Welcome to tap class, where ‘Tea for Two’ is no longer served

Tap enjoys an unlikely resurgence, to the songs of Radiohead and queen

Dancing to a different drummer

Photograph by Roger LeMoyne

Supertramp’s Breakfast in America blared from the speakers in a basement dance studio in downtown Montreal—Don’t you look at my girlfriend [tap, tap] she’s the only one I got. Fifteen dancers from the 35-strong Klaxson troupe were rehearsing for its fall show, devoted to the music of Supertramp and Queen. Meanwhile, the oeuvre of Nina Simone will be featured in a tap show this September by Rhythm Initiative. “We’re considering Radiohead, the Fugees and Led Zeppelin for future shows,” offered Allison Toffan, who founded the Toronto tap collective in 2011.

Welcome to tap class, where Tea for Two is no longer served. “When the old hoofers started to die off, tap went through a mourning period,” explained Dianne Walker, a legendary Boston-based tap teacher. They couldn’t imagine a tap world without old school hoofers Steve Condos and Jimmy Slyde. The general public, meanwhile, had no idea who they were. Notwithstanding a brief resurgence in the 1990s with shows like Tap Dogs, and the hip-hop influenced Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk, tap remained, for most of us, the domain of Sammy Davis Jr. movies.

That may be changing. “We’re on the brink of re-establishing tap as a respected art form,” noted Travis Knights, a tap sensation from Montreal who turns heads on the world stage. New tap festivals are springing up around the world, and tap is starting to show up at more mainstream dance and music festivals. And at the forefront of the new resurgence are Canadians. Vancouver’s festival is second only to Chicago’s, the biggest of its kind in the world. Our dancers hold an inordinate number of spots in the world’s few professional tap ensembles like the Tapestry Dance Company in Austin, Texas, and have performed in hit shows like Stomp and Tap Dogs.

In the past, part of the problem in growing audiences was an antipathy in the tap world between two factions: the showy Broadway style associated with jazz hands, and “hoofing,” the more traditional, so-called rhythmic style associated with Gregory Hines. Bring in ’Da Noise caused a renaissance in tap, said Walker, “but it also split us into two camps: Broadway tap and rhythmic tap.” Now the olive branch has been extended, and the two are putting aside their mutual indifference. Some call the new fusion of styles concert tap, but there’s no consensus. “We’re trying to find a healthy marriage,” said Matthew Shields, a virtuoso from Brantford, Ont., who is creating a much-anticipated show with original songs for the Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival this month. “Let’s face it, Broadway sells tickets.”

The next challenge is to find some respect for tap within academia. While there are programs for jazz dance and contemporary dance at North American universities, there are few courses in tap. “I’ve been fighting for 15 years, but it’s a hard sell,” said Heather Cornell, a New York-based dancer who is originally from Port Colborne, Ont., and the founder of CanTap, a troupe of rising Canuck stars. Oklahoma City University has some commercial tap, as does Capilano University in B.C., but otherwise, tap is hard to find. “The problem is, we became associated with pure entertainment, not art,” says Cornell.

Rivalries within the wider dance world don’t help. “Modern dance is even more heinous than ballet as a gatekeeper in academia,” laughed Lane Alexander, founder of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project and the Rhythm World Festival in Chicago. Vicki Adams Willis, the co-founder and artistic director of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks in Calgary, would agree. “Academia embraces conceptual dance,” she said, “but tap is inherently a pure dance form about nothing except the person in the moment. It’s very inward.”

Allison Toffan started the tap collective in Toronto, with its weekly jam sessions with tap dancers of all styles, to bring everyone together and challenge that notion of lone-wolf hoofers “woodshedding” in their basements. She is thinking about the music of Billy Joel or Hall and Oates for her next show. “I was considering the music of Queen myself, but it sounds like someone’s already doing it in Montreal. Crazy Little Thing Called Love would be great!”


Welcome to tap class, where ‘Tea for Two’ is no longer served

  1. It would be wonderful and I am hopeful that credit is given where credit is due. “Breakfast in America” is not a Supertramp song but a Roger Hodgson song. Roger, co-founder of Supertramp, wrote the song when he was in his teens and before he even co-founded the band. It is Roger who gave us Supertramp’s greatest hits to include not only Breakfast in America but also The Logical Song, Take the Long Way Home, Give a Little Bit, Dreamer, School, It’s Raining Again, and Fool’s Overture, to name a few.

    Many people don’t realize that although Roger and Supertramp’s other co-founder shared writing credit, they actually wrote and composed separately with each singing their own respective songs. See Roger Hodgson live in concert. He is currently on his Breakfast in America Tour and is selling out shows all over the globe in addition to receiving fantastic reviews from media and fans alike. Experience for yourself why people can’t stop talking about his show. If you want to hear the voice of Supertramp and see the soul and spirt of the band, Roger Hodgson is it. Tour details are at http://www.facebook.com/RogerHodgsonOfficial.

  2. I’ve always had a fascination with the art of tap dance, it makes me very happy to see that it is still very much alive :) “Breakfast in America” is certainly a surprising song for tap dancing! Only one of the many favorite hits written by Roger Hodgson, co-founder & voice of Supertramp, some others you may recognize are Take the Long Way Home, Dreamer, Give a Little Bit, Hide in Your Shell… there are so many to mention! I’m actually planning to see him live this Saturday in NJ in addition to two other shows later this fall. I’m especially looking forward to his orchestra shows in Orillia & Windsor this November! Roger always delivers a high-energy, astounding show sure to revoke all the memories of much simpler yesterdays. You may find yourself dancing, singing, clapping, or simply in tears by the end of the night. Between songs Roger speaks to you like a close friend, whether cracking a bit of witty humor or explaining the birth of a song. With the closing notes of the last song I guarantee you that you’ll be planning your next Roger Hodgson concert, it is always a real treat!!

    You can read more about Roger & his ongoing tour at http://www.RogerHodgson.com.
    Maybe I’ll see you at the show? :)

  3. As a dance mom I have a deep love for the art but there is something tap that makes you want to move to a good beat. Hence “Breakfast in America” an upbeat song from the album named after the song. There are so many dance routine song options on the album alone Take the Long Way Home, The Logical song, Child of Vision, now let’s talk about Dreamer, Give a Little Bit, It’s Raining Again all creations that make you want to tap your toes and get out of your seat.
    Wonderfully, you can experience this sensation for yourself for Roger Hodgson, the “Voice of Supertramp”, the Creator of these songs is touring right now. You must see a Roger Hodgson performance, for you will experience his soft spoken, candid, humble presences that puts you at ease and then he starts to sing. His voice sounds better than ever! His songs (Breakfast in America, The Logical Song, Give a Little Bit) are a part of your fondest memories. You have no doubt who he is performing for, the sea of faces before him, his fans. What do you feel, love.
    Check out his current tour concert offerings:

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