Dancing like a Girl: The New Tap Women Are Putting Femininity Back on the Boards

By Cutcher, Jenai | Dance Magazine, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Dancing like a Girl: The New Tap Women Are Putting Femininity Back on the Boards


Cutcher, Jenai, Dance Magazine


In 1997, I sneaked into a rehearsal for Savion Glover's newly-formed company, NYOT's (Not Your Ordinary Tappers), and lay on the floor between two rows of seats in the theater to listen. I just assumed that the female voice amidst the conversations and laughter from the stage was someone from the technical crew or the press or maybe even a dancer's girlfriend. Seated in the audience later that night, when Ayodele Casel took the stage with Glover and the rest of the male ensemble, I realized how wrong I had been. The female voice was Casel's and it was suddenly speaking loud and clear through every heel drop, shuffle, and wing.

Whether she intended it to or not, Casel's tap dancing voice resonated far and wide. Her dancing with NYOTs was similar to the men's: crouched stance, leg movements that reached away from the body, and generating forceful sounds when hitting the floor. It didn't seem like a big deal to her at the time, but in hindsight, she sees how significant her presence was. It came right on the heels of Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, Glover's Broadway musical that turned the public's attention back to tap while introducing them to a new style, referred to in the show as "hitting." Noise/Funk, which ran for 1,135 performances and toured the nation for years, featured only male dancers in its cast.

"Once NYOTs came," Casel theorizes, "and Savion Glover had a woman addition to his group, people took notice. All of a sudden it became, 'Girls can do this, too!'" Nearly 10 years later, the girls have proven this many times over. Now they're discovering they can do a lot more than just dance like the guys.

Or as a guy. In terms of women hoofers at that time, one may have been overlooked for a moment, but certainly not because of her technique. Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards wasn't such visible proof that a woman could dance as well as a man because she was dancing as a man. In order to step into the Noise/Funk role on Broadway, she had to "man up" by wearing men's clothing and assuming a more rugged attitude and posture. But in the revival tour (2002-03), she played female characters. "We were present in that history," says Sumbry-Edwards. "We were on the train, too!"

When asked how it felt to finally dance the choreography as a woman, Sumbry-Edwards sighs with relief. "It was a huge weight off my shoulders." And who needs that extra weight when you're rocking the high heels? In several performances since Noise/Funk, including Flight of the Bumblebee with Jazz Tap Ensemble, Sumbry-Edwards has garnered attention for "killing it" while wearing a skirt, heels, and a smile.

"That woman can do anything and she can do it in heels, which takes an incredible amount of technique in its own right," remarks Acia Gray, a tap dancer and artistic director at Tapestry Dance Company in Austin. After spending the first 10 years of her career tap dancing in drag, Gray is happy to see heels come back from the days of chorus girls at the Cotton Club. Yes, high heels are a different instrument when compared to the flat tap shoes dancers usually wear. And yes, many women fought long and hard to come down from them and be taken seriously as both dancers and musicians. Many emotions and opinions are wrapped up in this footwear comeback, but the heels now serve a higher purpose. Whether it's for the look, the sound, or the fun, whether a fashion, political, or historical statement, the shoes cannot be ignored. The high heels are tangible evidence that women are exploring what it means to be a woman within the art form.

Whether it was dancing in drag like Sumbry-Edwards and Gray or adopting masculine traits because the only role models available were male, women in the 1970s and '80s did what was necessary to get to the next level in rhythm tap. While women were burning their bras in the street, Brenda Bufalino, Lynn Dally, Dianne Walker, and others were lacing up flat taps in the studio.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dancing like a Girl: The New Tap Women Are Putting Femininity Back on the Boards
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.