Portland International Tap festival – annual gathering of tap dance students

Portland International Tap festival – annual gathering of tap dance students – Young Dancer

Martha Ullman West

Every summer for the past six years young tap dancers have been flocking to Portland, Oregon, to learn from the aging masters of what may be the most American dance form. Teenagers Mya Harrison and Joe Webb, winners of the 1994 Tap America Project Summer Scholarship Competition, are two out of some 300 students of all ages who will gather in the City of Roses July 8-16 to study with old-time hoofers such as Cholly Atkins and Buster Brown.

“For anyone whose dream of heaven is to take tap eight hours a day for a week, this is the place to be,” says Jan Corbett, the festival’s director. A variety of tap techniques are taught – from old-time hoffing to the latest moves to rap. This year, for the first time, there will be a class in musical theater tap, with instruction in how to use hats and props.

Students come from around the United States and Canada, and from countries as distant as Japan, Germany, and France for these sessions. The contingent from Portland includes the Jefferson Dancers, Jefferson High School’s award-winning dance troupe.

The festival ends with a performance by faculty members called “Tappin’ with Masters.” This year the emcees are Cholly Atkins and Dianne Walker. Atkins is well known for his partnership with the late Charles “Honi” Coles, a duo that defined tap at its most impeccably elegant. He was also a choreographer for many of Motown’s leading recording artists, and at the festival he teaches an unusual class in Motown vocal choreography, as well as advanced tap. As in past years, Walker will teach traditional tap dances and intermediate technique.

Other faculty members who will perform are Linda Sohl-Donnell, artistic director of L.A.-based Rhapsody in Taps; Christy Wyant, of the same company; Fred Strickler, of the University of California at Riverside; Gracey Tune. Tommy Tune’s sister, who calls her style Texas blues and swing; Sam Weber of the Jazz Tap Ensemble; Heather Cornell of Manhattan Tap; and Van Porter, a featured dancer in Black and Blue.

One young tapper who will be missed this year is eighteen-year-old Tarik Winston, a lead in Black and Blue, whose flash-funk tapping bears the stamp of the 1990s. Underlying Winston’s contemporary look, however, is the traditional grounding that only such masters as Atkins and Walker can pass on. “I don’t consider myself a master,” Winston said in an interview. “It takes a lifetime to perfect a style.” At last year’s event he studied with Atkins when he wasn’t teaching his own classes. He expressed pride in being able to say, “Cholly Atkins taught me this.”

This merging of the old and the new is precisely what the festival promotes. It is the reason that Harrison and Webb, both fifteen-year-old students from Washington, D.C., are headed for Portland. “As an opportunity for the last generation to pass tap on to this next generation, I think the festival is unbeatable,” said Carol Vaughn, executive director of the Tap America Project, the service organization that is sponsoring the scholarships.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Dance Magazine, Inc.

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