MASTERS OF AMERICAN TAP DANCE
A COLLECTIVE GIFT TO TAP DANCERS FROM FRED STRICKLER
Masters of American Tap Dance is a brand new collection of ten-minute tap instruction videos featuring the contributions of 38 of America’s best tap artists and teachers, including Brenda Bufalino, Lynn Dally, Max Pollak, Heather Cornell, Sam Weber, Acia Gray, Barbara Duffy, Josh Hilberman, Shelley Oliver, Fred Strickler, Peggy Spina and many others.
The series was conceived, coordinated and produced by tap dancer Fred Strickler, in conjunction with the artists and teachers, who produced their individual videos. Each artist/teacher has contributed an instructional video specially designed to offer you a wealth of experience and knowledge that will give you access to greater power, skill and artistry.
On May 25, 2010, in celebration of National Tap Dance Day, Strickler simultaneously launched twenty-six instructional videos on YouTube and a new user-friendly web site with photos of all 38 artists participating in the project.
The remaining dozen videos are being added as they are ready, and all are expected to be available soon. Those will include videos with Jason Samuels Smith, Chloe Arnold, Mark Mendonca, Lane Alexander, Dianne Walker, Gene Medler and others.
When you go the website, you can click on any artist’s photo for more information about the artist, or click on a link that will take you directly to that artist’s video lesson on YouTube.
A collective gift to tap dancers, choreographers and teachers everywhere
By Fred Strickler
I got the idea late in January, 2010. I had recently volunteered to coach a group of people in developing their community leadership skills in a 4-month program offered by Landmark Education. Participants and coaches created and took on implementing projects designed to transform their communities, so I chose my favorite, the world of tap dance.
A few important questions popped up right away. What tap community? Which one?, I asked myself. Who’s in it? Where is it? What is there to transform? Is there anything missing that could be put in to make a substantial difference? Who could benefit? A crucial question: Who would be willing to join me? And I didn’t have any ready answers.
I’d been looking at tap dance videos on YouTube. There were plenty of entertainment videos in all styles of tap, old and new, that were often impressive. When I looked at the tap instruction videos, there were hundreds, but here was a noticeable shortage of videos that went beyond the basics of techniques. However, I knew that there were many extraordinary teachers of rhythm dance who have a very broad range of techniques, choreographic styles and advanced ideas about improvisation that would be immensely valuable to YouTube viewers. If only they were available.
I thought of the major tap festivals that still go on in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis, and how fortunate the students are who attend any of those. They get to learn from top notch faculty at these summer events. Mostly, though, the best teachers are spread out all over the country -- well, all over the world, actually.
Then I thought it would be fantastic if there were a way to put together a cyber-community that could tap into all that talent. What if there could be a video series of the best tap teachers, each one offering a free glimpse into the mastery they’d achieved as artists and teachers? What if they could be available to any one at any time? YouTube!
It occurred to me that there could be a series of mini-master lessons that could be available – for free – so I started with a list of about ten people I thought might be willing to contribute videos. The first person I called was Shelley Oliver, who was a founding member of Manhattan Tap. I’d followed her work via YouTube and was very excited by her choreography, her dancing, and her teaching. She was really enthusiastic for the idea of a video series and said she’d be honored to participate. With her encouragement, I started calling the others on my list.
The name, Masters of American Tap Dance, came very quickly, and with every new phone conversation, the possibilities for this project expanded. I was delighted that virtually everyone I invited to participate in the project was excited and honored to contribute to this project. It was absolutely clear that everyone was passionate for tap and cared deeply about advancing the quality of the entire community. It was so heart warming to hear again and again: “Yes! This is a great idea. Tap dancing needs something like this. I want to contribute something. Count me in.”
Almost everyone I talked with suggested other people I should invite to join the project, so my list got longer and longer. Within two weeks I had about twenty wonderful artists and teachers in the project, and eventually 38 artists agreed to contribute their work.
Miriam Nelson, at 90, is the most senior of the tap masters in the series, and Michelle Dorrance, who is in still in her ‘20s, is the youngest. There are artists of every generation since the Tap Renaissance began in the early ‘70s. All bring something unique and powerful to the series.
One the hallmarks of tap dance is that every dancer, choreographer and teacher develops a personal style. There aren’t so much schools of thought about tap as there are individuals who have mastered their art in a way that is unlike anyone else’s. The way one person moves is unlike any other. The kinds of rhythms one makes is different from all the others. The musical interests and tastes of one dancer are distinct from every one else.
The vocabulary and terminology are different. One person scats rhythms; another only counts them; another does neither. One teacher breaks things down slowly, in detail; another demonstrates at full-throttle and challenges you to pick it up any way you can. One teacher wants you to do the steps exactly the way she demonstrates them; another wants you to learn it and make it your own. This is what brings such amazing richness to the whole field of tap dance and what gives it such a bright future.
The are so many ways to tap dance. Every teacher wants you to get it and will be sweet, serious, light, funny, demanding, commanding, critical, charming, patient, and persistent – or whatever else might be required to make you dance the rhythms just right.
I realized that it would take time for people to produce their own videos and send them to me. To get them all up in time for National Tap Dance Day, I’d need some help with the technology, so I met with Ryan Amen, who is a talented composer and web master, to find out what it might take to get all these videos mounted and launched onto YouTube. He suggested starting a website for the project and within an hour, we had secured the domain and chosen the basic design format.
As the video tapes and website materials arrived from each artist, Ryan did a heroic job uploading everything, so it’s important for me to say a big big thank you to him on behalf of all the tap masters. I also want to acknowledge all the people who helped the tap masters make their tapes – the videographers, dancers, musicians and webmasters who made each video possible.
There’s a great poster announcing the series. It was designed by Kathy DeAtley, who donated her time and considerable talents to this project. Thanks to you.
My last and biggest thanks go the all the tap masters for their generosity, wisdom and burning talent. Masters of American Tap Dance will undoubtedly raise the bar for tap dancers who are hungry to learn new skills and exercises, original choreography and powerful ideas about rhythm and movement.
So – what’s next? Getting all the videos up and running so that the entire project will be available on YouTube as soon as possible. We’re so close. In my view, this is a project that deserves to be placed in the archives of some important library dance archives as a historical document of American Tap Dance in 2010. I plan to make a master of all the videos, photos & bios, and make them available to the Library of Congress and the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library.
There have already been some inquiries from other tap masters about joining this project and I never got to the end of my list of people to call, so I think it might be valuable to consider another series. Maybe it could be called MORE Masters of American Tap Dance. There could even be a world-wide series. Let’s call that one Global Masters of Tap.
The floor is open. Who wants to dance?