Flamenco, kathak, tap, body percussion, Irish step … they’re all percussive dance genres grounded in the universal language of rhythm, but they originate from very different traditions from around the world. The new Feet Keep the Beat initiative aims to highlight commonalities and differences with a multicultural dance festival August 1-4 at Somerville’s Center for Arts at the Armory (CAA). The festival culminates in a showcase performance August 4, deliberately dovetailing with the second annual Boston Tap Party Faculty Showcase, which moves to the Armory this year on August 5. While the two ventures are separate entities, together they create a one-two punch for dance lovers.
CAA’s CEO Stephanie Scherpf created Feet Keep the Beat and sees it as a chance to “introduce audiences to new percussive dance styles, creating some convergence and buzz.”
Deborah Mason Dudley, director of Boston Tap Party, adds, “I think it will be great to have Somerville bustling with all kinds of rhythm.”
Mason Dudley was one of the first people Scherpf reached out to in creating the new festival. Winner of two lifetime achievement awards this year – one from CAA, the other from Boston Dance Alliance — Mason Dudley launched the annual Boston Tap Party last summer after tap maven Julia Boynton retired from directing the long-running Beantown Tapfest in 2019. Mason Dudley was a natural to take up the mantle for tap dance, hosting classes and performances at her Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center in Porter Square. Her school has been a multi-genre training ground for dancers since 1975, evolving into an unofficial home for tap education in the area.
This summer, the tap celebration continues there with four days of classes and workshops by top-notch artists from around the country, including Ian Berg, Sydney Burtis, Ryan P. Casey, Thelma Goldberg, Luke Hickey, Khalid Hill, Jason Janas, Kelly Kaleta, Demi Remick, Aaron Tolson, and Dianne Walker, with Walker, Boynton, and Jai Underhill serving as special consultants. But this year, the jam-packed Faculty Showcase will take place at the Armory, set up like a cabaret scene with high-top tables, refreshments, and live music. “It gives me more flexibility to create an atmosphere of the 1920s era of tap,” Mason Dudley says. “I want to take traditions from the past and bring them into the present, honoring the history and culture of tap dance.” Paul Arslanian’s live combo will provide music for the show, which will be followed by a tap jam. Mason Dudley also is hoping to include a short video montage showcasing tap presentations from Boston’s long history with the genre.
In contrast, Feet Keep the Beat is the first festival of its type in the Boston area, though like Mason Dudley’s tap fest it features four days of classes capped by a faculty showcase performance. The show, which features some live music as well, will unfold as 15-minute sets by Ariaki Dandawate (kathak, a classical dance form from North India), DrumatiX (tap/body percussion/drumming), Fourth Dimension (tap), Khalid Hill (tap), Yosi Karahashi (flamenco), Anjali Nath (kathak), and Jackie O’Riley and Rebecca McGowan (Irish), followed by a grand finale with all the artists.
Scherpf envisioned the event as “an international conversation among the different cultural traditions, almost like a call and response with the traditions really speaking to each other.” In addition, the festival includes two free jams at the Armory Café – an Irish Jam (August 1) and a Flamenco Tablao (August 2). Next year, Scherpf hopes also to include artists in step, gumboot, and flatfooting who were unable to participate this year.
Scherpf got the idea for the festival after seeing a CRASHfest performance of Soles of Duende, a trio based in the rhythms of tap, flamenco, and Kathak. She realized the Boston area has its own varied community of percussive dance and wanted to bring artists together and began talking to area performers and teachers.
“I was really taken by the idea of intercultural exchange and what’s possible through percussive dance, because they share the same language but have different vocabularies through their different traditions,” Scherpf says. She’d like to build the festival into an annual celebration, feeding into CAA’s commitment to create its own signature programming. And through mutual support and coordination with Boston Tap Party. both ventures can keep production costs down, collaborate on special flooring and amplification, market the events together, and offer enthusiastic dance audiences a destination weekend.
Mason Dudley adds, “I think it’s going to be great for the city.”
Percussive Dance at Center for Arts at the Armory
Feet Keep the Beat, August 4.
Boston Tap Party, August 5
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.