Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two street experiences with Tap dance and one quotation from a great Tap dancer, Savion Glover.

Tap dancer at Powel Station, San Francisco. 2009.

I’ve seen people dancing Tap in many occasions in my life, most of them in films, some, live, as spectator and as part of musicals I was working in, never dancing myself though, but enjoying watching it and in some occasions, very especial occasions (I’ll talk about them later), feeling the freedom coming from the dancer with that remarkable sound and that trembling in the floor those foot movements provoke when are very well performed, and on the street.

With the time and studying about acting techniques, and different ways of body speaking on stage, when Tap appeared again in my life I had to stop a little bit more than enjoying it, and thinking more about that strange feeling it has always given to me when is performed amazingly, a Jazz-like feeling of freedom and beauty.

You can speak, have a dialogue or singing in a group only by dancing Tap, and that is absolutely amazing.

But, how do they do it? I accept it, have no idea. It remains a mystery for me.

An flamenco aficionado performing at Teatro La Zaranda, Jeréz de la Frontera, Spain. 1993.

As Flamenco or Irish traditional dance do Tap dancers move spectators making hearts beat at their foot's rhythm. Strangely, the places I have experienced this feeling were not on a theatrical stage but on the street. That doesn’t mean nothing, only a coincidence; what I’m looking for is how to explain better my experience, how to share it with more than “my feeling” of it.

I remember two moments as spectator of a Tap dance performance on the street:

My first experience was when visiting London in 2007, on the Thames riverside (not far of Shakespeare’s The Globe) I found I guy dancing Tap on the street; he was performing on a simple piece of wood, with a colleague musician accompanying him drumming with a box as his instrument... Not talking about the quality of his technique (I guess he was a good dancer) I can only referrer to its dancing as the same unmistakable feeling of freedom and touch-sensitive experience I talked before; its sound of his steps echoed everywhere, including my body. I was seeing a man in ecstasy, impossible to know if was caused by the dance or because some drugs in him; anyway, his feeling was contagious. You can see him in the video I posted here.

Video of Tap dancer performing on Thames riverside, London. 2007.

My second experience, 2 years later, was in San Francisco. A group of street Tap dancers where performing for tourists at the corner of Market street and Powel Streetcars Station. They were happy performing there, having fun while dancing, and we tourists were happy with them. In this occasion dance dialogue and chorus was what I enjoyed most.

Video of Tap dancers performing at Market street. San Francisco, 2009.

For sure many of you have had many great experiences with different kind of dances (street dances or very high professional), having those impressions I’ve been talking here, but do any of us can talk with knowledge about the reasons, about how they work and how they provoke on us this feeling?

Reading some dance anecdotes compiled by Mindy Aloff (1) I found a passage where Savion Glover talks about Tap, its rules and how they usually perform. It doesn’t explain everything but it is a word coming from whom is considered one of the most important Tap dancers in history and heir of a long American tradition of Tap dancers not exactly educated in a school but on the street :

Honi (Coles) and Buster Brown and Lon Chaney and Jimmy Slyde and Ralph Brown and Chuck Green -they thought me the rules. And you have to know about the rules, because that’s respecting the tradition. Take the hoofer’s line for instance (2). That’s where everybody’s doing a paddle and roll and one dancer at a time takes a solo turn. There are rules, but the rules are unspoken, almost secret. The main thing is, you got to finish the phrase of the man before you, finish it and then add something of your own. And if you don’t, you’ll be cut by the next man, embarrassed, you’ll have your own step flipped back on you. You can spit on someone through the dance. You can murder someone through the dance. Dancers do that all the time. It’s part of our ritual to be competitive. And you know when you’ve been cut. It’s terrible, especially if a lot of people recognize it. If it’s like that, you’ll get everybody going: “Oooooooooo...”

So, as Jazz does, Tap "hoofers" got its own secrets rules, maybe I was not mistaken my perception coming from I was feeling about this kind of freedom while performing tap on the street, they are in a dramatic dialogue, taking risks and having fun. After these words I can watch again those videos I posted, and see one more showing Glover dancing with a fantastic group of dancers at the White House in 1998, and then having new approaches to this amazing art.

Video of Savion Glover at The White House in 1998

(1) Dance Anecdotes. Compiled by Mindy Aloff. Page 77 “The Rules

(2) It is not an academic forum but it is a forum where people interested in Tap think about the meaning of "hoofer":

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