Talent and Creativity expressed through dance
October 15, 2015 10:10 PM   Subscribe

MacArthur Genius Grant award winner Michelle Dorrance is a tap dancer. Here she is performing on Colbert with the house band, Stay Human. This is really beautiful. She is a tap dancer, musician and choreographer breathing new life into a uniquely American art form in works that combine the musicality of tap with the choreographic intricacies of contemporary dance. Dorrance uses her deep understanding of the technique and history of tap dancing to deconstruct and reimagine its artistic possibilities.

Tap is primarily an aural dance form, with dancers creating complex syncopations through technical feats of footwork. In a high-contrast physical style, Dorrance maintains the essential layering of rhythms in tap but choreographs ensemble works that engage the entire body: dancers swoop, bend, leap, and twist with a dramatic expression that is at once musical and visual.
posted by bobdow (12 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. She's truly something else. To be able to control your extremities with such rhythmic sense and yet gracefully... It's astonishing.
posted by chasles at 10:52 PM on October 15, 2015

Wow. Great post. I've come away with a whole new appreciation and understanding of tap dancing. I can see why they made her a MacArthur Fellow. I look forward to seeing how she uses the opportunites the Genius Grant gives her to be, as she puts it in that second link, "a better version of myself for everyone I'm working with."

Also, this post was really well done, bodow. Kudos to you. Each successive link added a deeper understanding of the FPP that so many of us try to achieve on the blue but fall short of more often than not.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:58 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ooooh, not only was that completely dazzling to watch, but all those clicky little taps in my headphones gave me major asmr tingles! Bonus! Thanks!
posted by kinnakeet at 11:01 PM on October 15, 2015

Dorrance talks about improvisation in the second video, and you can see how well she connects with the audience and the band in the first and third clips. So many things to highlight: the dynamics, accompanied by changes in motion and posture; toe-tapping and clapping as extra percussive notes with different tones, like a bass drum in a jazz drum solo; the shoe-dragging that adds some sustained notes to a usually staccato form of percussion.

Most of all, how Dorrance stomps and claps. In the second clip, she talks about how tap dance is generally seen as a form of dance, but for her, it's music. What I get from her stomping and clapping out beats in the first clip is that, sure, you can observe dance, but you create music, and what you're creating is that rhythm that everybody can feel. And whether you're the rhythm section or the horns or the tap dancer or the audience, you're participating in that when you feel the beat. It's so great to see that in action in the third clip, where Dorrance is responding to the drums, the band, and the audience in turn.

The Late Show clip reminded me of Jon Batiste's appearance on the Colbert Report (it's great! watch it!) talking about improvisation and sharing experiences. I'm thrilled that they're extending that spirit by inviting guests like Michelle Dorrance.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 12:25 AM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Much fun!

Is it naïve to think her breaking down the vernacular/concert dance barrier?
posted by progosk at 1:27 AM on October 16, 2015

Colbert has been hitting it out of the park with his guests, both in interview and performance. Is it normal for these late night talk shows to have the diversity of people and artists he's had on there?
posted by Anonymous at 2:01 AM on October 16, 2015

"People don't know that tapdance is older than jazz music," Dorrance says in the second link of a great post, bobdow.

From 'Jazz Music in Motion: Dancers and Big Bands' - JacquI Malone (chapter 18 of 'The Jazz Cadence of American Culture' (edited by Robert G. O’Meally):

Baby Laurence, tap dancer extraordinaire, explained that “tap dancing is very much like jazz music. The dancer improvises his own solo and expresses himself.” Rhythm tappers are jazz percussionists who value improvisation and self-expression. Jazz musicians tell stories with their instruments and rhythm tappers tell stories with their feet. In a 1973 obituary for Baby Laurence, Whitney Balliett wrote, “A great drummer dances sitting down. A great tap-dancer drums standing up.”

Rhythm tap’s close relationship to jazz music is evident in the large number of top caliber jazz drummers who could tap: Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Jo Jones, Big Sid Catlett, Eddie Locke, and Cozy Cole, who once had a dance act along with tapper Derby Wilson. Louis Bellson, who played drums with Duke Ellington in the fifties, commented on the relationship between drumming and tapping: “You get a guy like Jo Jones, all those guys can do a time step and the shim-sham-shimmy because that’s what you did in the theater. . . . We base all of our rhythms on dancing. When I play a drum solo, I’m tapping. My brother-in-law Bill Bailey, oh, what a tap dancer. I mean that’s one of the greatest drum solos I’ve heard in my life, Bill Bailey did it on stage. All he had was a rhythm section and he danced up and down that stage. I’ve got films on him. I look at them every once in a while. I study those films.” According to Bellson, Duke Ellington always referred to the drummers as dancers. “I remember Ellington telling me that the great thing about Africa is that the drummers and dancers are like one.” He would introduce the drummer by saying, “And now Dave Black is going to perform a little dancing for you.” Bellson added, “And I know every time I get ready to play the brushes, I say ‘I’m going to tap dance for you now, and these are Jo Jones’ licks that he taught me.’ ”

At the start of their careers, the drummers Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey were greatly influenced by rhythm tappers. Roach accompanied Groundhog and Baby Laurence and learned steps from them. He recalled performing with Laurence: “We usually did our act as an encore. I would play brushes on the snare and he would just dance and we’d exchange things, call and response. I would imitate him and then I would play time over it.” In 1961, while playing with the Charlie Mingus band, Dannie Richmond enhanced his drumming technique by studying Laurence’s feet every night:
"The band would play the head on the theme and Baby Laurence played the breaks. Little by little we worked it where at first I was just doing stop-time, fours, so much that I’d memorized every lick of his. I learned that it wasn’t just single strokes involved in the drums. My concept was that if you had the single strokes down, you could play anything. It’s not true. It’s almost true, but not totally. And the way Laurence would mix paradiddles along with single strokes. He could do all of that with his feet. It got to where we’re doing fours together. He’d dance four, then we played threes, twos, one bar apiece, but I was copying him. I’d more or less play what he danced. I was trying to keep it in the context of melody dance and, mind you, to me that was the same as a saxophone player trying to play like Charlie Parker. He was the only one who could dance to Charlie Parker tunes. . . . It was a gas for me to duplicate what Laurence danced. When he switched up me and changed the time, there was no way I could play that."

According to Philly Joe Jones, “the drummer who has been a dancer can play better than someone who has never danced. See, the drummer catches the dancer, especially when a dancer’s doing wings. And the cymbals move at the same time to catch the dancer.”
posted by On the Corner at 4:41 AM on October 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

Thanks for this. I really appreciate the post and the talent that Michelle Dorrance clearly displays. This artistically ignorant person always thought of tap as dance. Maybe that stems from the kids that took tap lessons in the early 70s I grew up with, I don't know. Maybe it comes from me being a kid while my mother watched Gene Kelly movies. After watching these links, I now think that tap is more of an instrument played with your feet. To combine the instrument with the modern dance, is really quite beautiful.
posted by AugustWest at 7:20 AM on October 16, 2015

That was beautiful. Tapdancing is one of my favorite things, and I'm happy to see it recognized and flourishing.
posted by Sassenach at 9:22 AM on October 16, 2015

I'm working on an haiku that elucidates the true meaning of this tap routine.
posted by sammyo at 10:35 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I watch that first clip and I see Gregory Hines.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:23 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love listening to tap, but her smile -- the very visible joy as she dances -- keeps me from closing my eyes during those clips.

My youngest daughter is taking tap for the first time this year. I showed her a blurry VHS video of "Riverdance" and she loved it. Now, I don't have any dreams of her getting a genius grant or wowing Broadway with her feet, but I sure would like to see that same smile on her face that Dorrance has.

Great FPP, bobdow!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:31 AM on November 5, 2015

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