Tapping Across the Universe

July 5, 2009

Last December, 28 teens, 17 adults, a seven-piece band and a five-member tech crew traveled to Beijing, China, to perform in
JUBA! Masters of Tap, an all-American tap extravaganza at the Fifth Annual Beijing International Dance Festival. The performers came from six youth ensembles—Tappers With Attitude Youth Ensemble (DC), Footprints Tap Ensemble (IL), Keane Sense of Rhythm (MN), North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (NC), RPM (TX) and Soul-2-Soles (IL)—and were assembled by Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Lane Alexander, who put the whirlwind show together.

In addition to the teens, the show featured an all-star cast, including Harold Cromer, Tre Dumas, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Ted Levy, Jason Samuels Smith, Sam Weber and Lane Alexander.

Each youth ensemble rehearsed the choreography in its hometown; the group came together for the first time in Beijing. Hours of rehearsals resulted in three incredible two-hour concerts. The youth ensembles performed nine pieces, including a closing number featuring 45 young Chinese tap dancers from Yan Ling Dance School.

Four members of the award-winning Tappers With Attitude—a preprofessional dance company based at Knock On Wood Tap Studio in Silver Spring, MD—kept a diary to share with
DS readers! Here are some excerpts.

—Victoria Moss, artistic director, TWA

December 17-18, 2007

Liza Mayman (15):
“Ni hao!” (Hello!) It was so exciting to get on the plane with five other youth companies to go to the Beijing Dance Festival! By the time we got to Tokyo, 24 other teens from North Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas were on our plane, along with many of the adult dancers, our jazz band from Chicago’s Columbia College and our Chicago-based tech crew.

December 19, 2007

Maria Guerrero (17):
Breakfast at the Beijing Exhibition Centre Hotel is a mix of typical American and Chinese breakfast and lunch foods: eggs, bread, cheese, muesli, fried rice, pickled and stir-fried vegetables and congee—a rice porridge similar to oatmeal.

Justin Allen (15): The Beizhan Theatre has 2,900 seats and beautiful decorations. Performing on such a big stage is going to be overwhelming.

Hannah Kenton (15):
Today we went to Tiananmen Square and the very beautiful Forbidden City, which is the Ming Dynasty Imperial Palace. It’s funny that so many Chinese people take our pictures, while we all want to take their pictures! Being in China is amazing times 10 million.

Our guide taught us to keep vendors away by saying “Wo bu yao,” which means, “I don’t want it.” That didn’t stop one vendor from hitting me on the head with a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao!

December 20, 2007

We rehearsed from 9:45 am to 5 pm. At one point in Harold Cromer’s Opus One, the dancers all yell out “Ti Ta Wu,” which means “tap dance” in Mandarin. That was a lot of fun! We did a million trenches; we’re going to be so sore in the morning!

We were joined by the pros for the Shim Sham and the Walkaround. Working alongside tap geniuses like Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Jason Samuels Smith, Sam Weber and Harold Cromer is beyond belief.

December 21, 2007

During rehearsal, Jason Samuels Smith gave us complicated steps to try. It was cool!

Harold, Tre Dumas, Dormeshia, Ted Levy, Jason and Sam all performed great solos. Mr. Cromer was especially great—I love watching him sing and dance. It’s such an honor to be here with him!

It was amazing to dance the national anthem of tap, the Shim Sham, with the teen dancers from Beijing’s Yan Ling Dance School, in Beijing! We knew tap was pretty popular in China. This school has some great teachers and hot young dancers.

Although most of the Chinese dancers didn’t speak much English, nor did we speak Mandarin, we were still able to communicate through our art, which was beautiful.

December 22, 2007

The audience here is very different from the audience back home—they take flash photos, videotape and talk on cell phones during the show. One guy was even waving glow sticks around! In the U.S., we make sure no one films choreography without proper permission, but in China intellectual property rights don’t really exist, so we just had to accept it.

December 23, 2007

Today we shopped at the Pearl Market. Our bargaining skills are better now, so we saved a lot of money. Then we went out to dinner; the food was spicy but good. We all had to use chopsticks. Tonight was our last show. The audience loved the Chair Dance, which is a fun piece because we perform sitting on chairs.

I would give anything to live this experience again.

December 24, 2007

We woke up at 4:30 am to go to the airport. It was sad to say goodbye to our friends, but I know we will see them at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Youth Tap Ensemble Conference this summer. I learned so much from this experience. People here are very polite, and yet shopping and bargaining can get very aggressive. It was interesting to learn how to bargain without being insulting. Even though we weren’t able to communicate with words, I hope that our show opened people up to a different culture and dance style.

As an American teenager this experience taught me a very valuable lesson: If we want a safe and peaceful world, we have to learn to work together. We have to understand each other, and figure out how we are similar, instead of just looking at how we are different. We must meet on common ground, and art can be that common ground. It’s funny to think that a teenager, no matter what nationality, can change the world with something like the Shim Sham. It made me think about how petty our usual daily concerns seem, when compared with the bigger issues in the world today.