Learning to Tap at 50
by Raymund Concepcion
“Gene Kelly”, “Donald O’Connor”, “The Nicholas Brothers”, or “Fred Astaire” — mention these names to the younger generation and, chances are, you will be met with blank stares. Or, if they somehow know about them from black and white movies on TNC or youtube you’ll still get a “What’s the big deal” expression from them.
Yet, these names were a big deal! They belong to some of the best tap dancers in the entertainment world ever. They were the “Pop Icons” of their time!
But their popularity as well as the dance form they made popular – tap dance – have since declined in popularity, Thankfully, the success of the animated film “Happy Feet” and an Emmy award winning documentary, “No Maps On My Taps” have set off a recent revival of the art form in the United States.
So how come tap dancing is not catching on in our country?
People may argue that it is because it’s not Filipino. Well, Dolphy and Bayani Casimiro are Filipino and they were the country’s prime exponents of the craft.
Young people may say, “It’s just not cool enough!”. But Michael Jackson was an excellent tap dancer and that most of his signature moves are actually based on Tap dancing!
Still, in our country, tap dancing has been, and is still being neglected even among the many talented artists and dancers we have here. As a musical theater practitioner of many years, I too am very guilty of this negligence.
Then I was cast in Repertory Philippines’ ‘Stepping Out’.
When I first found out the musical involved tap dancing, I was daunted. I had never needed to learn to tap before, and at my age, I was understandably filled with misgivings. Finding out that the majority of the cast were in the same boat as I was turned my initial hesitation into relief. Since we were all in the same “dancing” shoes so to speak, it meant that we would all have to learn together.
That relief quickly turned into excitement. We rehearsed every day, and even gathered together at the home of one of our cast mates to devote extra time to rehearse. After months of intensive tap dance classes, I found that my cast mates and I were not just learning the dance form but so much more — from each other, from our director, Jaime Del Mundo, and from the story of this musical itself.
As the days passed, the magic of theatre happened.
Though at first, the goal was to learn tap for the show, learning became the higher goal: We found fulfillment in every fallap-ball-change that we got right. Learning to tap dance becomes an end in itself, and to get the chance to perform it before an audience became a “bonus”.
If I had learned tap dancing when I was young, perhaps I’d be an expert by now. But, learning it at this age has its own charm. Learning to “step out of myself” and challenging myself to learn something new was and is an achievement in itself. I am grateful to have been given a new goal. I am grateful to realize that it is never too late to begin.
Now tap dance is no longer a neglected dance form, I have a newfound respect and admiration for tap dancing, and I would like to encourage our young actors and dancers to take up learning it, especially now that so many Filipino theatre artists have gone global.
Decades ago, only a handful were cast in shows abroad, now there are more and more international shows done with Filipinos. Many of those shows feature tap dancing and, and if we don’t know how to tap, that’s one big disadvantage! So step out as I did. I am glad of this chance to “step out of myself at 50”, and for the privilege to be able “step out in style” for an audience. You’ll see what I mean when we open in a few weeks’ time.
Gene Kelly said, “You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams.” I am grateful that being in this production somehow gave me a chance to tap dance into a new dream, and into a newfound love for this beautiful art form.
STEP OUT and catch Raymund as Geoffrey in Repertory Philippines’ STEPPING OUT THE MUSICAL at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1 starting April 1, directed by Jaime del Mundo and features Joy Virata, EJ Villacorta, Bituin Escalante, Sheila Francisco, Cara Barredo, Christine Flores, Natalie Everett, Angela Padilla, David Shawn Delgado and Sarah Facuri. For more information call REP at 843-3570 or visit www.repertoryphilippines.ph.