Three dancers move to the center of the room into their positions. Their tap shoes click-clack against the wooden floors. Swing music plays over loudspeakers, and the dancers’ feet begin to flutter in a symphony of rhythm. The room quickly becomes a seamless cycle of tapping, at least one pair of feet always in musical motion
Tonight marks the beginning of the Tapestry Dance Company’s 11th annual Soul to Sole festival. The event celebrates the classic American art of tap dancing through a weekend of performances, over 75 master dance classes, film screenings and a panel discussion in which faculty and company dancers will take questions and discuss contemporary issues in their field.
Tapestry Dance Company, a nonprofit dance organization and home to a full-time professional tap dance company in South Austin, was founded by Executive Artistic Director Acia Gray and Education Director Deirdre Strand in 1989. They started the company as a way to provide dance education to the community and develop a strong foundation for multi-form dance performance. The studio is also home to the International Tap Association, making it the central portal for everything going on in the tap dancing world, Gray said.
Previously, the company would hold an International Tap Dance Day celebration with just a few classes and small performances.
“Then we thought, ‘You know, we need to make this a festival,’” Gray said.
Over the course of 11 years, the festival has grown from three faculty artists to 10 from around the world, Gray said. The featured artists are specifically chosen by Gray based on their professionalism and attitude.
“I honestly only invite people that I respect artistically but that I also like,” Gray said. “It’s funny to say it that way, but there are some people who are really gifted but difficult, and I don’t tolerate that at all.”
The professional artists will show off their tapping talent Saturday night in the faculty showcase, which will consist primarily of jazz tap improvised to live music.
Friday night will feature a participant showcase. Students from Tapestry’s classes will be interspersed with performances by the professional dance company. Dancers will participate in a tap jam, accompanied by music from a jazz trio led by Michael Stevens.
“A tap jam is like an open mic that stays in rhythm,” Gray said. “Usually it’s two dancers musically talking to each other, challenging each other — but in a playful way.”
Through the festival, Tapestry hopes to keep a legacy and connection to the traditions and importance of tap dance. Gray said she hopes the festival imparts a sense of appreciation for the art form on those who attend.
“My wish would be to have everybody who walks in the door see and feel tap dance in a new and unique way and want to share it with somebody — that would be a very special thing,” Gray said.
While tap dancing is challenging, Gray said it is up to each individual what type of experience they want to have. Tapestry’s studio is a safe place to learn, but Gray said it can still be challenging if you want to push yourself.
“It’s not about which person is better than the other; it’s about being supportive,” Gray said.
For Gray, in comparison to other festivals, Soul to Sole is special because it encompasses Austin’s acceptance of eclectic artistry.
“Just like Austin, [the festival] has an Austin feel with its unique, eclectic and challenging personality,” she said.
Originally printed on 6/9/2011 as: Soulful dancers tap into performance