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.
Happy Birthday to everyone who celebrates in February including:
Andew Palermo, Benjamin Rogers, Minna Scholten, Robert Ayles, Pam Harris, Shelia Friswell,
Leah Jonhanson, Stephanie Sune, Sarah Feinberg, Jason (Mouse) Vasquez,
Caitlin Meehan, Peggy Wacks, Joanne Dougan, Deborah Friedes, Steve Wightman,
Bill T. Jones, Gregory Hines, and Jacob Rosen.
If you don't know who all these fabulous people are make sure you take a minute to check out some of the links! Whether they are famous choreographers or local supporters our birthday boys and girls do some really amazing things.
Want to be on the birthday list? Click here and let us know when your birthday is!
A few years ago our then intern David Makransky wrote a short article about Edgar Degas in celebration of his birthday. We wanted to move the article over to our new blog in celebration today!
Happy Birthday to Edgas Degas
by David Makranasky
Edgar Degas was a French painter and sculptor, largely credited as a founder of the Impressionism movement of the mid-1800s. Though his work bore many of the characteristics of Impressionistic art, Degas preferred to refer to his style as Realism, and often degraded the art of other Impressionistic painters of the time. He specialized in painting contemporary life from the point of view of the laborer, and often chose unusual croppings or viewpoints for his work. Hat-makers and laundresses were common subjects, allowing him to present psychological paintings of working women who were otherwise unnoticed by those around them.
A particular focus of Degas' was dance and ballet, but he never strayed from his psychological, working-man style. The vast majority of Degas' paintings of dancers depict rehearsals and preparations for rehearsals, emphasizing their roles as professionals in a job. His juxtaposition of art and work closely paralleled his own situation as a working painter, a connection often highlighted by art historians. Yet Degas was clearly excited by the beauty of dance, even as he portrayed dancers as workers in a profession. He spent large expanses of time at the Paris Opera and Ballet, attempting to capture their classical beauty on the canvas. The ballet presented him with the opportunity to depict fluidity and suppleness of motion just as art was adjusting to the modern technologies of electricity and photography, guaranteeing that painting would continue as an appreciated art form in the modern era. The pale beauty of the ballerinas also allowed Degas to work in pastel, a style he returned to life in France. Many of his works featuring dancers, including "Danseuse Assise" and "L'etoile" can be found on display in art museums in Paris, St. Petersburg, and across America.