Tap is Back in Space City

New Festival Welcomes All-Star Faculty

Jason Samuels Smith

Texas New Tap, a newly established production company whose purpose is to promote tap education and enthusiasm throughout the greater Houston area will launch Space City Tap Fest on February 26, 2010. Faculty will include astonishing young talent and 2009 Dance Magazine Award winner, Jason Samuels Smith, as well as emerging leaders Chloé and Maud Arnold. Organizers Mary Lee Kennedy and Emilie Koenig hope that the weekend-long event will give “lift-off” to an annual tradition and put Houston back on the circuit of American and international cities that bring together hoofers to woodshed, jam, pass down their skills, and recount their lineage.

This is good news for Houston, a city that hasn’t had its own festival for twenty years. In the 1980s tap dance was enjoying a cultural renaissance. Cities across the globe began hosting festivals where maestros mingled with fledglings, ensuring that future generations would carry on the legacy of the art form. The year 1989 saw the release of the motion picture Tap, the Emmy-award-winning PBS program Gregory Hines: Tap Dance in America!, and Broadway’s Black and Blue: evidence that tap dance had mainstream appeal. Unfortunately this was also the last year that the Outrageous Rhythms festival, an event that drew tap greats such as Honi Coles, Steve Condos, Eddie Brown, as well as a young Savion Glover, would be held in Houston.

Today, a new wave of tappers convene in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Austin. Almost every major city in the United States has its own festival. Yet, since the death of Texas dance educator and icon Camille Long Hill who spearheaded Outrageous Rhythms, there has not been anyone to sponsor such a convention in Houston… until now.

Dance Source sat down with Space City Tap Fest director, Emilie Koenig, to learn more about the upcoming event.

Dance Source Houston: Why is Houston ripe now for such a tap festival?

Emilie Koenig: Although it is the fourth largest city in the US, most of today’s tap legends have never taught in Houston. Even though there are dance studios on nearly every corner, there is really not a sense of tap community that spans beyond studio lines. Unlike other cities, there are little or no opportunities for a continuing tap education aside from an occasional master class. Houston is in dire need of a concentrated forum for tap enthusiasts and educators to meet, share choreography, and stimulate each other creatively.

DSH: Jason Samuels Smith joined the cast of Bring in Da’Noise, Bring in Da’Funk at age 15. He has received an Emmy and an American Choreography Award for his work on Jerry Lewis’ 2003 Telethon. He is in demand and teaches to packed rooms at festivals worldwide. How did he become involved with Space City Tap Fest?

EK: I danced formerly at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy where Jason Samuels Smith was the lead tap instructor. I received the bulk of my tap training under Jason and Chloe Arnold, and I am a close personal friend of them both. Jason is very enthusiastic about spreading tap education to a broader audience and is thrilled to be participating in this festival.

DSH: Will he be teaching both days of the festival?

EK: Yes, Saturday for the advanced level, and Sunday for the intermediate level. He will also be attending and participating in the meet-and-greet and tap jam, and the closing concert will feature his solo performance.

DSH: Tell us about Acia Gray and why you’ve chosen to honor her at this year’s festival.

EK: Acia Gray has dedicated her life to keeping tap education alive in the state of Texas. She is the president of the ITA (International Tap Association), directs the only other tap festival to be held in the state of Texas (in Austin) [Editor’s note: It has come to my attention that Third Coast Rhythm Project is held annually in San Antonio], and is greatly respected by the entire tap community. She will be honored during the final concert with an awards ceremony. We will also play a short film showcasing some of her work and contributions to the Texas tap community.

DSH: Why is it important to you to see Houston’s tap community strengthened and renewed through Tap Fest?

EK: This is the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream for both the executive producer, Mary Lee Kennedy, and I. Mary was a student of Camille Long Hill and participated in Outrageous Rhythms. From the age of four, her passion has been for dance—specifically tap—and she has spent her life educating dancers and teachers.

In 2004 I suffered a devastating illness that left me paralyzed and in therapy for more than 8 months. In my mind, my dance career had come to an end. It was inspiration from friends Maud Arnold and Jason Samuels Smith who encouraged me to put my tap shoes back on and begin living life again. This renewed passion stirred me to put together a festival to bring Houston tap dancers together to share their own stories, and to share their love of dance.

Space City Tap Fest’s final concert is open to the public and will include live jazz music and solo performances by all faculty members. Tickets to the performance are $15. Participants may register for events and festival packages at www.spacecitytapfest.com.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston

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Published by Nichelle

Nichelle balances careers as a dancer, instructor, writer, and mother. She is a seasoned performer whose strength lies in bringing dramatic

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