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.
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.
Be sure to take some time to read Josh's conversation with Sarah the Intern and pick up a copy of Dance Magazine! (It's the choreography issue and there are several articles that we enjoyed!) Then get your tickets to see Josh's choreography in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opening at the end of the month!
Originally posted on 11/23/2011.
Check it out here!
As you know, this year we kicked off our C2C Intern program. (You've been hearing from our Bloggers-In-Residence Ryan Casey and Sarah Friswell for a few months now!) Here is the first interview done by Sarah Grace, a high school senior and student of mine in the Natick High School Drama program. Sarah has a strong interest in dance and theatre so when I heard that Josh was once again doing fabulous things I asked if he could take time out of his busy schedule to chat with Sarah. After you read about her conversation (and enjoy the day of the turkey!) head on over to Natick High School to see Sarah and the rest of the wonderful cast of Remember '11 as they take the stage to pay tribute to the NHS auditorium this weekend. Enjoy! -Nicole
SG: Do you have any favorite styles of dance, to perform, or to choreograph? Are there any particular dancers or choreographers that have inspired you?
JB: I love so many styles of dance. I don’t really have a favorite. I have some that I’m more proficient in or better trained in, such as jazz or theater. Some of my inspirations: Robbins, Fosse, Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Jack Cole, Balanchine, Hermes Pan,Michael Kidd.
SG: How did you first get into the professional dance world?
JB: My first professional job was a national tour of West Side Story. I played BabyJohn and was the Dance Captain.
SG: Since West Side Story, what was your favorite project?
JB: One of my favorite projects was being in the original cast of Hairspray on Broadway. I was a swing which is a great way to learn the inner workings of the show. It wasn’t bad to be in such a hit show either.
SG: Do you have any advice for aspiring dancers?
JB: My advice for dancers is to study all styles, learn to sing, find out what you’re good at and market it.
SG: And aspiring choreographers?
JB: My advice to young choreographers is to choreograph as often as possible and get your work out there... it’s no use if nobody sees it!
Currently, Josh is serving as the choreographer for NBC’s new television series, “Smash.” This fictional series revolves around the creation of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, and is set to premier in February, 2012!
SG: How did you get involved with Smash?
JB: I became involved with Smash through Michael Mayer, the director of the pilot and episodes 2 & 3, as well as one of the creative consultants for the series. Michael and I worked together years ago in the out of town tryout of Thoroughly Modern Millie (he directed, I was ensemble/dance captain).
SG: You've done a lot of work on stage, so what are some of the challenges of choreographing for a camera instead of an audience?
JB: Smash is true to the theater world it's set in, so there aren't many obstacles in choreographing for the camera, more like bonuses. My assignment is to choreograph great numbers that stand on their own on stage, then we film them beautifully and make them multidimensional. I think the biggest challenge would be working with the schedules of all the different departments, not to mention shooting an episode at the same time that you're prepping another episode.
SG: Do you have any other projects besides Smash going on right now? Where do you see yourself in a year, in ten years?
JB: I do have other projects that I’m prepping for in the future, but Smash is taking 99% of my time right now. In 10 years, I’d like to see myself relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean islands, or maybe Hawaii!