Whilst folding laundry and watching a documentary about tap dancing, I learned of the amazing force of nature that is teacher-and-author Vicki G. Riordan and the possibly even-more-amazing force of nature that is her TapPups.
Vicki teaches tap to adults, and only adults (ranging in age from 21 to 86!), at her studio-cum-cultural center in Pennsylvania, which she describes as “Quite possibly the loudest place in America (what do you expect when you fill a room with 500 tap dancers).”
And she doesn’t just teach tap; she intentionally harnesses its power to transform. Her students — everyone from people struggling to cope with the things that suck in day-to-day life to women struggling to recover from abusive relationships — learn to use dance to lift themselves up.
That’s flat-out awesome.
Now, I’ll grant that tap — in which both room for joyful abandon and the ability to simply make noise are pretty much obviously inherent — probably seems, at first pass, like a more accessible way to learn that skill. It also probably seems less intimidating; less judgmental(1).
Seriously: how many movies have you seen about eating-disordered tap dancers being drooled upon by scummy ADs?
None? Same here. Also, I’m pretty sure that if you want to understand how Americans conceptualize tap dancers versus ballet dancers, you should just watch Happy Feet and then watch Black Swan.
Actually, just watch a trailer for Black Swan, which will sum it up without making you sit through the whole train wreck, and then watch Happy Feet to make yourself feel better.
That said, my own experiences and those of so many dancers that I know either in “meatspace” or online have experienced the same kind of transformation through ballet.
We’ve just, erm, experienced it a little more quietly.
So, knowing that there are bajillions of people out there who were once little girls who dreamed of being ballerinas or little boys who secretly thought ballet was awesome, in addition to bajillions of people elsewhere on the gender spectrum who maybe always wanted to dance but didn’t because they felt uncomfortable about their bodies or what have you, I have to wonder what it would take to make something as a amazing as Vicki’s TapPups happen with adult ballet students.
I think, probably, the safe space of an all-adults, all-the-time program probably makes things easier for nervous newcomers (if not necessarily for parents of school-age kids with their oceans of after-school activities; there’s something to be said for your ballet class being at the same time and place as your kids’ classes).
Basically, I would love to figure out how to light this kind of fire under my studio’s adult program — because, honestly, I freaking love my (primary) studio, and I have learned so freaking much and come so freaking far in the past 2.5 years that it’s not even funny, and I’d rather drive this kind of love through their doors than work to form something that competes with that.
Anyway, I am seriously thinking I might read Ms. Riordan’s book, because this she a lady who clearly knows how not only how to get adults into the studio, but how to keep them there.
I suspect that one of the remarkable elements of her program is that she has formalized the social end of things — the lounge is a comfortable space where her dancers can hang out and chat; once a quarter, they have a tap jam session together; they offer a boot-camp program that takes both technique and fitness seriously(2).
This is one of the reasons that I think serious adult dancers who are able to really should do everything in their power to get themselves to an intensive. The conditioning element alone moves mountains.
Anyway, I find the whole TapPups phenomenon pretty inspiring. Really demonstrates that where there’s a will, there’s a way!
…And now I’m off to watch some of my favorite dancers not die of heatstroke, I hope.