For tap enthusiasts in Greater Boston, the annual Beantown Tapfest was a summer highlight for 10 years. Created and directed by tap maven Julia Boynton, the multi-day event brought together dancers of all ages and abilities for intensive study and discovery, and the capstone faculty showcase was a feel-good celebration of the art form.
When Boynton stepped away from the festival’s heavy responsibilities after 2019′s 10th anniversary run, her hope was that someone in the community would step up to keep it going the next summer. Then came COVID…
This summer, though, the festival’s spirit is being reimagined as the inaugural Boston Tap Party (BTP), spearheaded by Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center in Porter Square. From Aug. 4-7, the festival will feature residencies, open classes, and a Friday night tap jam at the center, plus a faculty/student showcase Aug. 6 at Arlington’s Regent Theatre.
“We’re so excited to finally launch the Boston Tap Party,” says producer/director Deborah Mason Dudley. “Attendees are coming from around the country and Canada. We hope this new festival and showcase becomes an ongoing and vibrant annual celebration of tap performance in Greater Boston.”
Mason Dudley, a teacher, producer, and mentor in the Greater Boston dance community for decades, is founder/director of the nonprofit Cambridge Youth Dance Program for serious young performers. Her school (now arts center) has been a training ground for dancers in multiple genres since 1975, and she is funding this first festival largely from her studio’s coffers. Over the years, the center has evolved into an unofficial home for tap education in the area, and after establishing a new space in Somerville in 2015, it housed Beantown Tapfest classes and activities for the festival’s final years, with Mason Dudley directing the children’s programs.
“The space is perfect for a tap festival,” says Boynton, “and for the last six years of my festival, it was just heaven. The whole place was alive with everything tap.”
Most of the new Boston Tap Party’s faculty have been involved in previous Beantown Tapfests and have roots in the local tap community — Ian Berg, Ryan P. Casey, Samantha Emmond, Thelma Goldberg, Khalid Hill, Kelly Kaleta, Demi Remick, Tony Scott, and Aaron Tolson. Jai Underhill is the festival’s coordinator, and tap pioneer Dianne “Lady Di” Walker, who has helped inspire and shape generations of young tappers, is the festival faculty’s grande dame and consultant. “She is like the godmother of tap, and her involvement and artistic direction adds tremendous value at the top level,” says Hill, who grew up in Boston and now lives in New York.
Hill adds, “I work full time as a dance teacher and say no to a lot of things, but whenever I get a call to do this in Boston, I say yes. It never feels like work. It always feels like fun. Deborah’s calling this one a party and everyone’s invited, come as you are.”
For audiences, Friday’s free tap jam will offer an informal opportunity to watch a range of performers in improvisatory mode, exploring styles and trading riffs with one another. “It will be live musicians and tappers going at it at the studio,” says Mason Dudley.
The festival showcase at the Regent Theatre on Saturday will be more of a set show highlighting the artistry of faculty as well as some of the advanced attendees, all fueled by a live band led by pianist Paul Arlsanian. “That dude is like an icon,” Hill says. “He understands the art form, and having a live band pays homage to the history and lends authenticity to the performance.”
Since its inception, tap has been a community-oriented art form, and that’s a big part of Mason Dudley’s motivation in getting the festival back up and running. “It’s really about bringing community together,” Mason Dudley says, and diversity is a large part of that.
Hill elaborates: “Tap has always been community-oriented, since its inception. Even before it was codified, people learned through apprenticeships with other dancers. Information was transferred person to person, roots to roots. And because it’s communal, it’s easier to attract diverse dancers, [people from] different backgrounds, different body types, and Deborah always has a strong eye toward diversity. She’s intentional about making sure people have opportunities.”
Boynton, who by her own design is not officially involved in the new venture, can’t think of a better person than Mason Dudley to run it. “She’s very laid back, very unassuming, but she is a good business person, always resourceful and creative, almost like a den mother, creating a home for people to come together and connect and exchange ideas,” Boynton says.
If this first Boston Tap Party is a success, and Mason Dudley can get help with funding for the future, next year could bring an even larger event. She said she also may explore combining the initiative with her annual Hip Hop Exchange, to encourage creative give and take.
“Everyone stays in their own pocket in Boston, and just reaching out and bringing people in all together makes it so much more cohesive,” Mason Dudley says. “We can talk and create together.”
BOSTON TAP PARTY
Aug. 4-7, Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center, Somerville, and Regent Theatre, Arlington. Reserved seats for the Saturday faculty showcase are $30. www.bostontapparty.com
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.