By Ava Giglio ’19
Photos by Rob Strong
Saturday, April 8, I had the opportunity to take class with tap extraordinaire (and MacArthur Genius) Michelle Dorrance. As I hadn’t tapped in a while, I’ll admit I was a little nervous when lacing up my shoes. But I soon learned I had nothing to be nervous about. Michelle came in, put her tap shoes on and casually asked the question, “Do you guys want to tap dance today?” The collective answer was a resounding yes and class began.
We didn’t tap to any music for the entire class, which was something I was not entirely used to. Dancers typically use music in warm-up and choreography, but Michelle pushed us to really focus on the music we were making with our feet. The warm-up consisted of heels and toes across the floor, accenting different beats in our “music” each time. It was definitely challenging at times, but Michelle kept the mood throughout class upbeat with jokes and anecdotes.
From there we worked on shuffles, and I was impressed with how much detail Michelle put into each movement. She showed us how each part of the tap can make a different sound, from the top of the tap making a light, high noise to the sides making a lower tone. I had never thought of my taps as being able to make different pitches before. While working on the shuffles, Michelle also talked about engaging your entire body in each movement. Tap can easily be brushed off as only feet moving, and I’ll admit that when I get really focused on a step it’s hard for me to use the rest of my body. But she showed how moving the whole body with each movement vastly improves the quality of the tapping. Tap is much more physical than some might think; I got to be exposed to even more of that full-body tapping later when watching The Blues Project.
Michelle ended the class with a short combination in 3/3 time. It was her own spin on a waltz and included ballet-inspired group work, fast steps and movement across the floor. It was a lot of fun to get to learn some of her original choreography, and I was very impressed by the creativity and originality of it.
Later that night I was lucky enough to witness even more of Michelle’s creativity at Dorrance Dance’s performance of The Blues Project. The show was incredibly entertaining and engaging. It featured a variety of pieces, from lively group numbers to emotional improvisational solos. I particularly loved the solo Michelle did in which she began by making very soft sounds with her shoes and finished with rapid-fire step after step. I truly enjoyed my day of dance with Michelle Dorrance, from the master class to the performance of The Blues Project. By the end of the day, I felt invigorated, inspired and ready to tap. That, and my feet hurt, but in the best way possible.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ava currently resides in Syracuse, NY. Her favorite activities include dancing, watching movies and eating popcorn. She plans to double-major in math and theater.