Well here I am, fresh off the plane from a week of classes at the Melbourne International Tap Festival – and what a week it was!
If you are someone who loves TAP then make sure you are there when Grant Swift brings us the next edition of this fantastic festival celebrating the wonderful rhythmic art of tap dancing.
In a world full of jazz, hip hop and funk workshops it was great to have a whole festival dedicated to those of us who love to tap. And not only was there the opportunity to do classes with some of Australia’s most recognized teachers including Chris Horsey, Shane Preston, Grant Swift and myself ha ha ha (it was a shame Paul Davis was unable to make it) – but there was the rare opportunity to take classes with Emmy Award winner Jason Samuels Smith and the equally talented Miss Chloe Arnold – both from the USA.
To say their style is different to what we here in Australia are used to is a grand understatement and that was what made their classes so amazing! They are bringing to us, tap dancing that is steeped in tradition. Tap that has been passed down from the African American Tap Masters over the years and then embellished upon and given a modern twist by this new generation of tappers.
To hear Jason and Chloe speak about their mentors with such respect and passion was truly inspirational. Recognizing the contribution of those who came before them is perhaps something that we here in Australia could take on board.
And this is perhaps an aspect of the Festival that I particularly loved. It wasn’t just about doing tap classes, but also about sharing the history of Tap Dancing that has inspired generations of tap dancers all over the world. Dianne Walker, The Nicholas Brothers, “Buster” Brown, Honi Coles, John Bubbles, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson – these are just a few of the tapping trail blazers who laid the foundation upon which we are building today. So if you haven’t heard these names before – get on line – google, you tube and inform yourself, so you can utilize the talents of the past to improve your tapping in the future!
There is so much information out there if you want it and you may be amazed by what you find!
Another aspect of the festival that was great was the ‘jamming’ and ‘cutting competitions’. A cutting competition is when two people go head to head – sort of like a challenge. They start off trading 16 counts, then 8 counts, then 4, then 2…… and each time try to blow the other tapper out of the proverbial water.
This is all done off the cuff – or improvised! The tapper is flying by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go along. The aim is to stay in time and to create a conversation with the other person – using your feet and rhythm of course!
Ideally the first tapper lays down a step and rhythm and the next tapper takes that theme and uses it in his or her response by either adding to it, changing it around or beefing it up and giving it a totally new twist. By doing this each dancer really stretches themselves creatively and rhythmically! And it is so much fun to watch!
Whilst I have done a bit of impro in my time, I have never really experienced a ‘cutting competition’ before and I have to say it was great. To see 6 yr olds getting up and giving it a go was just unreal. They had no fear! They just got up there and gave it their best shot!
And all the while Jason and Chloe were on the side lines cheering them on!
And I think that was what impressed me most about the Melbourne International Tap Festival. The fact that Jason Samuels Smith and Chloe Arnold were so supportive of every other tapper in the room – no matter what their age, experience or ability! These are not only two of the best tap dancers in the world but also two of the most humble, generous and passionate people I have ever met!
They truly inspired everyone at the Festival – not only with their incredible and athletic tapping but with their passion for the art of tap, its history and for people in general.
So let me give you a quick run down of how the Festival worked.
The first evening there was a ‘jam’. Perhaps this may have been better mid week when the tappers who were new to the festival may have been less shy and more willing to join in – but for Grant Swift’s students who are very familiar with this practice it was a great opportunity to get up and cut loose……and this is exactly what they did, trying out heaps of new moves and cool rhythms, all the while accompanied by a jazz band. It was fab!
I have no doubt that in coming years this will become a favourite part of the festival with everyone clamoring to get up and give it a whirl!
Then the week was full of classes – and what fun they were. To be in a class full of people who are there because they LOVE to tap is a remarkable experience. Everyone is passionate about what they are doing. The rhythms just build and build, pushing everyone along!
Then on the second last evening there was a show where we got to sample the talents of not only Jason Samuels Smith and Chloe Arnold but also some local talent – both old and new!
The ever so laid back and suave Chris Horsey was his brilliant self, giving us a sample of his typically rhythmic, musical and understated style. He is one class act and one of my favourite aussie tappers for certain! The humour and subtlety with which he infuses his performances is a unique touch that stamps everything he does.
Then there was Grant Swift (festival organizer) and his sons The Swift Brothers showing us what true passion for tap can achieve. They are one dynamic act that displayed lots of athleticism in their tapping, heaps of tricky moves, lightning fast footwork and a real solidarity with the artform! Their years of studying the American Masters and traditions have certainly paid off and their virtuosity was certainly a hit with the crowd.
Next came Red Hot Rhythm – a group of tappers from Queensland – who had made the trek down for the Festival. They were slick and fabulous – adding a bit of old school charm and class to the night. Think fedoras, shirts, ties and a whole lot of cool! They were smooth as silk and used a lot of canon in their choreography which is one of my must haves in a tap routine – so that made me very happy indeed ha ha ha!
And that was the beauty of this tap show. It utilized and showcased the great variety and personality that can be found in tap dance within Australia. It is one of the most diverse forms of dance you could ever find with such a variety of styles! And perhaps our distance from the USA is what has driven our local talents to create this.
Oh – and I must mention an incredibly talented young man by the name of Thomas Wadelton, who will definitely be someone to watch in the future. He has a passion for tap that is rare and has learned much from his travels to Tap Festivals throughout the USA – and it shows! As I approach the big 40 it really heartened me to see so many young people with an absolute drive and passion for TAP – and for this I must congratulate Grant Swift who tirelessly promotes tap dance in Melbourne and infuses all his students with a love of the boot.
There were other performances on the night as well – I have just mentioned my favourites – but Raw Metal was great as well with a commercial, quirky approach and an amazing drummer who brought an additional element to the evening!
And of course- Jason Samuels Smith and Chloe Arnold. These are two absolute legends!
Their personality, technique, rhythm, dexterity, showmanship, musicality and obvious genuine love for what they do is second to none. You had to feel honoured sitting in the audience watching them. Supreme masters of their art who are willing and wanting to share the knowledge and skill they have acquired over the years.
So – IF YOU LOVE TAP – send the Melbourne International Tap Festival an email immediately so you can be added to their mailing list for next time.
This is a festival that offers you the opportunity to sample classes from some of the best in the world – without even having to set foot out of Australia – how good is that!
Finally congratulations to everyone at MITF – you guys put on a great festival!
And to Kenn Marsh and Jason Coleman @ The Ministry of Dance, where the classes were held – well done on providing not only great studios, but also on being so incredibly welcoming to all who attended the Tap Festival – what a week we all had!
I certainly look forward to supporting The Melbourne International Tap Festival in the future and seeing future generations of tappers benefit from so many great teachers being in the same place at the same time.
It will be wonderful to see even more of our amazing Australian tappers, teachers, students and choreographers join this festival in the future to share their individual and unique takes on tap, so we can all learn from and support each other.
Whilst doing this we can also embrace the traditions and styles from the African American tappers who created the fundamentals of our artform and whose knowledge and style has been passed aurally to the likes of Jason Samuels Smith and Chloe Arnold!
To me it is a rare opportunity at our doorstep!
Sample the unique flavour of aussie tap, as well as the show stopping American style the international guests bring.
So – stay tuned for some more interviews from the Tap Festival in the next few weeks!!
Oh – and if you are looking for a great tap class in Sydney check out Chris Horsey’s Friday Night classes in Newtown – drop me an email if you need more info on that!
And if you are looking for some new moves, check out my DVDs @ www.tapatakoz.com.au
Till next time!
Written by Christine Denny from Tapatak Ozv