lot of fun. So, yay?! I was in a new city, I thought I wouldn't even tap dance and I I ended up meeting tap dancers, I created some classes, I got a chance to perform a few times. End of story?
Well, yes. That story ended when I moved back to Philadelphia in 2006. Lauren now lives in Columbus. The small community that we managed to build in a year in Charlottesville did not sustain itself, according to Google.
But, for both of us, I think it's always been: OK, THEN WHAT. How do you mobilize people to tap dance? How do you get people to care about what you do? How do you find others like you?
For me, I definitely tried, but I couldn't answer any of these questions, until I figured out who I really was as a tap dancer. (Part 7).