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John Benson, The News Herald  |  April 01, 2016

DanceWorks '16 brings tap magic of Dorrance Dance

In the world of dance, tap has long been treated as the bastard stepchild. Someone looking to not only correct what she feels is an injustice but also redefine the style for future generations is Michelle Dorrance.

The New York City-based tap dancer, performer, choreographer, teacher and director brings her Bessie Award-winning company, Dorrance Dance, through Northeast Ohio for performances as part of DanceWorks '16. DANCECleveland, in collaboration with Cleveland Public Theatre, presents Dorrance Dance April 7 through 9 at Gordon Square Theatre.

"Dorrance Dance is basically a tap dance company, but a lot of my dancers do multiform dance," said Dorrance, calling from outside of New York City. "There's a great tap community in Cleveland but we are interested in bringing a much deeper and more dynamic respect for the art form to the entire country.

"It's the first American art form. There's a much larger agenda outside of just choreography and composition. What I love about tap is it's both music and movement at the same time. I think one of the reasons we're really excited is because we get to connect with audiences surrounding our passion for the form."


While tap dance is one of the first styles performers are introduced to as young children, this wasn't always the case. Dorrance said a bias towards tap is tied to derogatory racial stereotypes from a century ago involving African-American and Irish immigrant street performers.

"Eventually, Vaudeville and movies showed tap, but people saw it as just entertainment and not necessarily artful," Dorrance said. "That's another thing we aim to deconstruct."

For most folks, tap dance begins and ends with Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines. Dorrance offers perspective on their importance to the medium.

"Sammy (was) truly an incredible tap dancer and Gregory (was) a revolutionary," said Dorrance, who was recently named a MacArthur Fellow and was a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award. "People don't realize Gregory revolutionized the rhythmic sensibility. He was the first one to bring in funk. He was a funk drummer in a band at some point, but he really changed the way we dance. He's the reason why we dance the way we dance now."

Dorrance Dance doesn't shy away from presenting a new tap aesthetic, which draws on street, club and experimental dance forms, as well as a variety of music. The visionary's love of tap began as a child. Mentored by Gene Medler, she grew up performing with the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble while studying dance at The Ballet School of Chapel Hill.

As far as audience members attending the upcoming Dorrance Dance performance, the choreographer promises they will leave feeling wowed.

"You can look forward to some bad-ass improvisation," Dorrance said. "One thing I value when it comes to choreography is tap-dance improvisation. That's the crux of creation. Every single one of my dancers improvises at least a little bit in the show, and I like to feature some of the more creative improvisational dancers.

"That's something I love. Seeing that improvisation juxtaposed with choreography is also something audiences never get to see. There's also exciting rhythmic composition. I love tap dance as dance, but I also love it as music. We hope audiences leave a show saying, 'Oh my God, it's music.'"

When: 8 p.m. April 7 through 9.

Where: Gordon Square Theatre, located at 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland.

Tickets: $12 to $30.

Info: 216-631-2727, ext. 501 or

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