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Gregory Hines: We Just Don’t teach #Tapdance.

THIS week so many people are reflecting on the great #GregoryHines (Gregory Hines Tribute Taplegacy Website) because Feb 14th was his birthday. Among other things, #Optap (Operation Tap) was posting great memories of the man, Jane Goldberg has been sharing fantastic intimate emails she has been making available to the public, and Andrew Nemr was kind enough to send me a personal message asking about my interaction with Mister Hines. This blog is a slight more in depth version of what I shared with Andrew.

THE universe was kind enough to have me meet and interact with Gregory Hines twice. The first time was the summer of 1997. Gregory came to the Union Square Theatre, in NYC, to see “Tap Dogs”. Although I was supposed to perform that night, I had only been in the cast a few weeks by that point and someone played the seniority card, so I had to sit for that show. I was, however, tasked with bringing Mister Hines a handwritten note. At the 5 minute call, I left backstage and walked into the house, down the aisle, and found Gregory in his seat. I introduced myself to one of my favorite dance icons ever, and handed him the note. The note was an invitation to meet with the cast backstage after the show. He was kind, had this amazing energy that radiated a very positive vibe, asked my name, and thanked me.

AFTER the show, Gregory came backstage to chat with that cast. He was very impressed with it. He especially enjoyed the “Triggers” (a set of 6 drum pads that we played with our feet) section of the show and mentioned it reminded him of the scene in the movie “Tap” where his shoes were turned into electric drum sounds. He was totally into the show and was glowing because of how happy he was seeing what Dein Perry (Choreographer of “Tap Dogs”, “Hot Shoe Shuffle”, 2000 Sydney Opening Olympics, “Bootmen”, “Happy Feet 2”) had created and how clean, precise, funny, and energetic the show was. It felt really good to be part of “Tap Dogs”, but it felt even better to have the positive input of someone I held in such high regard. He spoke very highly of what we were doing and what had been achieved by Dein, & the cast, for tap dance, itself.

THE second time I met Gregory Hines was on the street in Manhattan. The first time meeting him was amazing; the second time was life changing. We were both attending “Steel City” at Radio City Music Hall and ran into each other near the stage door. The first thing that blew me away was the fact that he recognized me and remembered my name. We started chatting and continued to do so for about 20-30 minutes. It was about that time a young child recognized Gregory and came up to us. It was a short exchange, but definitely had a beautiful effect on that young man. Then it lead Gregory to say something to me that greatly changed the course of my life. He expressed the fact that we should always teach and share whatever knowledge we have to keep tap alive and well. He said something to the effect of “we don’t just teach tap dance, we teach life through tap dance.” Simple, brilliant, and very wise words. I was always a teacher, but this changed everything for me. I will always remember that. Those words were so special and continue to be relevant to this day.

THIS past year, I produced a show in NYC entitled “Sounds of a #Taplife”  It encompasses life, tap dance, and a few monologues. In the opening monologue, I tell a bit of the story of Gregory and me on the street. Most importantly, I mention Gregory and I share that quote with the audience. It is one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me in my life and I am grateful everyday for having had that knowledge bestowed onto me. Thank you Gregory, for being such an inspiration to not only tap dancers, but to humanity.

(In recent news, “Sounds of a #Taplife” will be adding 20 minutes of new material and has just confirmed that it will show again on 11/11/16. This date happens to be the Friday night of the 2016 Big Apple Tap Festival. It will returning to Dixon Place in NYC.)

Evolution of Tap Dance from a Different Perspective

ev·o·lu·tion
noun: evolution; plural noun: evolutions
  1. the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth.
  2. the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.

Somewhere around 1999 – 2001 I started writing an article I called The Evolution of Tap Dance. At the time I may have not been the best candidate to write something like that but I had things in my brain that needed out. That said, I have revised it a few times over a period of years. I was always so torn whether or not I should try to get it published or even let other people read it. As inclusive as I feel tap dance is meant to be, others see it a very different way, especially all those years ago. I believe I even nervously sent it to Acia Gray to read at one point. Unsure what to do, the document sat in my Google Docs for many years. This was way before it was attached to gmail and monikered Google Drive. I held it back because I was concerned I would never be ever accepted into the tap community if I spoke my mind on the topic. Especially after the way I, and others, were disregarded by so many important people because of our roles in Tap Dogs. I feared it would be taken as criticism rather than love. It is, after all, just one person’s personal experience and observation from a semi-inside perspective. It was, and still is, a pretty good snapshot, or representation, of the time we were in. In the article I surely expresses my feelings as a person who was a tap dancer, who was told he wasn’t a tap dancer, because he was a Tap Dog and that doesn’t count. So it sat. Never to be seen or heard from again. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to 2015 when I recently noticed a Webinar posted by Andrew Nemr (who is very knowledgeable and I look forward to speaking with again). The Webinar was on the Evolution of Tap Dance. Obviously I had to sign up.  I attended and it was great. It was informative, educational, and I even got to ask a few questions. I highly recommend you do sign up for any of his webinars or events offered in the future. The experience also put lots of perspective on the backlash Tap Dogs received from many established artists in the tap community and why I felt the way I felt at the time. It surely eased some of the pain I experienced so long ago. I left the conversation getting closure on emotions I had long forgotten.

That said, I think it’s time for me to finally release that article I wrote so many years ago, flaws and all. I personally have not altered it since the last version somewhere around 2005/2007-ish. I did have two peers read it recently to explore and eliminate typos, flow of the article, and any other inconsistency that would make it a difficult read or untrue. I skimmed through it once or twice but when I do I want to “fix” things. Like making minor adjustments here or there, or including names and more recent developments such as newly recognized International Tap Festivals, the string of Independent Choreographer driven youtube videos such as Gravity by Justine Myles (click this link for a youtube playlist that is steadily growing with such examples), Hillary Marie and her new show “Soul Walking”, Sarah Reich and her Tap Music Project, or Chloe Arnold and the Syncopated Ladies who recently had major success on SYTYCD. I am a Star Wars fan and I do prefer the Original versions of those films before they were re-edited upon re-release. I get why George Lucas changed them but “as is” has a certain charm to it for those movies and for this article. Leaving it be is also a proper representation of the “sign of the times”.

So, without further ado I give you my Evolution of Tap Dance (As seen through one persons perspective during that particular time period).  No more disclaimers. Fingers crossed. I hope you enjoy.

“I have always been a tap dancer. As a child, I emulated Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, James Cagney, and Donald O’Connor. I enjoyed the acrobatics that Gene and Jimmy brought to their performances. I loved the humor Donald was always sure to pull off, I appreciated the style Greg had to offer, and I loved the idea of making music with your feet. Although I was aware of these performers, and others who embraced the art form, I felt very alone for most of my career as a tap dancer. It took a variety of experiences to make me understand why I felt this way. Finally, after close to ten years performing in the show Tap Dogs, working with hundreds of dance studios, conventions, competitions, and festivals, and talking with parents, teachers, and tap students across North America, I understood. Tap dancing never evolved!
I have felt this way for years, but feared the controversy expressing my views would cause. Now, after all my travels and experience, I realize that my description of tap as a stagnant art form is not controversial at all – it is the unfortunate truth that all tap dancers, young and old, need to hear and begin to embrace.
When I was a young child in tap class I knew only one form of tap, the traditional, or Broadway, style. This form of tap is exemplified in shows such as 42nd Street and Crazy for You. All of the dancing is done on the balls of the feet, and every dancer is in unison, executing the same step, sound, and beat at exactly the same time and tempo. The great MGM musicals of the past also showcase traditional tap dance. Though I did notice a great deal of athleticism in these movies, the tap style was mostly cut from the same cloth. Although passionate teachers tried to keep this style alive, its popularity ultimately faded. As teachers became less well-rounded it suffered more and more, became weak, and wore out.
Later in my life, I discovered hoofing. Hoofing is characterized by low, fast, intricate foot work, exemplified by masters like Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown, and Henry LeTang. Some great shows performed in this style were Black & Blue, The Tap Dance Kid, and Jelly’s Last Jam. Most recently, hoofing was demonstrated in the movie Tap starring Gregory Hines. Sadly, almost every legend from this film has passed on, including Hines himself.
Unfortunately, I was never able to find a teacher who actually taught hoofing in a traditional studio setting. Teachers of traditional tap always “broke down” the steps, while hoofing required students to simply “watch and learn”. This greatly reduced the number of students able to carry hoofing into the next generation. However, some famous dancers were able to learn hoofing from the masters. Savion Glover, Roxanne Butterfly, and Jason Samuels Smith are all modern hoofers. The show Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, as well as some excellent Jazz-Tap shows and yearly festivals carry on the hoofers’ style, steps, and techniques. Shows such as these, as well as River Dance, Stomp, and Tap Dogs, have brought tap back into the light. Many tap dancers say, “Those shows prove that tap is alive and well,” or “We are honoring people like Buster Brown with doctorates from places like Oklahoma City University. Tap is fine.” Well, that is only half true. Yes, we are honoring our past, but tap is not alive and well, especially compared to other styles of dance. “Alive and well” should indicate growth and new directions. Bring in ‘Da Noise was terrific as far as choreography goes, but I disagreed with its negativity towards Billy BoJangles and the Nicholas Brothers. Also, the tap showcased in this show was predominantly hoofing and self-acknowledgement, not an updated style of tap or an evolution of the art form. River Dance (except for one small scene), Stomp, and Lord of the Dance do not even contain tap dancing, so they cannot be considered when analyzing tap’s evolution. The dancing in River Dance and Lord of the Dance is Irish step-dancing, which is its own genre, and Stomp showcases musicians with unusual instruments. Tap is not alive and well, as evidenced by tappers’ eagerness to pass off other styles of dance as “evolved” tap. Tap has not evolved.
The only show that has helped tap evolve during my lifetime is Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs. The first time I saw Tap Dogs was the first time I noticed a change in the art of tap dancing. The show embodied traditional ideas and techniques, hoofing, extreme athleticism, energetic rock music, and cannons, phases, and cross-rhythms. It was the first show to combine all of these elements of tap dance. I was blown away. While watching all I could think was, “These guys are freakin’ nuts” and “How the hell did they just do that for 116 minutes?” When my shock wore off, I realized something. It was the first time in my adult life that I had been amazed by tap dancing. I suddenly did not feel alone anymore, but I wondered, “Why wasn’t this show playing everywhere and why wasn’t it on every dance studio’s radar?”
I kept wondering why tap never evolved while other styles of dance grew and changed. Traditional jazz became Fosse, Hatchett, MTV, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and Madonna. Would we have “vogued” without the benefit of our jazz roots? Jazz later evolved into breaking, poppin’, lockin’, and years later, hip hop. Ballet created modern Graham, Alvin Ailey, and Limón. Even MGM musicals led to movies such as Chicago, Saturday Night Fever, Breaking, Step It Up, and more. What happened to tap? Why did it remain stationary while both jazz and ballet evolved themselves to keep up with the changing times?
As I became more and more involved in the dance world, I continued to think about why tap had been left behind as other dance forms evolved. During the next few years I was blessed with the opportunity to meet many famous tap dancers, such as Gregory Hines and Ben Vereen. Gregory came to see Tap Dogs when we performed at the Union Square Theatre in New York City. After the show he came backstage and spent over an hour and a half chatting with the cast. I was both amazed and impressed by his sincere interest in our presentation of his beloved art form. Months later, I had the honor of seeing him after the premiere of Steel City at Radio City Music Hall. I was elated at the amount of time we spent on the street in New York City, just talking. He, the amazing Gregory Hines, was talking to me, just a tap dancer in the hot show of the moment. I felt insignificant standing next to him, but he made me feel as important to the legacy of tap dancing as he already was. He told me to teach, in order to pass on what I knew to others. When I was teaching at the Dance Teacher Summer Conference in New York City, Ben Vereen was the keynote speaker, and he gave the same message as Gregory: Teach! Pass on what you know. Make it last. Get kids interested. If you love what you do, do it to the fullest. It was the second time in my life that I had been greatly inspired by a person I respected and looked up to as a tap dancer and a performer. Both of them praised teaching and the progression of tap as an art form.
As my career continued, I added more classes to my schedule, attended more workshops and conventions as a master teacher, and expressed the importance of teaching dance. I encouraged teachers to seek out ways to be better so that their students could be better, to use updated music that students can relate to, and find steps that complement their dancers, not discourage them. Today, I teach my theory on the evolution of tap dance to all of my students. I use old names, new names, recent news, old news, current music, older music, music on the radio, and everything I have learned in my 35 years as a tap dancer. I am still learning and hopefully will learn forever. A good student makes a better teacher. My approach to teaching is what I call the “Christopher Columbus Theory”. If we only taught students that Columbus discovered America, we would only be teaching them part of the story. It would provide a good starting place, but it would be a gross negligence in the long run if it was the only story we taught. Similarly, why teach just one form of tap when we can encompass many different tap styles in our teaching? I believe that it is imperative, now more than ever, to bring tap into the present. My continuing tap series is like an updated version of Al Gilbert’s records. I am hoping these DVDs will allow me to reach out and help get some teachers back on track, while giving others that spark of creativity most could really use throughout a dance studio year. In return? The teachers get better, the students improve, and tap will have the potential to become exciting and influential again.

It took us years to recognize the legends that are now passing away. Some will pass on without recognition, and some will never be known at all. Will the tap dancers of today share the same fate? When I look at dance magazines, I see only the names of people who embrace the history of tap and traditional, well-established forms of tap. I believe that all tap should be embraced – the new as well as the old. The history of our art is rich, and the future could be wealthy. The future of tap will be determined by how the old embraces the new. If more well-respected tap dancers and traditionalists spoke positively about the importance of new forms of tap, the evolution of tap would be acknowledged and more widely accepted.
Overall, the evolution of tap dance is evident if you know where to look. I have students, and I have connections with master teachers, parents, and studio owners around the world who share my views. Now we must get the rest of the industry on board. When we achieve unity as a tap dance society, the future of tap can be solidified.”

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and please feel free to send feed back to me, via this website, by click this link —> Send Anthony Feedback

 

2014 Summer Florida Tap Tour Recap

Hi – Been a while and I thought it was time to post something in the TapLife blog. For the past two years I have had an amazing time setting up and teaching a Summer Studio Workshop Tap Tour in Florida. Well, at least that was the idea. It didn’t take long for it to go from a few tap classes to performances with Noise Complaint and an appearance at a tap festival to become part of the experience. After the first year Jenne wrote about our travels together and the article was published in Florida Dance Magazine. To keep with that tradition I asked Jenne to submit an article that I could add to the Taplife Blog. So, without further ado, this years submission of the 2014 Summer Tap Tour, By my friend, student, assistant & peer, Jenne Vermes.  

-Tap w/u Soon, Anthony Lo Cascio

Summer Tap Tour – Take 2!

Master Tap Teacher Anthony Lo Cascio Returns to Florida to Educate, Inspire and Perform (Article By: Jenne Vermes – Staff Writer, Choreographer, Professor, Novelist, Dance Teacher and Director of Noise Complaint Tap Company)

The world of tap dance is full of masters, and the best part is each one brings something unique to the game. For the second year in a row, studios and workshops throughout Florida were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn from a tap master whose style is different, innovative and fun. Anthony Lo Cascio, who was the first American with a role and a 17 year Veteran of  the international sensation Tap Dogs, is currently a on faculty at Broadway Dance Center in New York City, director of Taplife Company and can be found teaching workshops across the United States.

This past summer, his travels and workshops led him back to our neck of the woods, Florida. Here he shared his gifts and knowledge of tap dance with several dance studios, the SoFlo Tap Fest, Pensacola State and, as a new addition to the tour, audiences at both CONJure and Tampa Bay Comic Con. Anthony’s credentials as a performer, as well as his teaching experience with major conventions such as Dance Olympus and Dance Caravan, are what got him on the Sunny Florida Map in the first place. However,  it is his unique personality and style of teaching that has people asking him to come back again and again. He truly inspires everyone; Students, teachers, parents, business owners, and audience members alike, if you cross his path, you will feel the effects.

Just like last year, his first event this summer was to teach at the PSC Summer Dance Workshop, a week-long workshop at Pensacola State College. Anthony is a veteran teacher working with this program, everyone from locals to students who travel from all over the southeast participate in this workshop. While in Pensacola, he traditionally Choreographers at Five Flags Dance, This summer he had the pleasure of setting a piece of choreography on their youngest competition team. That piece will be performed this coming season. (Side note – After two years of assisting Anthony at this event, I have now earned my own spot on Faculty and will be teaching my own classes at the 2015 PSC Summer Workshop).

Later on in the summer, after a quick trip to NY where he had the honor of performing the marriage ceremony for two of his best friends, Rev. A Lo , as his friends efficiently now call him, returned to Florida to strat the tour portion of the Summer. He brought his teachings to Arts Edge School of Dance and Theatre in Fleming Island, Abella’s School of Ballet in St Augustine, Tampa Gymnastics and Dance, Rizing Starz Dance Academy and Jeanne Lynn Dance Studio in the Tampa Bay area. Anthony alos performed as a guest artist with the professional tap ensemble, Noise Complaint at two major conventions in the state: ConJure and Tampa Bay Comic Con. For the first time he shared his talents with the world of cosplay. He performed his choreography, as well as my choreography, with the ensemble. Yes, we all did cosplay as prominent video game and anime characters. It was awesomesauce.

In a special edition to the Summer Tap Tour Anthony was a faculty member at the SoFlo Tap Festival. Anthony taught along side master teachers from around the country such as Aaron Tolson, Acia Gray and Derrick Grant. What sets Anthony’s choreography  apart from many other teachers is his emphasis on foundation, as well as, crossrhythms and counterpoint (essentially this is when two or more rhythms are happening at the same time). He not only challenges the students to learn new and intricate material, but he also teaches them to be able to hear how parts can fit together, simultaneously, to create even more complex rhythms and music. Anthony loves to bring something unique for his classes to experience.

In Nov. 2013 Anthony started his own tap company, TapLife, and this summer, in between his Florida travels, he released the new video Taplife Music Video, a solo project titled “Lucky To Be Alive”. This video is a Collaboration between two distinguished artists. Anthony performs his choreography in his smooth style to the original song, “Lucky to be Alive”. “Lucky to be Alive” is written and performed by respected New York City Singer/Songwriter, Frank Persico*. Anthony filmed this performance and posted it on youtube, where it found several thousand views in it’f first few days of release. It can be found at http://tinyurl.com/luckytaplife.

Anthony LoCascio has a great deal to share with the tap dance community as well as the entire world. “Ultimately, I guess my whole life experience has been different than most other tap dancers. And although I believe the destination can be more important than the journey, it is my unique journey that gives me such a different different approach to tap dancing. My style, my material, my insights, and, the way I teach, will determine what my legacy, and over all impact, will eventually be on the tap dance world. If any impact at all.” Spoken to me, by Anthony, during one of our many conversations.

Anthony is presently on staff at Broadway Dance Center in NYC, and continues to teach master classes around the country as well as internationally. He is on faculty at the Big Apple Tap Festival, and he is one of the founders of the London Tap Spree. For more information about how to have Anthony Lo Cascio teach choreograph or perform at your studio or event, you can contact him by messaging him via Facebook (www.facebook.com/thetaplife) You can also learn more about him and follow him at the following social media sites:

 

The “Lucky to be Alive” Taplife Music Video can be found at:

Original Taplife Music Videowww.tinyurl.com/taplifelucky

Live at the Big Apple Tap Festwww.tinyurl.com/taplifeluckylive

Social Media:

Twitter: @mytaplife

Instagram: http://instagram.com/anthonylocascio

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thetaplife

YouTube: www.youtube.com/just4tap

Website: www.thetaplife.com

Get your own Taplife Gear – Anthony and I have created #TapLife merchandise that includes T-shirts, hoodies, dance pants, bags, hats, keychains and more. Designs include #taplife as well as #balletlife, #jazzlife, #hiphoplife, #stagelife, and more! To check out their store, visit www.cafepress.com/taplife

 

*For more on Frank – Twitter@FrankPersico, www.frankpersico.com and www.reverbnation.com/frankpersico Frank’s song Lucky to be Alive is featured on his new EP – Live From Rockwood Musichall. This EP is currently available for download on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/live-at-rockwood-music-hall/id947685170

Blog

The link to the Taplife Company’ s first performance will serve as a great first blog post on the new site. I look forward to actually collecting some awesome past, present, and future documentation here. Cheers.

http://www.tinyurl.com/taplife