When you think of tap dance, your mind might wander to Fred Astaire, Bill Robinson, or Gene Kelly, but Brenna Brelie, the co-director of the nonprofit Twin Cities Tap Festival (TCTF), wants to set us all straight: It’s not the 1900s anymore.
Nope, definitely not. And what this year’s annual tap festival has in store for 2018 is an all-inclusive experience—spanning tap’s many forms and genres. From Broadway to hoofer style and from urban to traditional, this percussive dance festival homes in on Minnesota’s thriving tap community, offering a variety of classes, workshops, performances, and tap jams. It’s aimed at amateur and professional dancers alike, no matter the talent level, age, or ability.
But it wasn’t until 2015 that Minnesota’s dance companies, directors, and students got together. Nearly 15 years ago, Brelie explains, the Twin Cities did have a few small projects and an early rendition of the fest, but they dissolved.
“Four years ago or so, Kaleena Miller and I started dreaming of hosting a festival here,” Brelie says. “We contacted organizers and got their blessings to revive the festival.”
Miller, head of Minneapolis’ Kaleena Miller Dance and artistic director, co-founder, and co-director of TCTF, is Brelie’s counterpart. Together, they’ve grown the festival into an event far beyond their initial expectations. The festival takes place at downtown Minneapolis’ Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts for four full days and features the Twin Cities Tap Showcase, two Twin Cities Tap Masters concerts, and what Brelie calls the “finale”: the all-inclusive, improvised tap jam at Keiran’s Irish Pub, Cutting Board.
Tapper: Bruce demorrow || Photo: Aleutian Calabay
The Twin Cities Tap Showcase features some of the best local tap groups in the area, including Keane Sense of Rhythm Youth Tap Ensemble, MinnesoTAP, and Elite Tap Feet 2018. The rest of the showcase includes other hopeful tap companies and dance studios.
“We’ve participated every year,” says Maria Pomerleau, owner of Lake Area Dance Center in White Bear Lake. This year, the recreational and competitive dance studio has three pieces in the showcase—one of them choreographed by Pomerleau, another by staff member Madelyn Lee, and the third by Miller. (Last fall, Miller personally visited the studio to teach, and later this year she’s going back to choreograph for their upcoming season.)
The showcase isn’t the only thing Pomerleau’s students participate in. They also partake in TCTF workshops and classes that run Friday through Sunday, mornings and afternoons, at the Cowles Center and the adjoining Hennepin Center for the Arts. The educational portion of the festival caters to everyone—true beginners, tappers with significant training, and even tap fanatics ages 55 and older. Pomerleau says she has a student coming from Iowa just to experience our tap scene.
Compared to previous years, Brelie says, there’s not much changing for this weekend’s festival—well, besides the fact that they tossed eight new classes into the mix after their 2017 class registrations went through the roof. Last year’s class attendance topped 220 dancers, and this weekend, they anticipate even more. Equally popular are the Twin Cities Tap Masters concerts, with nearly 1,500 people in attendance last year across three performances, including the two shows that wiped the box office clean.
The Twin Cities Tap Masters concert pulls in tap stars from around the country—including Dianne Walker, Brenda Bufalino, Sam Weber, Nicholas Van Young, Jason Janas, and Star Dixon. The show features local talent, too, like tap artist Galen Higgins, Andy Ausland, and some of Minnesota’s best tap companies.
tapper: brenda bufalino || Photo: steve peterson
“For us, [the festival is] not a very time-intensive way to get a glimpse of how much more dance can be,” Pomerleau says of her students. They primarily train for dance competitions, but this weekend, they get to “experience more,” she says. “We’re doing this without judgment—just to dance.”
Having the chance to “just dance” is exactly how the festival sends tappers on their way. At Cutting Board, the “finale” that amounts to an improvisation-based, informal tap jam open to the public, dancers (and the pros) let loose and explore the new techniques they learned over the weekend—all to live music. “It’s fun to see professionals get up with the kids or get the kids together,” Brelie says. “It’s just a lot of fun for everyone.”
And for Pomerleau, that means family fun, too.
“Besides the kids participating, my favorite part is that it’s the one event per year I can persuade my non-dancing family to come,” she adds. “I can get my son, who plays tennis, to go to the show.”
Learn more about the 2018 Twin Cities Tap Festival here.