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.