Last summer Julian had a chance to take an improv tap class with Barbara Duffy, who I’d heard a ton about but he had not. I was really excited to have him tap with her. Barbara studied with many of the great tap masters, such as Brenda Bufalino, Leon Collins, Gregory Hines, Steve Condos, Honi Coles, Sarah Petronio, and Savion Glover, and has her own all-women company, Barbara Duffy & Company.
Julian hadn’t done a full improv class before, although he done some improv at TDC. A year or two before he’d been encouraged by Roxanne Butterfly after a master class to focus on improvisation as a way to improve his tapping. She felt that was the one thing that he needed. Of course, since then he has moved away from tap dancing big time and into ballet in a huge way.
After the class I–in my usual way–asked Barbara to contribute to this blog. Many, many months later, she contacted me to say she felt she didn’t work with enough boys to be an “expert” on the subject. However, she did answer two of my questions. The following are her comments on boys and tap.
What is the role of improv in teaching tap?
Improv is one of the best tools for teaching tap, especially for children. Because tap dance is so technical, it requires a lot of focus, coordination and repetition of the rudiments. Improv is a great way to end the class. By using improv “games” the kids can express what they want to say with their feet, make music and feel free. It inspires their creativity.
Can you describe the tap culture and why it’s a great place for a young male dancer to make his “home”?
The tap world also is a very family-oriented culture. As Gregory Hines used to say, “If you tap dance, you’re one of us,” you’re automatically in the family!
I think tap dancing for boys is a style of dance that’s “acceptable.” I would imagine many boys are teased for taking dance classes, but because tap dance is so rhythmic and musical, as well as physical, it’s considered cool. Also, there are many young men who are tap “stars” who can be role models.
I have to agree with Barbara on all counts. And I miss Julian tapping. I was wishing he had taken a tap class this week; there’s a teacher who offers classes on Wednesday nights at City Ballet School’s studios who is quite good, and Julian was on break (but we were there for rehearsals). Tappers always seem nice, inclusive and welcoming. It’s true that they simply accept you in and consider you part of the family.
You can be sure this summer I’ll be pushing for Julian to take tap classes in NYC. However, he won’t have time to pick up with Michelle Dorrance again on Mondays in August, because the Complexions schedule won’t allow it. We’ll have to see if SAB allows him to go down to Broadway Dance Center on his own; it’s out of the accepted “neighborhood” and her classes run too late. So, we’ll probably be looking up Barbara in August. It’s more likely her classes will fit into Julian’s schedule–if he even wants to fit tap into it.
If you have a young man who is interested in dance and doesn’t want to focus on ballet, I highly recommend you take him to a tap class. Find one with a male teacher. As Barbara said, they make great role models.