Tap dancing icon Ayodele Casel said, “It’s a time step but it’s not a time step. It’s a flap but it’s not a flap.”
For Hamptons-based performer, director and instructor Anita Boyer, Casel’s words are hugely important for her virtual Tap Camp at Bay Street Theater. It may come as a surprise to some that tap dancing doesn’t originate from the likes of Fred Astaire and Singin’ in the Rain, but from slaves who had no other mode of expression. Boyer, who co-founded Our Fabulous Variety Show and performs around the East End, wants the online workshop to not only teach students the fundamentals of tap dance but also the often-overlooked history of the fun and complex art form.
“With everything that’s been going on in the world, and as a tap dancer, I’ve always found it really important to make sure that my students and audience understand the history of tap and its roots in slavery and how black people created tap dance,” Boyer says. “[Tap] was created in the fields when slaves’ drums were taken away from them and they had no other way to express themselves. So they started using their bodies. From there, there’s so much to talk about! It’ll be part of the class to pay tribute to and recognize the roots of tap.” Boyer believes everyone, from a casual dance student to a professional, should learn tap’s history.
Boyer, who has directed several iterations of Tap: An Evening of Rhythm with Our Fabulous Variety Show, notes that despite studying tap for 20 years, she didn’t learn about its roots for a long time. “I grew up in Ohio and didn’t really learn any of the history of tap there,” she explains, instead getting an education in tap history from her mentor, Aaron Coulson, a few years ago when she was putting together her first Tap show. “In Ohio, we talked about Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and White Christmas,” she explains. “And when I was first creating content for the original Tap show six years ago I showed it to Aaron and he was like, ‘You’re missing some people there!’ The last thing I wanted to be was ignorant about it. It’s a lot of work but it’s work worth doing.”
The Tap Camp is going to be about 90% dancing and 10% history and other information. “I like to find clips of tap professionals in the field,” Boyer explains. “I don’t want to feel like I am retelling someone else’s story. They tell it the best, so it’s great to hear it in their words and share their story in that way.” Boyer has also enlisted her fiancé, actor Joe Pallister, as her trusty assistant. “We have a very funny repartee,” she says. “He’s a beginner, so I can have him do a beginner step and then give a more advanced variation so it can be accessible for multiple levels.” The class is designed for beginners and more experienced dancers, and Boyer hopes the online format will make it less intimidating for everyone. “I want this to be a really great welcome, reentry or help to boost [more advanced dancers] to the next level. It’s for anyone!”
Register for online Tap Camp at Bay Street Theater, baystreet.org.