They call tap the most accessible dance form, both to learn and watch. Optimistic, I’ve attempted tap lessons not once but twice.
The first time my teacher assumed a background in Irish dance. When I told him my only relationship to Irish dance consisted of making fun of then-infamous Michael Flately, he looked puzzled. “Then why are you jigging?”
The second time, I was sixteen and learning to drive. I discovered that both tap and driving seemed easier if indirectly approached. Like breathing, each became laborious when over-thought, but if I focused my attention elsewhere, the shuffle ball and lane changes were flawless. Sadly this technique only worked sometimes. Other times, it caused me to crash into classmates and brick walls. So now, by court order, I content myself with watching, and in this city, Chicago Tap Theater is one to watch.
Days before their “Tidings of Tap,” their annual holiday extravaganza opens, choreographer Mark Yonally spoke with me about the show.
Our Town Having little dance background, I’m always curious how one constructs a number.
Mark Yonally It either begins with an amazing piece of music or a concept I want to explore. I immerse myself as deeply as I can in the music, listening to it obsessively. Then I write notes for myself [and] begin working with the dancers. Generally I'll make up a few steps and as I watch the dancers begin to inhabit the dance I draw further inspiration and ideas from them.
OT Where do you find inspiration?
MY A great piece of music [is] the first and best inspiration. The dancers are another never-ending source: their creativity, their talent and their ideas. Finally, contemporary culture is something I try to stay engaged in. I think you can talk to people (or, in our case, dance for them) in a more relevant way if you are an active part of the same culture.
OT What are your influences?
MY While dance is a true passion for me, I think music is the fire behind that passion. My background is as a jazz tap dancer, working with live bands in Kansas City (home of Count Basie and Charlie Parker!). The biggest influences for me are various jazz musicians. The way Miles Davis uses negative space, or Mingus uses counterpoint, are all completely relevant to creating dance.
OT How much narrative does your work contain?
MY Most of our work at least contains a concept, or an emotion to be explored. While I love pure movement, I'm equally in love with telling stories. Many choreographers are still inspired by the post-modern movement of the sixties, where narrative content was almost looked down upon. While there are other dance companies doing conceptual and narrative work, I think we may be one of the only tap companies engaged in these pursuits. [However], there are a few pieces in this show that are purely about the sheer joy and/or beauty of rhythm and movement.
OT I’ve heard this year’s show is heavy on the Hanukah, why?
MY It's somewhat evenly split between Hanukkah and Christmas. It’s important to have a Holiday dance program that recognizes and reflects the strength and diversity of Chicago itself. Plus, there's some beautiful music that comes out of the Jewish tradition that I'm honored to be able to choreograph to.
OT What else can we expect?
MY Fun! Sing-alongs, snow, and surprises. Most surprising [may be] how sophisticated this show is. While it is certainly family-friendly, it is not just a kid's show.
To learn more about this one weekend only show, visit http://chicagotaptheatre.com/
A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually.