I was starting to wonder if Dallas DanceFest was even going to happen this year, but my reservations were laid to rest last week when the Dance Council of North Texas announced on its Facebook page the dance companies that will be participating in this year’s festival, which has been strategically renamed Dallas Dances.
The festival has received criticism from the beginning about its focus on mainly local dance companies and for its inclusion of pre-professionals from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Local Dance Critic Manuel Mendoza touched on these sore points in his review of last year’s Dallas DanceFest, which boasted the question “Why doesn’t Dallas have the dance festival that it deserves?”
In his review Mendoza basically says that by including the pre-professional dance studios, high schools and university programs in the area the festival is actually doing a disservice to the more established dance companies in the area.
He writes, “North Texas professional companies are the ones putting the area on the dance map even as they struggle to find suitable places to perform in a town starved of small, affordable venues. They are the groups competing for public and private grants so they can aim high, so they can someday pay their dancers something close to what their New York counterparts earn.”
He continues, “Most important, they are the ones doing the most complex, interesting work.”
What I think people are overlooking is that the mission of the Dance Council is not to exclusively support and promote just the professionals in the area, but also the up and coming professionals that stem from the local studios, performing arts schools and universites. And I think this is where the mission of Dallas DanceFest starts to get murky. Is the festival suppose to only highlight the professionals in the area? Or is its main target the young professionals and giving them a unique performance opportunity?
Apparently festival organizers have decided it’s a little bit of both if this year’s line up is any indicator.
I think the Dance Council has come to realize that they should stick true to their overall mission, which is fostering and promoting every type of dance and dancer in the Metroplex and I believe the name change better reflects the vibrancy and diversity of the Dallas dance community.
With that said, here are the dance companies performing at this year’s Dallas Dances:
Dallas DanceFest has announced its 2017 line up which shows a lot of hometown pride.
Wow! It is hard to believe that this year marks the 4th installment of Dallas DanceFest (DDF) which was created in 2014 under the guidance of arts patron Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas. It looks like the festival’s mission of presenting high caliber and well-rounded dance performances will continue this year with a program that features all the major local players as well as the largest showing of pre-professional companies to date and a handful of relatively unknown dance companies from around and outside the Metroplex.
Let’s start with the bigwigs in Dallas dance. For the fourth straight year Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre will be featured at DDF as well as their smaller counterparts DBDT: Encore! and the Texas Ballet Theater School.
We will also see pieces from some repeat dance companies, including Dark Circle Dance Company, Contemporary Ballet Dallas, Indique Dance Company, Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble and Houston-based NobleMotion Dance.
DFF 2017 will also feature a number of first timers, including Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Center for Ballet Arts, Impulse Dance Project, Uno Mas and Grandans. Southern Methodist University Meadows dance student’s Kat Barragan and Arden Leone will also be showcasing work for the first time at this year’s festival.
I am also pleased to see so many familiar pre-professional ballet companies on this year’s roaster, including Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX), Ballet Frontier of Texas (Fort Worth, TX), Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX), Dallas Ballet Company (Dallas, TX) Royale Ballet Dance Academy (Dallas, TX) and LakeCities Ballet Theatre (Lewisville, TX). I have seen these companies perform a variety of dance styles from classical and neo-classical to more contemporary and jazz movements and I am eager to see how these aspiring professionals handle the pressure of sharing the stage with the more seasoned artists on this year’s program.
We have also seen a surge in the number of dance festivals occurring around Texas over the last couple of years so, it didn’t surprise me to see the Rhythm and Fusion Festival and Wanderlust Dance Project in this year’s line up. If you’re interested in reading more about the rise of dance festivals in Texas then you should read Nichelle Suzanne’s 2015 article for Arts+Culture magazine entitled Talent, Training, Festival & More: Fueling Contemporary Dance in Texas.
The 2017 Dallas DanceFest will take place Sept. 2-3 at the Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. More information about the festival can be found on the Dance Council of North Texas website.
The Man with the fast feet on the resurgence of tap dance in America, choreographing for So You Think You Can Dance and participating in the third annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival this weekend.
This weekend approximately 200 tappers from more than 20 states as well as Canada and Mexico will converge at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District for the third annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF). The event, which is produced by local tap instructor Malana Murphy and runs Jan. 13-16, offers attendees a slew of training, networking and performing opportunities all in one inspiring setting. Tappers will have the opportunity to participate in numerous master classes focused on technique, tap history and music theory in addition to a cutting contest, tap jam, solo showcase and the popular RIFF faculty concert, this year called TAPN2Tap, which for the first time will also feature youth groups from across the nation, including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Washington D.C.
RIFF’s 2017 faculty roster is its largest to date with 20 guest artists from across the U.S. and even abroad, including Canada, Cuba and Brazil. The line-up includes Chloe Arnold (Syncopated Ladies), Anthony Morigerato (Emmy nominated choreographer, Season 12 So You Think You Can Dance), Max Pollak (originator of RumbaTap), Derick Grant (original company member of Bring In ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk) and Dianne “Lady Di” Walker (artistic advisor to the Tap Program at Jacob’s Pillow), just to name a few.
One of the returning faces this year is New York City-based Choreographer Anthony Morigerato. Morigerato trained at Marymount Manhattan College where he performed modern and ballet works by Robert Battle, Elizabeth Higgins, Jiri Kylian, Katie Langan, David Parsons and William Soleu. As a performer he has been a soloist and member of Michael Minery’s Tapaholics and is the lead tap dancer and choreographer for the musical group Matt and Anthony. Morigerato has also performed on stages all over the world and on T.V. shows, including the Tony Danza Show and NBC’s America’s Got Talent. He is also the executive director and choreographer for AM Productions.
His popularity has skyrocketed over the last two years thanks to his guest choreographer spots on So You Think You Dance, one of which earned him an Emmy nod in 2016. (Watch the video here.) He has also served as an adjudicator and master teacher for dance organizations, competitions, theater schools and dance studios throughout the nation since 1999. Today, Morigerato continues to travel the nation performing, teaching and choreographing.
TheaterJones.com connected with Anthony Morigerato last week to discuss his distinctive tap style, the changing job market, choreographing for SYTYCD and participating in RIFF.
TheaterJones: How would you describe your tap style?
Anthony Morigerato: I don’t know that I am an objective enough source to speak about my own tap style. How I perceive what I do is probably very different from how an audience member perceives my work. What I can say is that I am super inspired by tap dancers and artists generally of all kind. As a small child I grew up watching Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, The Nicholas Brothers, Eleanor Powell, Ginger Rogers and such. As I got older I began to appreciate the hoofers and rhythm tap dancers of the subsequent generations, including The Condos Brothers, Jimmy Slyde, Baby Laurence, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. I am also a trained dancer in modern dance, ballet and jazz. So my style, if you will, is a collection of these influences, intentioned in various moments by a multitude/variety of artistic forces.
What role does your formal dance training play in your choreography?
I went to school at Marymount Manhattan College and studied composition [choreography]. Aside from formal dance training, I have also had formal compositional training. Being a tap dancer this was huge for me as a large part of our form is rooted in an improvisational tradition. As a performer I improvise. As a choreographer you are employing different skills so it was important for me to learn and develop on those skills.
What do you like students to take away from your classes?
I like for students to take away from my classes how much I love tap dance and how much I want to see them succeed in the form. I also want the students to feel challenged physically, technically, musically and spiritually in my classes. I want them leaving with at least one thing that stumped them that they have to go home and work on and possibly some advice that they will employ throughout their lives as artists.
How did you get involved with So You Think You Can Dance? How has that experience impacted your career?
I got involved with SYTYCD as a consequence of the saying, “being in the right place at the right time.” I performed as a guest in a show in LA that the producers of SYTYCD attended. It just so happened that a month later they had decided to make a concerted effort to bring tap dance to this format for the first time and they said, “hey let’s call that guy who we just saw perform last month.” A stroke of good fortune and timing.
Choreographing for SYTYCD has been a great opportunity for me to show tap dance in a mass media setting and exposing audience members to the form who would have other wise not had the opportunity maybe to see tap dance. The format is challenging and difficult to make tap read well in and I welcome the challenge and approach the opportunity with great relish.
What do you get out of participating in tap festivals such as RIFF?
I get the opportunity to work with aspiring tap dancers and shape their perceptions of the form. That in and of itself is thrilling and important work. Education and passion for a life’s work are tenants as a human being I believe in deeply. RIFF gives me the opportunity to express myself in action in both of these tenants.
You also taught at last year’s RIFF event. What do you think of the talent here in Dallas? What advice do you have for tappers looking to break into television and film?
I think that Dallas and many areas of Texas and many areas of the country for that matter have some of the brightest prospects and serious talent our form has right now. Great teachers in this area coupled with interest from the students in the form has made for tap dance to feel truly energized. RIFF is a microcosm in this area of a phenomenon that is going on in tap dance all over the world. That is really cool!
For young dancers I would say to them work on your technique, work on your form, work on your musicality and have a point of view as an artist. If you are looking only to be famous or be on T.V. chances are you will never even receive the opportunity to do so. Focus on being an amazing artist, a humble human being who people enjoy being around and have a tremendous work ethic. If you excel in these areas the opportunities you seek will begin to present themselves. Also remember the road is not linear, it twists, detours, splits and is long. Let the road take you to unexpected places, you will find new opportunities and new people that will change your life as an artist and as a person truly for your betterment. Use every opportunity to grow and you will be a satisfied person and artist!
How has the job market for tappers in particular changed since you started out? Is there more variety?
I think that tap is making a comeback in Broadway shows, on TV and in other performance environments such as Vegas and others. However, I would say that tap dancers have to develop skills in many areas as producers, teachers, writers, film makers, etc. Creating your own opportunities and vehicles to work is a huge part of this business.
Where would you like to see the art form go in the next five years?
I don’t like attempting predicting the future, but I would like to see an environment in which tap dance has equal funding, institutional support, media coverage and opportunities that all other dance forms enjoy. My life’s work is in attempting to make this a reality for subsequent generations of tap dancers.
Body musician Keith Terry brings his unique style to Dallas’ first Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF) happening this weekend at the Majestic Theatre.
Dallas — Finger snaps, foot stomps, chest womps and butt slaps. These are just a few of the body parts Keith Terry uses as musical instruments in class. He also pops his fingers, shuffles his feet and whistles. He calls this blending and bending of tradition and contemporary musical and dance elements body music.
As a trained percussionist Terry was a drummer for the Original Jazz Tap Ensemble when he started incorporating hand claps and foot steps into his work. His “ah ha” moment came in the late ‘70s while playing drums for a tap dance class. “I had this thought about what it would be like to make music with my body so, I stood up and started playing around with this idea of being a body musician. After class Charles “Cookie” Cook and Charles [“Honi”] Coles came up to me and encouraged me to pursue it. I took their advice and I am still pursuing it.”
Over the years Terry has studied a variety of rhythmic techniques from Japanese Taiko and Balinese Gamelan to North American rhythm tap and Ethiopian armpit music. He travels extensively in the U.S., Asia and Europe where his body music performances, workshops and residencies are popular among professional performers and educators. “I am fortunate that I get to travel a lot and it has really opened my eyes to different ways of thinking about rhythmic time in different parts of the world.”
As a soloist Terry has been featured at Lincoln Center, Bumbershoot, NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition, PRI’s The World, the Vienna International Dance Festival and the Paradiso van Slag World Drum Festival in Amsterdam. From 1998 to 2005 Terry was on the faculty at UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures, where he designed and taught a dozen courses on the relationship of music and dance, including deep listening, synchronicity, time and timing. Terry is also the founding director of Crosspluse, an arts organization dedicated to rhythm-based intercultural music and dance located in Oakland, California. In 2008 he formed the International Body Music Festival (IBMF), a 6-day festival that explores the language of body music from culture to culture. It was actually at the 2014 IBMF in San Francisco where he met Katelyn Harris, the co-producer of Dallas’ first Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF).
Terry is currently in town for the festival which runs Jan. 16-19 at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas. He is teaching alongside Chloe Arnold (Beyoncé and founder of Syncopated Ladies), C.K. Edward (national tour of The Book of Mormon) and Harris (artistic director of Dallas-based Rhythmic Souls Dance Company). For those dancers taking his class for the first time, Terry says not to worry. “I see body music as the first music. I mean before we were making instruments we were stomping and clapping. There’s just something really old and familiar about it makes people feel comfortable when doing it.”
His teaching style has grown organically throughout the years. He requests his students to wear sneakers as tap shoes will overpower the other sounds. During warm-up he views his body as a drum set with the claps being the snare drum, the bottom being the tom-toms and the feet being the kick drum. His says his classes are more than about just training body musicians. He has taught ballet, modern and taps dancers as well as actors and theater folk. “It’s about using the material to get that rhythmic understanding inside them so they can then express whatever style they are doing.”
Professional tapper Chloe Arnold on her fly foot work, tap dance in the 21st century and participating in Dallas’ first Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF).
Dallas — Savion Glover. Debbie Allen. Desmond Richardson. Beyoncé. Only a handful of dancers can say they have worked with these incredibly talented artists. And even fewer can say they have impressed them with their poignant and zealous tap dancing. By 10 years old Chloe Arnold knew tap dance was her calling. From that moment on she did everything she could to hone her skill set with the hopes of one day becoming a professional tap dancer. She sought out the best in the tap world to train with, including Savion Glover, Gregory Hines, The Nicholas Brothers and Ted Levvy. She continued her training while in college at Columbia University in New York City at the Broadway Dance Center and at backstage jams with the cast of Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring In ‘da Funk.
Arnold knew in order to make it big in a field largely dominated by men she would need to bring something fresh to the table. Ironically enough it was Arnold’s all-female tap group, Syncopated Ladies, that would catapult her career and catch the attention of celebrities such as Beyoncé and hit T.V. shows like So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent and Dancing with The Stars.
Arnold is also committed to sharing her technique and professional experiences with other aspiring tap dancers. In addition to being seen on film, television and stages worldwide, Arnold is also the co-founder of DC Tap Festival and co-director of LA Tap Festival. She has taught at studios across the nation, including Broadway Dance Center, Ailey Extension and Debbie Allen Dance Academy and also tours with New York City Dance Alliance. It was at a Tap Festival in Houston a few years ago when she met Katelyn Harris, artistic director of the Dallas-based tap troupe Rhythmic Souls. Harris and Malana Murphy are the co-producers of Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF), Dallas’ first tap festival, where Arnold will be teaching and performing. The event feature master classes, improv jams, tap battles and a performance showcase, and also features other percussive dance forms, such as Irish step dancing, flamenco and folklórico. RIFF takes place Jan. 16-19 at The Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas. You can see a full schedule below this interview.
TheaterJones asks Chloe Arnold about honing her skills, creating Syncopated Ladies and what she hopes tappers will take away from her classes at Dallas’ first Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF). There’s also a faculty performance at 8 p.m. Sunday, for which tickets are $35.
TheaterJones: How did you hear about the Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF)?
Chloe Arnold: I met Katelyn at a Soul to Soul Festival in Houston back when she was a part of Tapestry Dance Company. I heard she was moving to Dallas and teaches at a studio where I also teach master classes and attends New York City Dance Alliance (NYCDA). It was cool because I met her in the festival world and then I met her again in the convention world. I have seen a lot of her work on our stages at NYCDA and it’s always phenomenal. So, it was cool to meet someone who can transition between both worlds and has such a wonderful voice in dance and in tap.
What are the main differences between festival tapping and convention tapping?
The primary difference would be that in the world of festivals the focus is on musicality and technique and getting these to their ultimate proficiency. Improvisation is also a big part of the festival setup. In the convention world they focus more on the performance aspect of tap dance. But what I have seen is that there are now more dancers from the festival world entering into the convention world by way of teaching at a convention or a studio like Katelyn’s, which has increased the skill level of these studio and convention tap dancers. My hope and vision is that through events such as RIFF we can bridge the gap between these two worlds so the art form as a whole can be elevated.
What motivated you to pursue a professional tap career?
I have always loved tap dance and when I was 10 I had the incredible experience to meet and work with many of the masters of tap. So, I got to see firsthand people having a tap career and living as a tap dancer and for me that was enough just knowing it was possible. So at age 10 I started to assert this dream of becoming a tap dancer. I have studied other styles of dance, but I knew I wanted to be a tap dancer. I have a really strong sense of conviction that has been fostered by my parents who raised me to believe that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. I have encountered many challenges and tons of rejection, but I am a cup half full type of person and so what some people might consider a loss I consider an opportunity to learn.
What was your first big professional gig?
When I was in college I did a musical in Atlanta with Debbie Allen called Soul Possessed. It was an eight shows a week production and the cast included Desmond Richardson, Carmen De Lavallade and Patti Labelle. That was certainly life changing because I got to experience what it’s like to live as a dancer. When the show was done I went back to school, and I just had a greater sense of mission and what direction I wanted to take with my career.
Why did you choose to attend college over starting your professional career?
It wasn’t even an option to not go to college. When I went to New York to see some friends who were in Bring In Da Noise Bring In Da Funk they told me I should go visit Columbia University. Actually, Savion Glover’s brother took me to Columbia for my college visit when I was 15 and I made up my mind right then that this was the place for me. I went back to my home in Washington, D.C. and did everything I needed to do to make that a reality.
How did your all-female tap troupe, Syncopated Ladies, originate?
After college I move to L.A. and I would go to this tap jam on Monday nights and one night it was all ladies and I was blown away. I remember looking around the room and thinking these are amazing women who need to be in a group. So, I set a work on them that they did at an annual tap festival. That was back in 2003 and we all were so young and so green in terms of cultivating the whole package. But it was the foundation for what would one day become Syncopated Ladies. They were women that could improvise, learn choreography and were also learning other styles of dance. We have maintained a very close friendship over the years. And then one day while we were having girl time we decided we just wanted to rock out and that’s when we started creating videos and I started to expand my vision. It was time for me to go for it instead of just waiting for our once a year thing. The five stunning ladies I started with are still here plus two more that used to be my students. It’s truly a sisterhood and when we dance together its really cohesive because we know each other so well.
Syncopated Ladies is known for its girl power mentality. How did you develop this fierce and feminine style of tapping?
I’ve always had a girl power mentality from childhood. I was always the girl who was doing whatever the boys were doing. I was not afraid to dive into “a man’s world” and tap is a man’s world even though more women are now doing it. So, when I moved to New York it was really a boy’s club and I knew I wanted in. Once I got my skills and taps together and was starting to be heard I realized that instead of fighting to prove myself it was time for me to be true to who I am. And that includes the feminine aspect which Syncopated Ladies touches on in our dancing. It’s centered on this idea that we can still be taken serious as tappers even if we are wearing a cute outfit and our heels. This is where the feminine style came from and it was really influenced by Debbie Allen and Beyoncé. I have worked with both and they really brought out the woman in me.
Where you surprised by the vast support the Syncopated Ladies received during the dance crew battle portion of Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance?
There are far more tap dancers now connecting because of social media, but largely because there are more tap festivals than ever around the world. We are really a global community and I think that is our greatest strength. When Syncopated Ladies was on Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance the producers were surprised by the number of votes we received from countries all over the world. We had people tweeting from Brazil, Japan and Europe. People don’t know this, but the world of tap is vast and united. And sometimes when you are marginalized it makes for a stronger fight. We still have a long way to go, but I think it was great that this past season SYTYCD had two tap dancers in the final. I also think it’s great that Dallas will know have its own tap festival because it’s only going to increase the appreciation and the visibility for the art form and that’s the key. The more people feel welcomed to the field and feel like they can do it the greater the visibility.
What would you like the young dancers at RIFF to take away from their time with you?
I am aware of what my colleagues are doing and teaching so I think about that when I am preparing to teach a class. If the other teachers are covering x, y and z then I am going to focus on a different aspect of tap. I like to inspire people to go beyond what they have learned already so it’s very much in line with my life and my career. I want to make people believe in themselves. For me, it’s more about challenging your fears and finding inspiration and I do that through technique, choreography and improvisation. Tap is huge in Dallas and this festival is going to be the perfect timing to, like I said, bridge the gap in the tap world. It’s a place where everyone who thinks they are different can come together and realize how similar they are and how they all share the same love for tap.