This summer, however, the spirit of the festival is reimagined with the first Boston Tap Party (BTP), led by the Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center in Porter Square. From August 4-7, the festival will feature residencies, open classes and a Friday night jam at the center, as well as a faculty/student showcase on August 6 at the Regent Theater in Arlington.
“We’re thrilled to finally kick off the Boston Tap Party,” says producer/director Deborah Mason Dudley. “Participants come from across the country and across Canada. We hope this new festival and showcase will become an ongoing and vibrant annual celebration of tap dance performance in Greater Boston.
Mason Dudley, a teacher, producer and mentor in the Greater Boston dance community for decades, is the founder/director of the non-profit Cambridge Youth Dance Program for serious young performers. Her school (now an arts center) has been a training ground for dancers in multiple genres since 1975, and she funds that first festival largely from her studio coffers. Over the years, the center has become an unofficial home for tap dancing education in the area, and after creating a new space in Somerville in 2015, it has housed Beantown Tapfest classes and activities for the past several years. of the festival, 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 on tap.
Most New Boston Tap Party Faculty have been involved with 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’s grande dame and faculty consultant. “She’s like the godmother of tap, and her involvement and artistic direction adds tremendous value at the highest 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 every time I get a call to do it in Boston, I say yes. It never feels like work. It’s always fun. Deborah calls this one a party and everyone is invited, come as you are.
For audiences, Friday’s free tap jam will provide an informal opportunity to watch a range of artists in improvisational mode, exploring styles and swapping riffs with each other. “It’s going to be live musicians and tappers getting into it in the studio,” says Mason Dudley.
The festival showcase at the Regent Theater on Saturday will be more of a show showcasing the artistry of the faculty as well as some of the advanced attendees, all fueled by a live band led by pianist Paul Arlsanian. “This guy is like an icon,” Hill says. “He understands the art form and having a live band pays homage to the story and lends authenticity to the performance.”
Since its inception, tap dancing has been a community-driven art form, and that’s a big part of Mason Dudley’s motivation to revive the festival. “It’s really about bringing the community together,” says Mason Dudley, and diversity is a big part of that.
Hill says, “Tap has always been community driven since its inception. Even before it was codified, people learned through apprenticeships with other dancers. Information was transmitted person to person, root to root. And because it’s community, it’s easier to attract diverse dancers, [people from] different backgrounds, different body types, and Deborah always has an eye for diversity. She intends to make sure people have opportunities.
Boynton, who by his own design isn’t officially involved in the new venture, can’t think of a better person than Mason Dudley to lead it. “She’s very laid back, very modest, but she’s a good businesswoman, always resourceful and creative, almost like a den, 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 secure future financial support, next year could bring an even bigger event. She said she might also consider combining the initiative with her annual Hip Hop Exchange, to encourage creative exchange.
“Everyone stays in their own pocket in Boston, and just reaching out and bringing people together makes it a lot more cohesive,” Mason Dudley says. “We can talk and create together.”
BOSTON TAP PARTY
August 4-7, Deborah Mason Performing Arts Center, Somerville, and Regent Theatre, Arlington. Reserved seating for the Saturday Faculty Showcase is $30. www.bostontapparty.com
Karen Campbell can be reached at [email protected]