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Friday, September 29, 2017

The World's Best Tap Dancers Are Coming to the Grandel This Weekend

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 6:43 AM

click to enlarge Three of the world's greatest tap dancers are coming to the Grandel this weekend. - PHOTO BY MARC MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY.
  • Photo by Marc Millman Photography.
  • Three of the world's greatest tap dancers are coming to the Grandel this weekend.
Tap dancing is taking over Grand Center this weekend, when three of today's most highly regarded hoofers take the stage at the Grandel (3610 Grandel Square, 314-533-0367).

This Saturday and Sunday, nonprofit dance presenter Dance St. Louis hosts TAP Dynamics, a tap performance set to live jazz music courtesy of a band led by music director and drummer Allison Miller. The show star powerhouse tap dancers Jason Samuels Smith, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Derick K. Grant, who have resumes full of awards and accomplishments — Sumbry-Edwards even served as Michael Jackson's personal tap instructor.

TAP Dynamics is also a performance of firsts for Dance St. Louis: the organization's first show of the season, its first time bringing a tap-focused show in several years and its first show in its new performance home in Grand Center after years spent at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

But while TAP Dymamics heralds a fresh start in a number of ways, its inspiration extends decades back in dance history with its two featured works: Smith's Going the Miles, which debuted at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse in New York in 2016, and excerpts from Sumbry-Edwards' And Still You Must Swing, which premiered at the iconic Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in 2016.

Smith's piece honors jazz legend Miles Davis, taking audiences on a journey highlighting the impact our culture and collective consciousness make through jazz and tap. The music pays tribute to three of Davis' works and is a nod to jazz and tap improvisation.

Meanwhile, Sumbry-Edwards' work celebrates tap dance and jazz music and its origins in Africa. Sumbry-Edwards says And Still You Must Swing is a response to modern tap and jazz music's lack of swing, a key part of their roots. In her years of teaching, she noticed how today's dancers were technical, but there was something missing — the groove known as swing. 

"I understand that we are in 2017. That's almost 100 years ago from that era," Sumbry-Edwards says in reference to the 1930s and tap's style at the time. "But I think as tap dancers and as jazz musicians alike, I think we should just be aware of what [swing] is. I'm not saying you have to swing all the time. Just be aware of what it is as a tap dancer, as a jazz musician. I think we just to be aware of history."

The music for And Still You Must Swing covers a variety of styles and moods, from straight swing tunes to bebop to slow, groovy swing. When performed in its entirety, the work also includes Lindy done to African drums.

Tap needs to be shared with a wider audience for a simple reason, Sumbry-Edwards says: So people know it's still around. 

"People are always surprised — 'Oh my gosh, tap dance, really?'" she says. "...People need to know that there are tap dancers doing it, that it is now, it is a dance that is happening right now, and it looks like right now. It doesn't look like 1920; it's not the same."

She says that And Still You Must Swing truly affects people — the reason she wanted to dance in the first place.

"Without even saying anything, they come to us and say, 'Wow, that,' you know? And they go away either wanting to know more about tap dancing, or more about jazz music. And that does it for me."

And we know you're wondering, so we had to ask: What was it like being Michael Jackson's personal tap instructor?

"It was a pretty cool experience," says Sumbry-Edwards, who worked with the pop star off and on for about eleven years. She says Jackson was a perfectionist, spending four hours polishing just four counts of music. He didn't just want to master the steps; he wanted to to know what he was going to do other than the footwork, whether it was flipping his jacket, touching his fedora or another classic Jackson move.

"He really wanted to learn how to tap dance," Sumbry-Edwards says.

You can see TAP Dynamics at the Grandel on September 30 at 7:30 p.m. and October 1 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20. Add-ons, including a pre-performance cocktail party on Saturday and a post-performance dinner on Sunday, are available for an extra cost. For more information and tickets, visit, or call the Dance St. Louis box office at 314-534-6622.

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