Sam Mullen: You used to dance with Monkeyhouse a bit more regularly before you went to grad school. We are so excited to have you back working with us again! What are some ways you keep dance in your life?
Sarah Friswell Cotton: I use dance as exercise all the time. It helps keep me active and helps keep me happy when life gets crazy. I try to take dance classes when I can but it's hard to get into the city where the classes I want to take are happening.
Dance and performance impacts my teaching all the time. I use my performing to try to engage my students all the time. We even create dance moves to help remember different science ideas. I use my expression and performance techniques as much as I can. It also makes my job more fun.
SM: You grew up dancing with Nicole and Karen at Impulse Dance Center. The piece you are performing for this concert came out of an adult tap class you took at Impulse just last year. Can you talk about transitioning from being a student to the world of Monkeyhouse?
SFC: It's funny because I have known Nicole for a very long time in a number of capacities so the transition has not been something I've put much thought into. She has been my babysitter, a family friend, a teacher, a mentor, a company director, and now a friend so it has felt like a very seamless transition to be performing together now.
SM: In addition to dancing you also sing. At times you can even be found with an a cappella group based out of Brookline! What do you think draws you to those two art forms?
SFC: I think my passion for performing is what keeps me looking for opportunities like Monkeyhouse and like a cappella. I really enjoy performing and being in front of an audience. It is really thrilling and really fun to have an audience enjoy watching you or listening to you. I guess, for this performance, they will be watching AND listening since I'm performing in a tap piece.
Nicole Harris: Can you tell me about the work you’ll be performing as part of the OnStage Summer Performance Series?
Noa Barankin: The theme of the show is "Rhythm Re-imagined" (which is also the title). In my work, the audience will be able to see new uses of props and technology, for the purpose of making rhythms and integrating them with dance and movement. In particular, the cast is made of all tap dancers. However, we are also drumming (on and with various objects), and doing body percussion. There is some integration of modern dance, as well as tap dance classics. I also like to call what I do - "visual rhythm", because it is rhythm that you can see. Most of our pieces are stand-alone, meaning that you can take them out of the context of the full show and they can be performed on their own. A lot of thought was put into making these pieces come to life, and the details are noticeable - from the choice of the prop to the way we use it and integrate it with the sounds of tap dance or percussion.
N: Who are some of your favorite choreographers and why?
NB: Ummmmm all of them? I love all artists and learn from what I see. I absorb. Possibly Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire for their lack of fear in tap, and the endless incorporation of props and special effects in their dances. I'm ALL about props (as you shall see in the show!!)
N: Monkeyhouse believes in the importance of both giving back and paying forward. Who are some of your mentors? How are you paying forward what was given to you?
Another mentor is Doron Raphaeli, who gave me my first professional paying job as a dancer. It was in Tararam, a drummimg company, where before that I have never laid my hands on a pair of drumsticks. As artists, we need that person in our lives, who gives us that trust. I'm paying it forward to my cast by doing the same - creating opportunity and teaching them something new.
The third one is Sean Fielder, through which I encountered most of my cast, and who gave me the opportunity to join the Boston Tap Company - my introductory dance path as a newbie in Boston. There is also Pam Caira, director of Step by Step dance studio, which is where we rehearse, and I cannot omit her name from this list by any means because she's a source of inspiration and a real supporter of DrumatiX. It's through her help and support that I am now able to bring drumming classes to the studio, for young dancers to get a taste of DrumatiX and explore a whole new world of rhythm making.
by Nicole Harris
For the past year I have been honored to have three former students return to the studio to take class as adults. It began with Olivia Scharff, who sweated out the summer with me last year at Impulse Dance Center during my adult tap class. When September rolled around she was joined by Kelsey Griffith and Monkeyhouse alum Sarah Friswell Cotton. Towards the end of our first ten week session these ladies approached me to ask if they could dance on the "big stage" in Impulse's end of year concert. LuAnn (Impulse's director) was more than happy to include three Impulse alumni in her show so we got down to work and the second ten week session was dedicated to creating a piece of choreography.
The piece they performed this June was to Waving Through a Window from the Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen. The choreography was intricate and the incredible music gave the piece body and character. However, the music also allowed for the dancers to hide within its orchestrations. Don't get me wrong, these ladies aren't lazy! But the fullness of the music overpowered some of the rhythms and counterpoints they were working so hard on, so we decided to also create a version of the piece with no music at all to be part of reAct reBuild reCollect in July.
The original plan was for all four of us to perform this new tacit piece but unfortunately, Kelsey tore her ACL this spring and will not be able to join us at the performance. However, you can still learn about the amazing things she, Sarah and Olivia are doing by clicking on their images below. It's exciting to see how people keep dance in their lives and these three are doing some pretty incredible work.
I can't describe to you how much fun it was to work with these ladies again. Teaching adults is a very different thing than teaching children or even teenagers. I loved seeing the different ways each of them had learned how to learn in the ten years since they last took class with me. I am impressed by their ability to see their strengths and also their weaknesses and not be afraid to ask for or offer help. I am honored to dance with them on July 27th and continue working with them in the future!
by Nicole Harris
Somewhere around 2004 I took students of mine from Impulse Dance Center to a Manhattan Dance Project workshop where I met tap teacher Derick K. Grant. I was instantly enamored with his laid back yet individualized teaching style and when I found out he taught regularly in New York City I promised to begin showing up at places he was. A few months later I walked into his class at Steps on Broadway in New York City while I was in town visiting my sister and knew just who I was. "You're that girl from Boston. You said you were going to being stalking me and here you are!" Since then I have been lucky enough to study fairly extensively with Derick and I consider him to be one of the biggest influences on my tap dancing today. Last year he and I sat down to talk about his career, his choreography and his view on life.
NH: What was the first thing you ever choreographed?
DG: Lord have mercy, the first thing? Well, let’s say the first official thing was a solo. It was called “Drums.” I was a rookie in the Jazz Tap Ensemble and I was challenged to choreograph a piece. I got to work with Jerry Kalaf, who was the musical director. It was the first time where I worked with live music, and had to like come up with arrangement, and make a dance. That was pretty cool. I was probably about 19.
NH: What are your biggest challenges as a choreographer?
DG: For me being entertaining. I found that most of the tap choreography was very green. My main problem was getting people to dance while they tap, ‘cause most choreography that is used in shows is used with the purpose of telling a story. And most choreography that is used in tap dance are musical compositions. So finding a balance where you can use the body as a narrative, as an actor, but then use the sounds coming from those same movements, as a musical composition, is hardcore.
NH: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
DG: I’m going to have to say Jerome Robbins or Bob Fosse. I started to study ballets because I realized that ballets were bodies of work that represented choreographers, and those pieces would live long after the choreographers died. And that in terms of being a choreographer, that’s kind of like the point, that’s like the painter making the painting. You want to have a piece that can live beyond you. You know? So then I started checking out the ballets, seeing what they had in common, and then what made them different from each other in terms of style and storytelling. And I had some success, I mean it was a rocky road because I don’t know a ton about ballet, so I probably missed a lot of the subtleties; they all kind of looked the same to me after awhile. I mean I know what’s a pretty turn, what’s a pretty leap, but that’s about the extent of it. With Fosse and Jerome, you can see it in the body, like that’s a tap dancer there. It was easy for me to respond and to understand that.
Eu me apaixonei quando conheci a Heather. Sua doçura, sua humildade e o jeito com que ela ensina sapateado e música me inspiraram para realizar um curso intensivo de verão em NY. Dois meses antes de viajar, decidi vender meu carro e me mudar para os EUA. E desde então, estou aqui.
N: Você cresceu estudando outras modalidades de dança além do sapateado americano. Você continua fazendo essas outras aulas? Você sente que ter estudado outros estilos de dança colaborou com seu sapateado?
FG: Eu cresci vendo e dançando samba como a maioria dos brasileiros. Estudei jazz, sapateado, ballet e contemporâneo. Nunca fui um grande bailarino, mas a dança me ajudou a desenvolver habilidades básicas, como os giros e o equilíbrio. Além disso, me ajudou a considerar meu corpo como um todo no sapateado, e não só os pés.
N: Recentemente, você me contou a história sobre o seu primeiro par de sapatos e sua primeira aula de sapateado. Você pode dividir essa história com a gente?
FG: Claro! Quando eu tinha 14 anos ganhei um dinheiro de presente de aniversário da minha família e decidi comprar meu primeiro sapato. Eu "praticava" em casa e até fiz uma performance na escola, mesmo sem nunca ter feito uma aula.
Então, quando eu tinha quinze anos, finalmente encontrei uma escola de dança que tinha sapateado na grade. Eu me lembro que não era muito barato, mas meus pais apoiaram a minha vontade.
Quando cheguei na aula a professora me perguntou se eu já havia sapateado antes. Eu disse que sim, e ela me pediu se eu poderia mostrar meu passo favorito. Fiz um estilo único de dança, que até hoje não me lembro o que foi, mas sapateei (risos). Anos depois ela me lembrou deste fato e rimos muito. Seu nome é Valeria Petroni, e ela foi uma excelente professora nos meus primeiros anos de sapateado. Sou muito grato por ter aprendido tanto com ela.
Honestamente, meu inglês ainda não é perfeito, e ainda tenho que aprender bastante. Por exemplo, na aula de hoje, a única maneira que encontrei para explicar o que queria foi dizendo: “Imagine você usando uma fralda”. Depois, eu afirmei: “Hora de colocar a fralda!”. E, claro, no final da aula, eu lembrei: “Não esqueça de trazer sua fralda na próxima aula”. É divertido!
N: Who are your favorite choreographers (tap & otherwise)?
FG: Chikako Iwahori, Brenda Bufalino, Max Pollak, Lynn Schwab, Michelle Dorrance. I love Bob Fosse.
N: I know that meeting Heather Cornell had a big influence on your life. What is it about her work/dancing that speaks to you?
FG: I met Heather in January of 2010. I am from São Paulo (BRA), and she was teaching a workshop in Rio, so I flew to take that. São Paulo is not the most tap dancing city in Brazil so every time someone came to the area I tried to go.
When I met Heather I instantly felt in love. Her kindness, humbleness and the way she talked about tap dance and music inspired me so much that I decided I wanted to take her summer intensive, here in NY. I think it's a Master thing, this power of inspiring people! Two months before I come I decided to sell my car and move to USA. Here I am since then.
N: I know you grew up studying other forms of dance besides tap. Do you still take any of those classes? Do you feel like having studied jazz etc. has had an effect on your tap dancing?
FG: I grew up dancing samba like most Brazilians. And academically taking jazz, later tap, ballet and contemporary. I was never a strong ballet dancer but I feel it was very important to develop some basics, like turns and balance. And even to "awake" the upper body as a tapper.
N: You recently told me a wonderful story about your first pair of tap shoes and your subsequent first tap class. Can you share that story here?
FG: Sure! When I was 14 years old I got some money from my family as a birthday gift. So I decided it was finally my chance to buy a pair of tap shoes. I was always putting them on to "practice" and even to do performances at school. Without having ever taken class at that point.
So when I was 15, I finally find a school that I could go by myself and take a tap class. I remember it was not very affordable for my family, but they know I really wanted to do that. So they supported me. When I got in class the teacher came to me and asked: "have you ever tap danced before?" and I said , very confidently "YES!"..."oh, so please show me your favorite step"... And I started my very unique style of tap. Later on she told me that it was the most funny experience she have ever had. Her name is Valeria Petroni, and she was an amazing instructor for those first tap years. I am very thankful of all I learned from her.
But honestly my English still pretty shaky, and sometimes language does failed on me. Like in today's class the only way I found to tell my students what I wanted to express was "imagine you're wearing a baby diaper" and then later on I said "put your diapers on"... and of course by the end of the class I reinforced: "Don't forget your diaper for next week". LOL. It's fun!