Group tap, tap, taps into an underappreciated art form

The Vassar On Tap spring performance culminates a year of practice. They hope to inspire interest in their craft. Membership has continuously grown since the beginning of the year. Photo courtesy of Emma Butensky

While Vassar students are no strangers to stumbling through finals week, Vassar On Tap starts off the end of the year on the right foot—or both.

Vassar On Tap will give its Spring SpecT­APular performance, involving nearly 40 tap dancers of all levels, to celebrate the end of a year. The event will take place on Wednesday, May 11 at 8 p.m. in the Students’ Building 2nd Floor MPR.

On Tap President Emma Butensky ’18 antic­ipates a dynamic show. Butensky gave a brief glimpse into the spring performance: “We have nine pieces of choreography including stu­dent works and traditional repertoire choreo­graphed by tap professionals. We are dancing to a variety of music, [including] jazz, swing and pop as well. We have performers with a va­riety of experience levels. Ultimately, our goal through all of this is to exhibit our skills and have fun.”

On Tap member Wenjie Xie ’19 explained the structure of the group. “The tap club generally has two major shows per year, one towards the end of each semester,” she said.

“The Spring SpecTAPular is the spring per­formance that is a cumulation of all the hard work that all tappers, regardless of skill level, have put into the club as well as the product of numerous hours of rehearsal,” Xie continued. “It showcases the talent of the advanced and intermediate tappers and the dedication of be­ginners who have acted on and pursued their interest in a new dance form.”

Butensky noted the salience of Spring Spec­TAPular and its niche here on campus. She wrote in an emailed statement, “This show is significant because it’s the only tap show at Vassar. Furthermore, Vassar On Tap is one of the few performing arts groups on campus where no prior experience is necessary, so we really showcase dancers of a variety of levels. The Spring SpecTAPular is On Tap’s longest tap show ever, featuring more performers than years prior. ”

Even On Tap’s first-year members have the opportunity to choreograph pieces for the group. Gray Alexander ’19 commented, “It’s just a chance to showcase several student-cho­reographed dances. I choreographed a dance to the song ‘Feeling Myself’ by Nicki Minaj ft. Beyonce with Cassidy Nealon and Ellena Na­dor, as well as some standard tap dances. It’s a fun way for all of us to show off the hard work we’ve put into tap this semester, whether we’ve been tapping our whole lives or just this year like I have.”

However, Butensky commented on the larger picture of tap dance at Vassar and oth­er colleges: “As Vassar On Tap has expanded, more members of the Vassar community have become aware of our presence and, as a result, I believe this club has gained more respect for what we do. Tap dance is a marginalized dance form; European dance styles such as ballet and modern are given priority in all colleges/uni­versities.”

For example, Butensky pointed to the fact that although most colleges have comprehen­sive modern and ballet programs, only two colleges in the United States feature tap dance programs. “I am really happy that Vassar is embracing tap dance more,” she expressed. “I hope that the popularity of Vassar On Tap will lead the Dance Department to include us more in what they do, such as by allowing us to use their theater and/or working tap dance into their programming.”

On Tap member Lynn Zhang ’18 also hopes that the group fosters an appreciation for tap on campus. Zhang mentioned, “We’ve been working on the dances from the beginning of the semester and we’re very excited to show the Vassar community how much effort we’ve put in. Also, we hope to raise awareness as to the cultural significance of tap dance. A lot of people might not realize that tap dance is actu­ally older than the jazz music and that a lot of hip hop and breaking culture comes from tap dance.”

At the end of the day, Spring SpecTAPular is a pedal, musical and pyrotechnic gathering of Vassar performers and students alike. Spring SpecTAPular is a time to destress, find some resolve for upcoming exams and simply have a good time.

Xie concluded on a heartwarming note, ex­plaining the goals of the upcoming show as a lighthearted celebration of tap. “In short, it brings together people who have an apprecia­tion of tap and allows us to show off what we’ve learned in a way that’s fun and entertaining to anyone who comes to watch our performance. Hopefully, it can also inspire other people to step out of their comfort zones to try new things by demonstrating how much you can gain from doing so—a sense of community, a new ear for rhythm and wicked moves to im­press your friends with!”

On Tap member Saskia Globig ’19 expressed similar sentiments. “As I see it, our shows aim less to showcase talent and more to share the joy of tap dancing, the intricacy and novelty of rhythm, and the accumulation of hard work,” she explained. “I think no one can tap dance or watch tap without smiling–it makes people happy and gives people a chance to be ridic­ulous and skillful at the same time. There is a long, racialized history of tap as an American original dance form, and while On Tap doesn’t always draw on that explicitly, it is present and the choreography gives students a chance to extend their tap exploration even beyond tra­ditional steps.”

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