What Inspires Tapper Michelle Dorrance's Choreography

June 26, 2016

Since founding her company, NYC-based Dorrance Dance, in 2011, Michelle Dorrance has won one major award after another, starting with a Bessie and culminating in 2015’s MacArthur Fellowship. Like most tappers, she’s quick to cite the legends and masters who came before her. But Dorrance’s belief in the power of tap has helped her carve out space for her own genre-bending work. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

Dorrance at the St. Louis Tap Festival (Gene Medler, courtesy Dorrance)

“I founded Dorrance Dance to push myself in directions I wouldn’t necessarily choose on my own. We’re working to institutionalize tap and get it represented at colleges, at jazz festivals.”

“My early mentor Gene Medler took us to the second annual St. Louis Tap Festival, where we learned the African and Irish roots of the form.”

“Individual dancers often trigger something I’d like to create. Warren Craft is so striking and unique. He pushes boundaries to the extreme, and he’s entirely unpredictable.”

Members of Dorrance Dance performing The Blues Project (Em Watson, courtesy Jacob’s Pillow Dance)

“I’m obsessed with New Orleans culture. The rawness and improvisation inside jazz music is embedded in tap.”

“I’ve performed at The Joyce Theater in other people’s work, but having our own season there was really special. The dance that has inspired me most? I’ve seen more than half of it at the Joyce.”

“I have three places that are like home: DANY Studios, where I have an artistic residency, the American Tap Dance Foundation and The Clemente theater in NYC. We have a studio there that used to be the urinal!”

Performing SOUNDspace (Matthew Murphy, courtesy Dorrance)

“SOUNDspace is the site-specific work I created in St. Mark’s Church. We explored the way sound reverberated in the space by using different kinds of taps, shoes and socks.”

“Sometimes I picture things when I choreograph. But most often I hear things. I don’t usually know the vocabulary of a piece when I start, but I know the energy.”

“Blues and tap are the oldest American art forms, and they’re rooted in the plantation. The Blues Project was my first full evening of work, and I wanted to put blues and tap together to establish historical context because they’re rarely thought of as contemporaries. The show has affected a lot of communities in an important way.”

“For ETM: The Initial Approach, Nicholas Van Young [pictured] created ‘trigger boards’ that can make a footfall sound like anything. You’re playing the music you’re dancing to,while you’re dancing.”

Nicholas Van Young (Christopher Duggan, courtesy Dorrance)