Totally Tap!

January 20, 2010

Last week, I flew to Raleigh, North Carolina for Mark Goodman’s Totally Tap! Weekend, where I was lucky enough to study with a collection of America’s finest teachers, and to see some very talented young tappers. I documented my trip for Dance Spirit.

Day 1

No better way to start a Saturday than in a room full of eager tap dancers. The morning began with a short warm-up led by Mark Goodman himself, assisted by the French-born, now New York-ified, Olivia Rosenkrantz. A few running flaps to get the blood flowing and we were off. Mark bid us good luck and left us in the hands of Olivia, who didn’t waste any time. “Who likes jazz music?” she asked. “We’re going to Swing!”

Now let me be clear here: Swing is NOT synonymous with slow. Olivia surprised all of our ears by putting on some very awesome French hip/hop rap slam: “Je dors sur mes deux Orielles,” by Grand Corps Malade. Despite the song’s English translation—”Sleeping Soundly”—her choreography was quite the wake-up call.

And it was a good thing I woke up, or else I would have never made it through the speedy cramp roll combination in Sarah Savelli’s class, which came next. Do not try cheating your way through any piece of her class, because Sarah has eyes in the back of her head. She reminded us that dancers are constantly being judged.

I had 15 minutes to hydrate and catch my breath before taking Mark Goodman’s class on slides and tricks. As all of you tappers out there know, sliding can be quite terrifying. However, if you open up to the possibility of falling, sliding really isn’t that bad. (Mark actually high-fives anyone who falls on his or her butt.) We slid forward, we slid back, we slid side, we scuffed up the floor, and we had a great time. No one left too badly bruised.

We concluded the day with a practice tap jam. The room was a little uneasy about  improvising. “There is no reason to be embarrassed by anything. Just get creative,” Mark reassured us.

Sarah gave us some advice: “Snap a finger, lift a toe—whatever is going to help you.” Olivia suggested singing: “Maybe the music has a melody. Find the melody. That will make it easier.” She reminded us that Buster Brown knew the words to every single song he ever danced to. And with that, we all let loose to an old tap favorite, Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.”

Timid young tappers gradually opened up to the art of improvisation.  After several rounds of improvising around the circle, we were ready to call it a day.

By the way: You might want to look out for North Carolina native Jamie Yannayon. This 17-year-old tapper not only caught the eyes of every teacher, but tore up some serious floor during Saturday’s practice jam.

Day Two

A bit groggy, but eager to see what the day had in store, I headed out to Max Pollak’s 9 am tap class. “Take off your tap shoes,” he said, greeting us with a smile. What? Wasn’t this a tap weekend? After a few laughs, we formed an enormous, shoe-less circle. Max briefly explained his system, RumbaTap, which uses Afro-cuban rhythms to create a tap dance deeply rooted in Latin music and body percussion. He started us off with some simple stomping. 1,2,3,4….We traveled north and south, east and west.  He then started up a conversation: “How are you?” “I’m Fine.” “This is how it all begins,” he explained. “Our language is rhythmic.” He described the clave, or key, beat. Sha ga di ga da. How are you? I’m fine. Then half the room kept the clave beat going and the other half recited the words, “How are you? I’m Fine.” Suddenly he amped things up with the Mozambique, a tricky combination of claps, thigh slaps, tummy taps, and stamps. MY BRAIN HURTS!

Max’s class certainly woke up my head, and after three minutes of Jason Janas’ class, my feet were also wide awake. “You’ve gotta make it look expensive,” Jason told us after dishing out some frighteningly fast moves rather quickly. “I like Target, I like Wal-Mart, but sometimes you gotta go to Macy’s.” He broke it down a little bit. “Spread it out.” When he felt like we’d gotten his drift, he turned up the reggaeton music, and together, we made some wicked rhythms.

Now dripping with sweat, I had just long enough to take a swig of water and change my socks before Olivia’s gruesome 9’s exercise. What a fantastic warm-up for the brain and the feet! Toe, toe/heel, toe/heel/toe, toe/heel/toe/heel/left toe…Don’t lose count. “1-9.  Alright, now let’s try 9-1,” Olivia called. And then she added another layer and told half the room to do 1-9, and the other half 9-1. Awesome!

We all were wiped, but give Sarah our full attention for her class on clarity. She most definitely whooped our behinds! Now I know why Mark chose the slogan, “You bring the tap shoes, we bring the band-aids,” for this year’s workshop series.

We took a break for lunch and resumed with Jason Janas. We started with a slew of fancy pullbacks, one-footed pullback flaps, and one footed pullback shuffles.  Then he threw in some wing shuffles and paradiddles—and ramped things up to warp speed. How many more classes do I have?

The day concluded with a very successful tap jam. We improved in pairs to a mix of blues, jazz, funk, and Latin music. The teachers all gave great advice, and over the course of an hour, everyone relaxed into the music. Even the tappers who had never jammed before, like 14-year old Ian Nelson, were making beautiful music.  I think Mark Goodman was quite impressed with the “jam-fest-party” that unfurled.

Finally, congratulations to scholarship winners Beau Harmon, Zack Everhardt, Enrique Rosario, Blake Perry, and Jaclyn Ciampi. These young hoofers really worked their taps off that weekend!

If you would like to participate in an upcoming Totally Tap! Workshop,
click here
or check out “Tap University” on facebook. The next workshop will be held February 27-29 in Washington D.C.