Last year, I wrote about my pop and locking work with Walter Freeman who went on to perform on Broadway for 10 years as an American tap dancer in Riverdance. Walter and I attended many of the same tap classes when I was in high school. Our collaboration is an example of what I call responsible fusion.
Tap Dancing Roots
But my introduction to tap began much earlier. My mother enrolled me in ballet, jazz, and tap when I was a toddler, probably around 2 or 3 years of age. Around the age of 10, I had a tap dancing clave routine where I tapped and played the drumsticks on a chair. In the words of my mother, that “chair drum” number was “hot”.
I continued tap dancing with regular lessons and training well into my late 20s. When I moved to Los Angeles after high school, I was fortunate to study tap with Hinton Battle. By this time, he had won his second of three Tony Awards for his role in The Tap Dance Kid.
When I was about 22 or 23, Mahmoud Reda visited California on a workshop tour. In addition to his folkloric work, Mahmoud starred, choreographed, and performed in several popular Egyptian movies. He was very much an Egyptian Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. One of my favorite memories of Mahmoud’s visit was attending a tap class together. We danced at the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio in North Hollywood.
Tap Dancing in the Middle East
Later, when I performed in the Middle East, the club owners were thrilled when they found out I could tap dance. They insisted that I perform. Tap dancing was incredibly popular, especially in classic Egyptian and Hollywood movies that featured grand dance and musical numbers. And I actually had my tap shoes and drumsticks (from my “chair drum” performance) with me, as I had packed them in my suitcase.
Rather than featuring tap dancing as a completely different act, I wanted to incorporate it into my regular dance set. I developed a duet with the drummer. I would tap, then add finger cymbals, then the drummer and I would question and answer back and forth, and then we would wind up to a big finale. The audience loved the act.
Students have asked me why they thought my tap dancing fusion was so well received by Middle Eastern audiences. I had well over two decades of experience in both belly dance and tap by the time I performed the fusion of the two in the Middle East. I was a teacher of both with extensive performance experience in both. I knew the music and rhythms for both the Middle Eastern and jazz genres. It was a “responsible fusion”. That responsibility included knowing and respecting the technique, music, and culture of both dance forms.
The original blog was published in the Salimpour School blog on 17 May 2013.