Getting to Know Felipe Galganni

by Nicole Harris
Earlier this summer I spent some time in New York City working on Tap It Out with the amazing Lynn Schwab and the folks from the American Tap Dance Foundation.  While there I had the opportunity to get to know an brilliant young tap dancer and a all around fabulous guy, Felipe Galganni.  Since moving to New York from Brazil three years ago Felipe has been busy teaching, choreographing and performing all over the city.  While in town I got to see the premiere of his piece "Reverie in Rio", performed by Felipe himself alongside Lynn Schwab and Chikako Iwahori and singer Jackeline Ribas.  Here is a little conversation with Felipe about his work, moving to the United States and dancing in a foreign language!  Also, Felipe celebrated a birthday last week, so make sure you send your love!

 NH:  Who are your favorite choreographers (tap & otherwise)?
Chikako Iwahori, Brenda Bufalino, Max Pollak, Lynn Schwab, Michelle Dorrance. I love Bob Fosse.

I know that meeting Heather Cornell had a big influence on your life.  What is it about her work/dancing that speaks to you?
FG:  I met Heather in January of 2010. I am from São Paulo (BRA), and she was teaching a workshop in Rio, so I flew to take that.  São Paulo is not the most tap dancing city in Brazil so every time someone came to the area I tried to go.

When I met Heather I instantly felt in love. Her kindness, humbleness and the way she talked about tap dance and music inspired me so much that I decided I wanted to take her summer intensive, here in NY.  I think it's a Master thing, this power of inspiring people! Two months before I come I decided to sell my car and move to USA. Here I am since then.

I know you grew up studying other forms of dance besides tap.  Do you still take any of those classes?  Do you feel like having studied jazz etc. has had an effect on your tap dancing?
FG:  I grew up dancing samba like most Brazilians. And academically taking jazz, later tap, ballet and contemporary. I was never a strong ballet dancer but I feel it was very important to develop some basics,  like turns and balance. And even to "awake" the upper body as a tapper.
You recently told me a wonderful story about your first pair of tap shoes and your subsequent first tap class.  Can you share that story here?

Sure! When I was 14 years old I got some money from my family as a birthday gift. So I decided it was finally my chance to buy a pair of tap shoes. I was always putting them on to "practice" and even to do performances at school. Without having ever taken class at that point.  
So when I was 15, I finally find a school that I could go by myself and take a tap class. I remember it was not very affordable for my family, but they know I really wanted to do that. So they supported me.  When I got in class the teacher came to me and asked: "have you ever tap danced before?" and I said , very confidently "YES!"..."oh, so please show me your favorite step"... And I started my very unique style of tap. Later on she told me that it was the most funny experience she have ever had.  Her name is Valeria Petroni, and she was an amazing instructor for those first tap years. I am very thankful of all I learned from her.

NH:  Can you tell me about the tap community in Brazil compared to New York?
FG:  As I mentioned before, I am from São Paulo and the tap dancing scene is pretty small in there. I was always traveling to another cities, or bringing people to teach me and my tap friends.  New York tap community is big!  Just so you have and idea, in Brazil I had situations that I had to explain to people what tap dance is.  The community is growing though. Go Brazil !!!
NH:  It has now been three years since you moved from Brazil and in talking to you you would think you'd been speaking English for much of your life.  Can you tell me about teaching in the early years in New York when your English was much shakier?  What sort of tools did you use to communicate in moments where language failed you?
FG:  I remember the fist class I taught here in US. It was for Lynn Schwab at Steps. It's hard when you have to communicate in a foreign language to native people, and explain stuff that you're so use to in your first language. It was a little frustrating, but I had to work on that, not been afraid to say the words wrong, and also asking the students in the class and learning from them.

But honestly my English still pretty shaky, and sometimes language does failed on me. Like in today's class the only way I found to tell my students what I wanted to express was "imagine you're wearing a baby diaper" and then later on I said "put your diapers on"... and of course by the end of the class I reinforced: "Don't forget your diaper for next week". LOL. It's fun!

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