Getting to Know Tony Waag

The American Tap Dance Foundation
by Nicole Harris

Since moving to New York three years ago I have been fortunate enough to take class, dance and work with some amazing members of the tap dance community. Many of these opportunities would not have been possible if not for all the hard work and dedication of Tony Waag. Tony is the Artistic/Executive Director of the American Tap Dance Foundation, a non-profit committed to establishing and legitimizing Tap Dance as a vital component of American Dance through creation, presentation, education and preservation.

ATDF started in 1986 as the American Tap Dance Orchestra, a vehicle for the choreography of Brenda Bufalino, of which Tony was a featured performer and Executive Director. As the organization grew to include more education they opened Woodpeckers Studio from 1989 to 1995. In 2002 TAP CITY, The New York City Tap Festival was created and the name changed from the American Tap Dance Orchestra to the American Tap Dance Foundation. In January of 2010 The American Tap Dance Center opened its doors on Christopher Street in New York City, creating a home for all of ATDF's programming, from classes for all ages and levels, to workshops and performance opportunities, to the Tap City Youth Ensemble.

This winter I got to sit and talk with Tony about ATDF, the festival, his career and plans for the future and the art of tap dancing.

NH: What is your favorite part of what the organization does?
TW: Well, you know it changes. Most recently (of course, I'm so into the festival and I love performing and the artistic things like being part of a show) but most recently it's been the kids and the classes and just seeing them tap dance.

NH: Do you think that having a home will change the organization?
TW: I think the fact that it's growing and reaching more people is change. It has become more challenging. I think it gives us more of an identity. It's easier for people to wrap their brains around something they can actually see and experience on a consistent basis.

NH: Part of your mission statement is about preservation. Can you tell me a little about that?
TW: We got funding last year from the NEA to re-explore two of Brenda Bufalino's pieces. It didn't dawn on me until that moment that it had already been twenty years. The preservation is now, because what feels like it was yesterday was twenty years ago.
It's also a lot of picking up the pieces, the stuff that was really almost lost. I've seen all of these legends die over the last twenty years. Luckily I learned or was part of or had access to either footage or conversations or actual people that learned information or material or dances from these people. From the very beginning it was pretty obvious that that stuff was in danger.

NH: What about preserving work that is being created now?
TW: Well, luckily with technology it's a little easier to preserve things now. If you do a contemporary project and have access to cameras and websites to promote your events or dvds to sell your product you're more likely to capture all that information, not just to preserve it but as a tool to remember it or knowing that you want to be able to use it for promotion later on. You didn't have all these other things before. Luckily a lot of the preservation is happening anyway.

NH: Tap has such an oral history. How do you feel the new technology changes the art form?
TW: Those tools are great as far as education. Yes, you can see the Miller Brothers and Lois on YouTube but it's an easy come easy go. You spend a nano-second looking at it and you think you know what it is. But if you had to work for it, you'd appreciate it differently.
But it's also good because it's a way to get it out to more people. If there's a show with tap dancing on Broadway, even if it's only one number, that's great because it reaches thousands of people. If there's show on television with tap dancing, that reaches millions of people.

Stay Tuned for More Words of Wisdom from Tony Waag, Coming Soon!

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