Tony Waag tap-dances on a mountaintop

Wednesday September 19, 2012

ADAMS -- Tony Waag may have done as much as anyone in recent memory to bring tap dance to the people, helping raise the profile of the art form in the process.

Wednesday, he continues his long-running mission with a presentation in the lobby at Bascom Lodge. Waag will sing and dance a bit, project some video of other great performers, and lead the audience on a tour through the history of tap and the manifestation of its different styles. The event is free.

Underpinning his whole ap proach is the notion that tap is an eminently accessible thing.

"I feel that tap dance is available and should be available no matter who you are -- what country you're from, how old you are, what color you are, what level you're at, what age you are, what shape you are. I feel that is one of my main focuses and has been my whole life, thanks to many of my influences," he said.

"That's something I truly believe in. That's what drew me to tap dance. Sometimes it can be too precious, but I'm more interested in the average Joe and what they think about tap dance. If they can get a kick out of it, I'm happy to share it with them."

A dancer and choreographer, Waag first began melding performance with education and general advocacy with the organization Woodpeckers Tap Dance Center, founded in 1989. Later, he created the American Tap Dance Foundation and launched the popular Tap City festival in New York City in 2001. He is the foundation's executive and artistic director.

A New York Times report on the festival's first year called it a "dream" of the organizers to open the city's first center dedicated to tap. That dream was realized in 2010, with the opening of the American Tap Dance Center.

Beyond providing classes for learners at all levels, the center offers a very practical benefit for professionals in the field: much-needed rehearsal space.

"Though it's not a huge place, it is a focus on tap dance, so anyone who's really interested can show up and take classes and very likely run into some amazing professionals that also use the space," Waag explained. "We're not worried about our floor getting messed up. That's always been a problem as well; people think that their floor is going to be destroyed. Event ually it does, but in my mind, that's what a floor is for!"

The upcoming performance will be Waag's third at Bascom Lodge. It seems clear he's been a hit.

"The past two years, he got a great response; people really enjoy his multimedia presentation and his dance. So we just invite him back every year," said John Dudek, the manager and chef at the Lodge.

The furniture of the lobby is rearranged for this presentation, he said, making room for a small dance floor plus more than 40 seats. The video portion is projected onto the wall.

Tap has grown as an idiom in the United States for more than 100 years, developing alongside jazz with its incorporation of African-derived rhythms and space for personal expression and improvisation. It has moved in and out of fashion and prominence.

Waag said part of its allure comes from the room for individual expression.

"Almost every person is completely different [as a dancer], and tap allows almost every person to have their own style and personality kind of wrapped up in it," he said. "It does draw a very eccentric group of people, I might add."

As a performer, Waag has been seen everywhere from the PBS series "Great Perform ances" to other tap festivals around the world and a touring production mounted by his foundation. Since the opening of the center, though, he's found himself teaching the craft for the first time in many years. He's even taught a class for absolute beginners.

"The trick is to make it easy, so I think quite often people think it's not so serious. And then they get the shoes on and they see how tough it is, how complicated it is. You're really a musician at the same time as a dancer. It's tricky. So I think teaching makes you put your feet in their shoes a little bit," he said. "That's a common thread among teachers. You really do learn so much about yourself when teaching."


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