Tapper Dominique Kelley proves tappers are here to stay

February 2, 2009

Breaking All the Rules

From New York to Hollywood, tapper Dominique Kelley leaves his mark wherever his feet lead.

When Dominique Kelley entered the audition for the upcoming remake of the movie Fame, the talented tapper knew versatility was key—and that he’d have to bring his “A” game to hold his own against Hollywood’s dance elite.


To catch choreographer Marguerite Derricks’ eye, Dominique mastered combinations across the spectrum of African, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, freestyle and, of course, tap. Though competition was fierce, Dominique landed the gig—which is hardly surprising since this seasoned tapper has honed his craft by doing it all.


“To be able to work, you have to be versatile,” says Dominique. “Being versed in many genres helps you expand your range and expand your mind. If I didn’t know other styles, my tapping wouldn’t be half as good.”


No matter the genre, Dominique’s determination is what shows through in his dancing—as he attacks each movement with deliberate poise and control. With extension for miles, Dominique’s lanky form seems tailor-made for dance, and rarely does it stop moving. From Broadway to film to television, Dominique’s red-hot dance career keeps him constantly in motion—and he wouldn’t have it any other way.


“For me, passion overcomes technique,” he shares. “You can be a tapper with the fastest feet, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have heart.”

Gifted Tapper, Notable Talent


Though today Dominique can’t imagine life without dance, his early attempts were far from love at first sight. “When I was eight, my mom noticed I had an affinity for dance and rhythm,” recalls Dominique. After enrolling at a dance studio in his hometown of Bridgeport, CT, Dominique soon learned the timing wasn’t quite right. “It was May, and all the other students had already been through a year of learning,” says Dominique. “I showed up in a homemade leotard and penny loafers, and I remember crying because I didn’t know the steps or terminology.”


Never one to stay down for long, Dominique decided to regroup and try again the following fall. This time, Dominique took the opportunity by storm. “I basically ate, slept and breathed dance, and in that first year, I went from beginning to senior level,” remembers Dominique.


For the next three years, Dominique spread his training among seven different schools in the Connecticut area, as well as neighboring New York City whenever possible. “I felt I couldn’t get everything I needed from one dance school,” says Dominique. “By age 12, I was doing lyrical, modern, jazz, tap, ballet, partnering, character—I wanted to do it all.”


Though Dominique says he wasn’t a “competition kid” per se, it was a tap solo at Stars of Tomorrow that would propel him into the spotlight. “Some of the judges were casting a European tour of Black and Blue, and [after the competition], I ended up getting a random call to come down to New York and audition,” says Dominique. At just 12 years old, Dominique figured the audition would just be for experience—especially up against seasoned competition such as pop star Mya. Yet he nailed it and was offered the lead part that had originally been performed by Savion Glover on Broadway!


The Black and Blue gig took Dominique everywhere from Berlin to Paris to Amsterdam—and along with seeing the world, Dominique was getting a firsthand education from top tappers like Henry LeTang, Bunny Briggs and Lloyd Storey. “It was such an eclectic group of dancers, and I feel like I got the best dance education of my life,” says Dominique, who was home-schooled by his father while on the road. “I was the youngest person in the whole show, so I got spoiled a bit.”

Movin’ On Up


The opportunities to literally follow in Savion’s footsteps didn’t stop there. When Dominique returned from Europe at age 14, he was invited to attend Funk University, a training intensive for the Broadway show Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk Remembers Dominique, “They were trying to train young men in the style, keep the ball rolling, and see what kind of talent was out there. However, they didn’t know how young I was—everyone else was at least 18 years old.”


When a national tour was announced, the Funk University students were given priority consideration. “At the end of the program, we had private auditions with Savion,” says Dominique. “Nobody really expected me to be able to handle it because it was such adult subject matter. They told me I would probably have to understudy because of my age, but I was offered one of the principal spots.”


Two national tours later (Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk and Wild Women Blues), Dominique was ready to lead a “normal” life for a while. “After five years of straight dancing on the road, you need a little time to heal,” he says. After completing his senior year at a charter high school, Dominique went on to get a degree in Mass Media Communication Research from University of Connecticut—yet as always, dance was never far from reach. Along with earning a spot on the WNBA New York Liberty dance team, Dominique created choreography for numerous cheer and dance teams in the New England area.


Spending time outside the tap scene allowed Dominique to refine and broaden his career goals—and call on his early dance training. “By that point, there weren’t that many tap shows happening,” says Dominique. “I was starting to realize that I could do other styles and do them well.”


Industry insiders agreed, and in 2004, Dominique was cast in the movie Little Manhattan as a dancing roller-blader. Roles in he Producers and Across the Universe and Broadway shows Wicked and Hot Feet were quick to follow. “Being on Broadway is a whole different beast,” says Dominique. “It was a great experience, but what I also realized was that I wasn’t the youngest anymore. It was time for me to step out on true talent.”

Bringin’ Da Funk to Hollywood


In August 2006, California came calling in the form of an ensemble part in the La Jolla Playhouse’s high-profile production of The Wiz. Though Dominique initially was only set to stay in the San Diego suburb for the duration of the show, his mother knew differently. “My mom told me the first day after I got to San Diego that I wasn’t coming back,” Dominique recalls, laughing. “She was right: I stayed, and it was the first time I took a step solely on faith. Some people told me I’d be too tall or too skinny or that I’m only a tapper, but there is nothing I love more than proving people wrong.”


The following January, Dominique decided to do just that by moving up to Los Angeles—where his first job was a serendipitous collision of dance worlds. “I landed a gig working on the show ‘Grease: You’re the One That I Want’ dancing behind the contestants,” he says. “It was really funny that my first job was based on theater.”


Since moving to Hollywood, Dominique has worked steadily in many mediums. He’s tapped alongside Lionel Richie in the TV Land Awards and rocked out with Miley Cyrus in the Hannah Montana: The Movie “It was fun playing a high schooler at age 26!” says Dominique. Yet even though tons of tap opportunities don’t exist on the West Coast, Dominique’s unique background has helped him get noticed on the commercial scene. “I like to sneak tap in at auditions because people don’t expect it,” says Dominique. “I’ll go on hip-hop calls, but what makes me stand out is doing a lot of [tap] footwork.”


Looking ahead, Dominique hopes to branch out into becoming a casting agent along with creating more choreography. And in addition to Fame, he can be seen in the upcoming movies Bring It On 5 and Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. (Dominique’s dancing provided the basis for the animated movements of the Villain character!) Yet no matter which way his career takes him, tap will always be his first love: “No matter how far away I go from tap, I always come back to it. Tap will always be a part of me and inside me.” And that’s one rule we hope he never breaks.

The Dirt on Dominique


Fast facts about this high-energy hoofer:


A Wild Life: Before he made his dollars dancing, Dominique originally aspired to be a zoologist. He even attended the University of Connecticut on a partial scholarship for animal science!


Reality (TV) Check: Dominique assisted Mia Michaels on the most recent season of “So You Think You Can Dance.” He has also performed an aerial routine on “Dancing with the Stars!”


Rockin’ Recognition: Dominique earned numerous kudos for his work in Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, including the L.A. Stage Ovation Award for Best Performance in a Musical and an L.A. Musical Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. In 1995, he also was named America’s Junior Male Dancer of the Year at the American Dance Awards.