by Ryan Casey
When I talk to my non-dance friends about tap dancing, they are perhaps most surprised to learn about the proliferation of tap festivals. They cannot believe that international locales from Montana to Stockholm, Hawaii to Taiwan, host an annual event just for tappers. And now, luckily for us, another alluring area has been bitten by the festival bug: Martha's Vineyard.
I was fortunate to attend the island's inaugural tap event last summer at The Yard, a kind of miniature version of Jacob's Pillow that trades mountains for beaches. (Seriously, how did Massachusetts luck out with not one, but TWO dance meccas?!) "Tap The Yard: A Vineyard Festival of Rhythm and Beats" was an infectious week of workshops and performances featuring some of this year's returning artists, like David Parker and The Bang Group and Michelle Dorrance and Dorrance Dance. The Yard's small staff is incredibly friendly and welcoming, and the island itself is so relaxing and picturesque that it's the perfect setting in which to be creative and to be surrounded by artistic minds.
This year's Tap The Yard installment promises to be even better than the last, encompassing a full two weeks, including a gala celebration, and featuring not just tap dance (Derick Grant, Jason Samuels Smith), but also Irish step dance (Trent Kowalik), hip hop (The Wonder Twins) and contemporary dance (Camille A. Brown). In this way, it's something greater than a tap festival, because it encompasses other styles of dance and embraces the universal notions of rhythm that unite them. It is wonderful to see a festival not just supporting terrific rhythm dance, but encouraging interdisciplinary work and creating opportunities for otherwise unrelated artists to work together.
Tap isn't just an annual occasion at The Yard, either. As part of their community outreach program, they are busy developing a tap curriculum to launch in schools on Martha's Vineyard as early as this fall. Along with Amber Sloan, a member of the Bang Group, and the Wonder Twins, I went to The Yard this spring for the first phase of this project, performing in local schools and community centers and educating students and teachers about tap. Kids and adults alike were enthralled by our presentations; one first grader with a hearing aid said, "The rhythms were pleasing to my ears." Another child remarked, "You guys are amazing." A teacher in the school district who saw our presentation at least four times in the span of two days had a genuine grin on her face every time she watched us.
There are a plethora of dance festivals, intensives, workshops and classes to consider each summer, but The Yard has crafted an event that is surely unique, bringing together some of the best talent from the Northeast. Did you really need another excuse to visit the Vineyard? If so, this is it - and best of all, each performance during the festival is different from the others, with varying casts, plus a tap jam and a benefit concert, not to mention daily classes. It's worth the trip to expand your rhythmic repertoire and see some of today's finest dance talent all assembled in one magical place.