Julia Boynton - An Interview with Beantown Tapfest's Founder

All week long, tap dancers from all over the globe have come to Boston to hold workshops, classes, and open jams for Beantown Tapfest! The faculty showcase, ON TAP, is tonight at 8pm at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown- be sure to check it out! I talked to Julia Boynton, the festival's founder, about running the festival, her favorite ice cream, and how she started dancing.

Aisha Cruse: How long have you been dancing? Have you always done tap?

Julia Boynton: Growing up in the golden age of television, I fell in love with the dance I saw on variety shows and in the old movie musicals, so my mom took me to the local dancing school—Miss Mackie’s School of Dance in Framingham—and though I wanted to take ballet, I was placed in the tap class. That didn’t last long as I preferred climbing trees and balancing on fences. However the attraction to dance remained and I started taking classes in my early twenties at the Joy of Movement Center.

AC: Many dancers feel drawn to a particular form; did you feel a connection to tap?

JB: I tried a couple of ballet, modern and jazz classes and realized I needed a more relaxed style of movement. Although flamenco didn’t fit that description, I loved the element of making sound in tap and flamenco and started studying both forms, in private and group lessons. Ultimately I chose tap. At that time I struggled with depression and felt tap allowed me a lightness of being and expression that I needed to cultivate.

AC: Why did you start Tapfest?

JB: In my mid-thirties I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, now known as Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, which meant I had to deal with severe limits to my energy. Performing, traveling abroad to teach, and teaching full time were manageable only with a great deal of planning and effort. I started producing regular tap jams and master classes as a means to augment a reduced teaching load and also to remain involved in tap dance without taxing my energy. I enjoyed being part of the larger community those tap events attracted (outside of my own student population), and producing the tap festival was a natural progression.

AC: What was your biggest hurdle starting the festival?

JB: The biggest hurdle to starting the festival was finding an affordable and suitable venue for the classes. The first two years the festival was at Springstep in Medford, a gorgeous space but located too far from the city. The next two years we were at Green Street Studios, a great location with affordable studios but lacking space for students and faculty to relax and mingle outside of class. Last year Deborah Mason opened her new space in Somerville and Beantown Tapfest found its ideal and permanent home.

AC: The festival is in its 9th year (congrats!); have the challenges of running a festival changed with each year?

JB: The first Beantown Tapfest was in 2007. Since then, promotion has become easier and less costly. I’ve come to rely less on postcards, posters, and postal mailings to get the word out, and more on email, online listings and Facebook.

AC: What has been the most rewarding part of producing the festival?

JB: For me, being in the midst of a multi-generational community of fellow tap devotees from near and far, reuniting, taking classes, jamming, discussing, rehearsing, performing and hanging out, is a gratifying way to spend a week. There are moments when I get a sense of tap’s past, present and future all at once.

AC: Has teaching impacted your dancing or your work with the festival?

JB: In Boston there’s a substantial contingent of advanced over-40 tap students, myself included, who’ve tapped professionally or taken tap as a hobby for decades. We’re advanced in terms of vocabulary and skill, but don’t have the memory or energy we did in our twenties. Advanced teens and young adults with sharper memory and boundless energy can process more material and handle more rigorous movement. In past festivals advanced adult students were often left in the dust. Because the majority of my own students are adults, I understand the frustration of mixed classes. This year the festival is offering classes geared to both populations: advanced adults and advanced teens & young adults.

AC: Favorite ice-cream flavor?

JB: Coconut milk ice-cream

AC: If you could take class or have lunch with any dancer, living or dead, who would it be?

JB: I’d like to have a martini with Sammy Davis Jr.

AC: Any advice for our movers and shakers out there?

JB: I’ll share this Teddy Roosevelt quote: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

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