#Taplife presents ‘In Good Company’

In Good CompanyFor a long time, New York City has played an important role in the existence and evolution of tap dance. Specifically in the last 25 years the city has seen its fair share of tap dance every Veteran’s Day weekend thanks to Avi Miller and Ofer Ben, the owners of Miller & Ben Tap Shoes and organizers of Big Apple Tap Festival, which features some of the most globally recognized tap dancers and teachers converging in one place to share their love of the art form. This festival, which returns from November 9-11, 2018, is also responsible for the formation of a new tap dance company: #Taplife.


Directed by Anthony Lo Cascio, #Taplife was officially formed after a group of tap dancers attended the 2013 Big Apple Tap Festival, performed at its “Participants’ Showcase” and then received an amazing response to their performance.


Lo Cascio, a native New Yorker, is a well-known tap dancer and teacher across the world. He grew up taking dance classes during the heydays of Joe Stanford Dance Studio (Lindenwood, NY) and then went on to open shows for people such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Natalie Cole and Stevie Wonder before becoming one of the original NYC cast members and subsequent touring member of Tap Dogs, which played at the now de-funked Union Square Theatre in Manhattan and is returning to North America in 2019. 


Lo Cascio, who originally connected the handful of dancers who became #Taplife, still arranges and produces a show on the Friday night of the Big Apple Tap Festival every year. When asked why, he responded, “It’s currently very hard to find opportunities to present your work as an independent, creative dancer or company in New York. Many of the ‘opportunities’ require you to pay to perform and that doesn’t work for me. I was always taught professional dancers get paid for their work. That said, there seems to be even more challenges and obstacles if you are a percussive choreographer or company. Not only are you asked to pay to perform, but you are told things like, ‘We don’t accept percussive dance at this event’, ‘Are you O.K. dancing on cement?’ or ‘You can only dance if you provide your own staging/flooring’. After several years of personally encountering these major challenges, I decided the current landscape of opportunities for dance, especially percussive dance, in NYC was not inclusive enough and that we, as a dance community, could and should do better. In Good Company (our 2018 show) is my attempt to take action and hopefully leave something better than I found it.” 


When it comes to percussive dance, Lo Cascio aims to address the biggest hurdles he faces when the company tried to submit material for other curated shows: the lack of percussive dance being allowed at events, the lack of proper flooring (which is so much more than just a surface to dance on—it is the other half of the instrument a tap dancer plays) and the need to “pay to play” in the first place. 


#Taplife has caught a few breaks though. One such break was the opportunity to earn a stipend from Dixon Place by taking part in a program meant to help choreographers hone material being developed with intentions of eventually producing a full-length show. This moment marked a new beginning for Lo Cascio and the #Taplife Team. He and #Taplife Company Manager Staci Cousert actually built their own floor for the show and the company gained access to a theatre space without paying to perform. On December 10, 2015, the journey to their first full-length show, Sounds of a #Taplife, began.


Eventually, a full version of Sounds of a #Taplife was produced in 2016 and furthered in 2017. Last year, five-time Broadway star Jimmy Tate opened the show with current, well-known tap dancer DeWitt Fleming, Jr., who has been featured onstage and TV and is currently touring with live productions. However, this year, #Taplife’s about to go to a whole new level with In Good Company.


Since it is the 25th anniversary of the festival, Lo Cascio decided it was the perfect opportunity to produce a show that will feature not only his company, but include a curated group of NY companies and choreographers in a celebration of percussive dance movement. 


Lo Cascio said, “This year’s show is taking all the obstacles I previously faced and flipping them on their heads, in part because of the love and support the #TapFam has given me and the #Taplife team over the years, and in part to the desire to give back to the community.”


Everyone presenting material during In Good Company is, first and foremost, not charged a fee to perform. In harmony with that, the choreographers and companies will be paid for their time and efforts. The icing on the cake is the gorgeous wood sprung floor that is sponsored by O’Mara. 


Having O’Mara sponsor #Taplife, and therefore all of these dancers, is very significant, explains Lo Cascio. When asked why he started building his own floors and about the O’Mara sponsorship, Lo Cascio said, “Besides the shoes and the dancer, one of the most important elements of any tap dancing is the choice of surface. To me, the floor is our Stradivarius. It is the instrument we play. After building my own floors for so many years, I wasn’t going to settle for just any wood floor. l am grateful for the sponsorship; but I am even more grateful for the quality of sound provided by O’Mara’s instruments.” 


For Lo Cascio, the journey to producer is similar to the journey that has also brought many people to tap dance—necessity. Tap dancers have learned that you have to provide for yourself because nobody else will. He has desires akin to the greats like Gregory Hines and Skip Cunningham. He wants to put tap dance in front of more eyes in order to create more fans.


“Ultimately, that is a huge goal of In Good Company. I want to welcome the world in to see what the tap community really has to offer. People forget how much they love tap dancing until they are in its presence again. After all, in the words of the great Dianne Walker, ‘Secretly, everyone wants to be a tap dancer,’” Lo Cascio said.


In Good Company plays on November 9 at 8 p.m. at Riverside Theatre, on the upper West Side of Manhattan. The show will open with a guest performance by Speaking in Taps. The companies performing are CHR Project, D’amby Project, Koin & Company, Les Femmes, NYC Tap Crew, #Taplife and #TaplifeToo. The choreographers are Aubrey Cheek, Shelby Kaufman and Robin Passmore. Also included will be a special “Talk & Tap Q&A” with Lo Cascio and Aaron Tolson, artistic director and founder of Speaking in Taps.


Check out the Big Apple Tap Festival online at www.thebigappletapfestival.com.  Tickets for In Good Company are on sale now at tiny.cc/goodcompanytix.


Photo by Christine McDonagh.