In celebration of her birthday (August 30th) we are reposting this interview
our then intern, Daniel Foner, did with tap dancer Lisa La Touche.
Orginally posted on 11/05/2013 here.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Lisa La Touche, an internationally renowned tap dancer. Her career highlights, as she writes on her website, include "New York and North American touring casts of STOMP, the Sophisticated Ladies at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club with Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, A.C.G.I with Emmy Award winner Jason Samuels-Smith, Rumba Tap with Max Pollak, Co-Director and guest artist with the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, faculty member of the School at Jacob's Pillow, and guest artist at The American Tap Dance Foundation and The Vancouver Tap Dance Society." If you're interested in learning more, you can visit her website.
By Daniel Foner
DF: How did you start learning tap? What about it made it so interesting to you?
LLT: I started taking tap lessons when I was 8 years old. I had amazing parents, dedicated to finding me a fun extra-curricular activity as a kid. After soccer and piano and gymnastics, which I didn't love, tap dance stuck. My mom also took lessons as a kid, and would sometimes show me steps and I always got a kick out of it. So upon my first class on my own, I was hooked immediately. The fact that I could make sounds and music with my feet thrilled me, while also being able to dance and express myself.
DF: Many dancers and other artists are inspired by their predecessors. Are there any tappers that inspired you to pursue your passion? What do you admire about them?
LLT: Oh man... there are so many that it's hard to narrow down. I've been really blessed and honored to have many mentors and their inspiration and wisdom is timeless and endless. Some to mention: Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Max Pollak, Barbara Duffy, Martin "Tre" Dumas III, Brenda Bufalino, Dianne "Lady Di" Walker... they are all such lions and lionesses in their craft. They all, to this day, dedicate themselves deeper daily in their contributions to the art form and the community. They teach me so much about what honoring your craft means and what transpires from staying focused and connected to your own passion. Jason Samuel Smiths inspires me always to see how the level of execution can always increase, and to never get comfortable. I'm always hearing "reach" when I think of him. Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards... I never have words... not only the execution but profound wisdom and grace in her dancing and teaching, and also a truly resilient woman and a divine lady always on and off stage. Max Pollak... a prime example of the possibilities of what one can achieve while branching out and simply staying true to investing in what inspires you. He's the pioneer in incorporating Afro-Cuban music and it's legacy as a tap dancer. He has created and mastered his own technique with his in-depth endeavors to study and hone the Afro-Cuban music and culture and earn respect from its homegrown artists.
DF: On your website, you write that you like to stay connected in the NYC jazz music scene. How does your experience with tap dancing influence your appreciation for jazz? Are the two connected in any way?
LLT: To me tap dance is another component of jazz. It's the same language, but different instrument. Tap is to dance as sound is to movement. It goes hand and hand to me. You have to learn how to dance and you have to learn how to play music. I've had the honor of working with some incredible musicians and they have influenced me deeply as much as my dance mentors have. Sometimes it can be a barrier to break through to have musicians be open enough to really work with a tap dancer and respect them on the same level as a musician. But upon meeting those that really do that, it's really fun from both parties to see that we really do walk the same walk... Jazz to me means a freedom to improvise and to push boundaries always in the "music," so to speak. We are composers as well - that would be the musician's term for us as "choreographers". One of the biggest highlights of my performing experiences: being on the band stand as a tap dancer with the Revive Da Live big band directed by Megan Stabile and Igmar Thomas. Having Igmar compose and arrange a song for us tap dancers with a 22-piece big band and then coming up with our own choreography composition within it was the best. And the reaction from the crowd felt like we were rock stars. This craft is truly so powerful and the advantage we have, so to speak, is the fact that we do get to dance while making our music, so music lovers always lose their minds.
DF: You belong to a tap group in New York called Tap Phonics. Can you tell me a little more about that? In other words, what does Tap Phonics do?
LLT: Tap Phonics started as my own "pick-up" company. Right now pick up companies are mostly how dancers function with their own groups. We get dancers together that we like working with on a project basis. This started for me with moving to New York in 2008. I met Brooklyn singer-songwriter Maya Azucena and she invited me to present my own group and open for one of her concerts. So I had to come up with a name, and [Tap Phonics] stuck. From then on, as different gigs came up, I pulled dancers together that I needed and it grew from there. Tap Phonics now, to me, is more of a project than a group.
I'm focusing on new arrangements and compositions and always collaborating with other artists or musicians. I think of it as "phonetically speaking." We are a group that can represent essences of the tradition and legacy of the tap dance art from, yet push past the "straight ahead" regime and find new ways to keep it contemporary. I've worked with spoken word artists, R&B musicians, MCs and electronic sounds in my projects. I'm currently working on curating a show while I'm here temporarily in Vancouver in support by the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. New works are being created as we speak which will funnel into the next Vancouver International Tap festival and I'm really excited about it!
DF: You've performed in dance festivals and on tours all across the world. What's next?
LLT: Next is working on my own conceptualized show as I mentioned before. Taking time to "be still and create." I'm very inspired lately and am composing more than I have in a while and it feels good. I've worked with so many amazing artists worldwide and only hope this will continue. In the meantime it really does feel good to take the time to work out my own ideas and build new platforms for myself and for others as well. I'm working more in Canada as of recently and am trying to bridge more of the gap between my home country, its dancers and the American tap dance scene. New York still resonates as home to me, and my roots ignited also in Chicago. It means more to me than I can express to be considered a contributor and to be respected by my American peers.
DF: And one just for fun: if you could do just one step for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
LLT: Funny as it sounds, you'll find cramp rolls and 5 count riffs in so many of my phrases. But all in all, I think in terms of musical patterns and then let that determine what vocabulary I should use.
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!
Originally Posted 08/15/2013
Earlier this summer I spent some time in New York City working on Tap It Out with the amazing Lynn Schwab and the folks from the American Tap Dance Foundation. While there I had the opportunity to get to know an brilliant young tap dancer and a all around fabulous guy, Felipe Galganni. Since moving to New York from Brazil three years ago Felipe has been busy teaching, choreographing and performing all over the city. While in town I got to see the premiere of his piece "Reverie in Rio", performed by Felipe himself alongside Lynn Schwab and Chikako Iwahori and singer Jackeline Ribas. Here is a little conversation with Felipe about his work, moving to the United States and dancing in a foreign language! Also, Felipe celebrated a birthday last week, so make sure you send your love!
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.
N: It has now been three years since you moved from Brazil and in talking to you you would think you'd been speaking English for much of your life. Can you tell me about teaching in the early years in New York when your English was much shakier? What sort of tools did you use to communicate in moments where language failed you?
FG: I remember the fist class I taught here in US. It was for Lynn Schwab at Steps. It's hard when you have to communicate in a foreign language to native people, and explain stuff that you're so use to in your first language. It was a little frustrating, but I had to work on that, not been afraid to say the words wrong, and also asking the students in the class and learning from them. But honestly my English is 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!