Generation Tap: Meet 9 Rising Tap-Dance Stars
On stages and screens both big and small, it’s been impossible not to see—and hear—tap dancing thriving and finding new audiences lately, even during the pandemic. Broadway’s forthcoming Funny Girl revival will see choreography from Ayodele Casel. The recently departed Flying Over Sunset featured the work of Michelle Dorrance. Dancer Caleb Teicher captivated audiences alongside Regina Spektor at New York City’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Jabu Graybeal and Demi Remick have been touring the world with Postmodern Jukebox. Chloé and Maud Arnold’s viral music videos recently landed them an appearance on “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” Tap has even made its way to NFTs, a digital form of art consumption—thanks to Savion Glover.
More success is sure to come as young tap dancers see the artform flourish and continue honing their craft. From coast to coast, today’s rising talent is taking to public spaces, social media, TV series, movies and more to share their passion for percussion.
When it’s time for tap class at a convention, some dancers might leave the room. They might claim that they’re not into tap, or it’s not their strong suit. But you can count on Bella Boye to be front and center.
“It’s not that I’m the best dancer or have the fastest feet,” says Boye, a New Jersey native known as “Bella the Tapper.” “But I have the passion and I present myself as a brand.”
She also has an energetic stage presence and clean footwork. Even if she’s just dancing outside on her O’Mara tap board, all of her sounds are crisp and clear. Boye commands the 2-by-4–foot board as though it’s a big stage.
The versatile Capezio Athlete, age 17, has been touring with NRG Dance Project and Revel, assisting tap instructors Brittany Parks and Aaron Parkhurst.
“I’d love to be able to become a teacher at a convention,” Boye says. “I also want to get more into choreography—not just choreographing my own solos, but also seeing my ideas come to life on other dancers.”
Boye’s dancing reaches a wide audience because of her role as an influencer for companies such as Lululemon and Jo+Jax. She frequently models clothes and other products on her Instagram profile, where she has over 22,000 followers.
“It’s an incredible experience getting to work with so many brands that I’ve used growing up,” she says. “It’s not just ‘Bella the Tapper’ anymore. People notice me for me.”
Jaden and Ellis Foreman
When the Foreman Brothers were asked to play Maurice and Gregory Hines on the third season finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, they knew it was a big responsibility. “It felt like we were stepping into some really, really big shoes,” Jaden says.
But when they filmed the episode at New York City’s famed Apollo Theater, the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, told the crew to get ready to film the sequence in one take.
“She knew we were going to get it right the first time,” says Ellis with a laugh. It’s easy to see why: They performed with sliding, skittering feet and relaxed upper bodies while laughing with each other in a knowing way that only close siblings have. They looked as comfortable on the stage as the legendary brothers they were emulating.
It’s clear that many other people have confidence in them too. The brothers recently graduated from the youth company of the New Jersey Tap Ensemble (NJTAP) to the adult company, and have also started teaching adult tap classes. “It’s been an eye-opening experience as to how much impact teachers have on students, especially in dance,” Ellis says. They credit fellow NJTAP performer Maurice Chestnut with showing them what a professional career in tap dance can look like, and with serving as a reference point within the artform.
“It’s really special that we can be that reference point for someone else,” Ellis says.
Freddie and Theodore Tisdale
When watching the Tisdale twins—”Freddie and Teddie”—perform in their matching blazers and bow ties, it’s hard not to think of the many class acts that came before them, such as Coles and Atkins and the Nicholas Brothers. In fact, Freddie and Teddie re-created the Nicholas Brothers’ famous routine from Stormy Weather (yes, including all those splits) for the NBC show “Little Big Shots.” They even went on to perform it on the series’s UK and Colombia editions.
“People can see the connection between us, and that connection makes us feel a lot more comfortable,” Freddie says.
It’s no surprise the 13-year-olds train with another pair of tapping siblings, Chloé and Maud Arnold, who direct the youth company Sole Talk. Freddie and Teddie, who hail from Los Angeles, have even hosted one of the concerts presented by Chloé’s professional ensemble, Syncopated Ladies.
Although they’ve already worked with the likes of J. Cole and Jimmy Fallon, and will be featured on an upcoming Kendrick Lamar project, family is key to their aspirations for the future.
“I want to be able to travel around the world with my brother and family,” Teddie says.
Freddie agreed. “We have twin telepathy,” he says.
Caroline Brodie and Dylan Szuch
Tap dancers are frequently inspired to choreograph to jazz music. North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (NCYTE) members Caroline Brodie and Dylan Szuch took that collaboration a step further. The two friends are currently filming themselves dancing to songs by musicians such as Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and Nina Simone in front of murals of those artists throughout the state.
“It’s helped me realize how many jazz musicians came out of North Carolina,” says Szuch, 16, a 2022 YoungArts winner.
In his performance during YoungArts Week in January, he matched the rhythms of an intricate piano piece. Szuch’s elaborate footwork exploded into sequences of slides and crawls, his long legs reaching for the punctuation of scuffs and toe tips.
The two have plenty of experience honoring those who came before them. They recently performed in a tribute concert to NCYTE founder Gene Medler. Brodie produced the event, which featured tap luminaries such as Brenda Bufalino and NCYTE alumna Michelle Dorrance.
“It was fulfilling to do this for my mentor,” Brodie says. “I’ve always heard people talking about Gene. I wanted to make a vessel for him to hear everything that they’ve been saying.”
The 15-year-old dances with ease. Her arms swing freely while her feet spit out rhythms of distinguished clarity and complexity, evidence of her drumming studies and her explorations of tap as a form of music.
She hopes the next chapter of her career will unfold in New York City, where she plans to keep performing and teaching.
Szuch’s dream is to tour with Dorrance Dance or Caleb Teicher & Company. He also wants to offer healing retreats for tap dancers.
“There are a lot of festivals for growth and continued practice,” he says. “But I don’t think there are many festivals for people to just enjoy the dance and to come back to why we started dancing.”
Zyla Harris-Petter has met a number of celebrities since moving from Boston to Los Angeles earlier this year, but she says it doesn’t faze her.
“When I meet famous people, I just act myself, not all excited and crazy,” she says. (“Unlike me,” her mother chimes in.)
Harris-Petter met Kevin Hart when she performed with Debbie Allen Dance Academy at the Super Bowl LVI Pregame Show last month. She also worked with Ryan Reynolds on Spirited, the forthcoming holiday film based on A Christmas Carol.
The movie reunited Harris-Petter with choreographer Chloé Arnold, her mentor. Thanks to Arnold, she has performed at Radio City Music Hall, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and D.C. Tap Fest.
The 10-year-old even dances with a full-bodied commitment to the rhythm that’s reminiscent of Arnold. Harris-Petter is as comfortable with a hard-hitting hip-hop groove as she is with a tricky tap sequence. She can make even a small move like snapping her fingers look larger than life.
In the future, she hopes to visit Paris and dance in front of the Eiffel Tower. Her globetrotting won’t stop there, though.
“I want to start a foundation and create a group like Syncopated Ladies that travels the world, dancing and teaching people the history of tap dance,” she says.
Dance lessons can be expensive, and for Alex Bello’s parents, it also cost them new furniture.
“My mom had to buy a sturdier ottoman when I was 5 because I kept trying to get up and dance on it,” says the 13-year-old New Yorker.
It seems only appropriate that the young hoofer, who has trained extensively with Broadway veteran Lainie Sakakura, landed the title role in February’s New York City Center revival of The Tap Dance Kid.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” he says. “I got to dance like I had never danced before.”
In the number “Crosstown,” Bello’s character tries to dance along with a bustling ensemble that mimics Manhattan’s busy streets. Bello fit right in with the adult company. His loose ankles, swinging arms and emphatic scuffs demonstrated a mature movement quality. He taps like he speaks: He’s relaxed, yet clear and confident with every note.
Just a week before rehearsals for The Tap Dance Kid began, Bello finished the Broadway musical Caroline, or Change. He also had a role in several episodes of “And Just Like That” on HBO Max. The triple threat says he would someday like to star in projects he writes and produces for himself, à la Lin-Manuel Miranda.
As for dream roles, he has his eye on The Emcee in Cabaret or Billy Flynn in Chicago.
“I’d love to play a character who just gets to do everything, whether it’s a lead or an ensemble role,” he says. “As long as I get to do all the things I love: act, sing and dance.”