[ now Dashwood ] with her group Girls On Tap! So the girls are really rocking the Aussie Tap Scene. On top of that we have the incredible talents of The Tap Pack, The Tap Dogs still going strong, Raw and Those Tap Guys up north, Bill Simpson and Red Hot Rhythm, Grant Swift in Melbourne and two Aussie Tap Festivals that are both fantastic – one in Melbourne and one in Sydney! So I am super excited to tell you that tap dance in Australia has never been better.
There are so many great tappers about today and Aussies have a unique style, which is really earthy and cool. I guess I would say that tap has become a little “ Americanised” over the past few years – but I think we are retaining the “Aussie Edge” with a truly unique blend of American and Aussie input – so that is really exciting too! The tap community has become really global in the last few years, which is fantastic and we now have access to whatever is going on anywhere in the world, so inspiration is never-ending. In Australia Nathaniel Hancock is doing great things alongside Jesse Rassmussen, Jack Egan, Thomas Egan, Sam Marks, Emma Wickham, Ritchie Miller, Kristen Forster, Winston Morrison, Harry Swift, Tomas Waddleton……the list goes on and on. There has never been a better time to TAP in Australia whether you are a guy or a girl! And of course we still have all our “ old school “ legends to look up to like Chris Horsey, Dein Perry and their contemporaries. It is fabulous!
Tapatak Oz has been at the forefront of tap syllabus for a decade now. How did it come about, and what did you hope to achieve through it early on? Did you have any idea or ever hope that it would become as successful and influential as it is?
I actually wrote Tapatak Oz as my farewell to tap dance. I had decided that I wanted to go into “ inspirational writing and speaking” (to help people suffering depression etc ) and I felt I didn’t have anything to show for my 20 something years of teaching tap. So I decided to collate all my work into a DVD series. I kept copious notes at the time, as I was teaching 33 hours of tap each week and needed to record what I was teaching where. So when I decided to write the syllabus – it was all there really. I just had to record it all. I did not really expect anyone to buy it to be honest and my Dad loaned me the money to set it up, on the provision that I would not get upset if no one bought it ha ha ah ha. As it turned out – people did buy it and then one of my clients asked if they could do exams.
I had never intended the programme to be used as an exam syllabus. I was ready to hang up my tap boots. But I said yes and the rest is history! We now have over 600 children sitting exams each year in Australia and New Zealand and clients all over the globe using the Tapatak Oz programme. My aim is to bridge the gap between the “ dance school” version of tap and the” professional real world’ of tap, which can often be two very different things. Through Tapatak Oz I am trying to broaden the tap experience of students in dance schools, so what they learn in class is relevant and in step with the professional world.
We are trying to develop an attitude of continuous learning [our final exam does not mean you have learnt it all], a high skill base that moves with the times [students are encouraged to add their own modern day twist to everything to keep it current – our content is not the only tap there is and we want our students to really understand that ] and an emphasis on creativity and individuality, which is quite different to most other syllabus programmes that require everyone to be the same.
Tapatak Oz aims to be a syllabus that’s not a syllabus! It requires genuine passion and effort from both the teachers and the students. And when you get that – it is truly magical! The passion and JOY for TAP most of our students show is amazing!
What’s your favourite thing about teaching tap, and what goes into designing the syllabus?
I love teaching tap because I love rhythm. My approach is totally about the rhythm. I used to play drum-kit with a number of bands when I was younger – and rhythm is just what makes me tick I guess! I hear rhythm everywhere – dripping taps, trains, people walking, windscreen wipers – they are all rhythmic to me ha ha. I also love teaching tap because it is what I call “an equal opportunity form of dance”. You can be young, old, heavy, light, tall, short – whatever!
As long as you want to give it a go you can.
And being a very free flowing, fluid form of dance it really allows children to express themselves. The personal growth I see in my tap students as their confidence grows year after year is extraordinary. To see someone love and embrace what you do! To see someone loving their own personal connection to rhythm. To see the faces of your students light up when they get a new step or nail a new rhythm. It is just magic! And as for the syllabus – well that was 25 years of teaching in the classroom and 10 years before that, studying with my Mum and various tappers in the UK and USA rolled into those DVDs.
As for getting it done! It was a very long process – having the music written, writing all the manuals and counts for each exercise and then filming the 12 DVDs. It was a huge and very costly project, and to be honest if someone asked me to do it now I would say “ no way – I could never do that”! But somehow I did. In fact I remember the very moment I sat down and started writing the first manual: LEVEL ONE: TINY TOTS. And off I went.
I was dogged and determined to finish the project and booked the filming at NIDA in before I had actually finished the work. There’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you. I just churned away on my keyboard writing the manuals. I glued the artwork together for the DVDs and CDs and took that to the printers because I had no idea how to do graphics on my laptop. I practiced all the tapping on my balcony in sneakers, as I couldn’t afford to hire a studio. My neighbour used to beep his car horn as he went around the roundabout in my building and laugh at me tapping between my pot plants.
And then – it was done!
What has been the highlight of your career so far, and what do you still hope to achieve? Are there any roles, numbers, or productions you’d like to perform in?
Mmmmmmmm! I am not sure what the highlight has been. Recording the soundtrack for the Eternity Tap Segment of the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics with the Tap Dogs……..that would be a performing highlight for me. Though technically that wasn’t the actual performance itself! Though that was fun too. Choreographing some really cool tap routines for Advanced Level students – that just came together beautifully – that has been pure gold. To see something that was a vision in your mind come to life is incredible. Like it never existed before – and then – there it is!
But I think my true highlights have been seeing some incredibly shy students go to the next level in their “ personal confidence levels “ over a number of years doing exams. One year they are nearly crying and overwhelmed with anxiety. And then three years later they march into the exam room with 100% confidence and swagger! That is just so beautiful to witness!
Or hearing a little boy tell you when asked why he does tap: “ I love tap dancing because it is the only place I can be me” – that is the magic for me. To have created a space where children feel free to express themselves fully, feel joyful and feel courageous enough to put their own ideas forward to the world! That is my proudest achievement thus far.
Performing? It holds no draw for me at all. Teaching is my life’s work.
And as for future roles? Helping the world find JOY somehow – that’s the role I wish to play. Maybe just helping one person at a time is enough? Perhaps next is writing a book or running more seminars with A Bridge To You on combatting depression and anxiety and loving who you are? Who knows? Watch this space ha ha ah!
How does tap make people’s lives better?
For me tap allows you to escape to a world of possibility and rhythm. Rhythm underpins all of life in my opinion and like the song says “ The Rhythm of Life is a Powerful Beat!” So when you dance, especially in a rhythmic way – I believe it connects you to the core of who you are at a very deep level. It connects you to the core of your being in some way. Also – tap has no rules – and that gives you incredible freedom to be you and create something in the tap dance that reflects your own personality and mood! Pretty cool!
Besides dance, what hobbies/interests do you enjoy?
I really enjoy anything that connects me to who I am. I really need space and quiet around me at regular intervals so meditating, reading, writing, yoga and hiking are things that really feed my soul. I also love drumming – so am trying to get back into that at the moment too. I guess I go from very loud stuff [ tap dance and drumming ] to very quiet stuff [ silence and meditation ]. Perhaps I am a little extreme heh heh! I also love true stories – so watching movies about real life people and events captivates me too.
How did A Bridge To You originate, and what has been the most satisfying thing about working on it? You’ve no doubt helped a lot of people through it.
A Bridge To You came about from my own search to move on from tap dance into a new career in a way. And my desire to do more for the world at large. I guess I wanted to save the world somehow ha ha ha – and for a time I thought tap dancing was frivolous in a way and not doing enough to help the Planet. A little naïve perhaps – but I just had this incredible urge to write and to try and help people. I truly love writing so I started writing the ABTY Blog. Born out of my own deep depression and anxiety – I could see how fruitless and damaging a low self esteem can be and I didn’t want anyone else to suffer through what I had in my lifetime.
As it turned out, I think “A Bridge To You” was “A Bridge To Me” – and it was incredibly cathartic. It taught me a lot about myself to be honest. Sometimes I read back on those blogs and I think “ Did I really write that? ” It almost seems like someone else was guiding my hand as I wrote. Much like when you create a dance – you wonder – where did that come from?
Getting emails from people who gained something from a piece I wrote makes all the effort incredibly worthwhile, for sure. I guess we all like to know that we are not alone with our insecurities.
For the men and women out there struggling with doubt and intrusive thoughts and in need of some hope, what advice do you want to give them? How do they get through it? Because, speaking from experience, they can.
From my own experience too, I would say these things:
1. Do not allow yourself to “ go down the rabbit hole “ as I call it – call a friend, get out into nature and remember that you can choose to be happy, no matter what is going on around you. But when you feel that call of depression – nip it in the butt immediately before it gets out of hand. Call someone – anyone – Beyond Blue or any other organization if you don’t feel like you have family or friends around. But reach out to someone. Sharing the load is half the journey.
2. Don’t buy into the media and advertising mayhem that surrounds us today. It is the quickest way to feel crappy about yourself. I mean – how else can they sell you stuff, if you don’t feel like you need to buy it to be OK? It is a huge game that you do not need to play. So wise up, be smart and decide not to participate in the brainwashing that wipes out your fabulous sense of self and individuality!
3. Volunteer and help someone else. There is always someone worse off than you – and funnily enough – helping another person is the quickest way to feeling great about who you are. It reconnects you to the joy within and reminds you that we can all be of value in the world. And contrary to what the media and advertising people tell you – it is often the little things [ and those that are free ] that make the biggest impact on another person. A smile, opening a door, giving a compliment, making someone a meal, sweeping a neighbour’s balcony or washing their car. You have huge power to make other people feel good and the bonus is that it actually makes you feel like a rock-star too! Who knew?
4. You are not alone. We are all just finding our way. Following our own path. Doing the best we can with what we’ve got. And anyone who tells you they are “totally under control “ and know what they are doing and where they are going with 100% certainty and confidence is not being truthful. We all struggle and have challenges. That is life! If you are expecting any different, you will always be disappointed. As the old saying goes: Life is The Journey, Not The Destination! If we all truly understood this I think we’d be a lot happier. Me included ha ha!
What can we do to raise awareness about mental health? How can we contribute to a solution?
I think we can all contribute simply by being aware of those around us and reaching out to those in our own communities when they need a hand. And admitting when we need a hand too! Sometimes just showing your own vulnerable side, allows others to show theirs too – and that is a huge gift to give someone else! I believe we can also help by getting off our devices more often and engaging with the people around us. If everyone felt seen, heard and valued there would be far less depression. So turn the i-phone and computer off and truly engage with people when in their company – that is a small thing we can all do that will make a massive difference!
Do you believe there is a connection between tap dancing and positive mental and emotional health?
I believe that finding what you love, and what lights you up from the inside is the key to happiness and well -being. So if tap does that for you – then tap dance away. If hiking in the wilderness does that for you – then set out to hike! Positive mental health comes from feeling like you contribute to your community and feeling like you are seen, heard and valued by your community, friends and family. So my advice would be to find ways to contribute to your community and nurture your friendships and family relationships – this is where you will find JOY and PEACE and a good SENSE OF SELF! Not in chasing after material things and success. Success is Happiness. Happiness is not Success!
What does 2018 look like for you?
2018 for me is an open book. I am ready for anything and trying to “ go with the flow” so to speak. Tapatak Oz is going along well with workshops and examination bookings underway – so I am looking at the freedom of new things. What are they? I have no idea heh heh! But time will tell!
Who and/or what inspires you?
People who are really making a difference in the world, people who challenge the status quo, people who rise up and take a stand against the established norms I guess. People presenting new ideas, and looking at creating new societal norms. People who champion the underdog, or those less fortunate. People who are truly passionate about what they do. People who are honest in what they do. Philosophers and thinkers.
Eckart Tolle, Oprah Winfrey, Amal Clooney, Michelle Obama, Steve Irwin, Jamie Oliver, Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, Paulo Coelho, Don Tolman , Sir David Attenborough, Prince Harry and his Invictus Games. And the amazing people who do things like Orange Sky Laundry [ laundry services for the homeless ], Father Chris O’Reilly [ his Youth programmes ], The Pub Choir [bringing people together ], hairdressers who give haircuts to the homeless, people who volunteer their time, the people struggling with Parkinsons disease who attend my classes when I am teaching Dance for PD [ this puts courage, bravery and resilience into a new dimension for me ] These are a few of the people who inspire me.
What words do you live by?
Be You! Be You – In All That You Do!
Do not follow the path where it leads, but instead blaze your own trail and leave a path behind!
What one positive message do you want to share?
We are all just doing the best we can. We all make mistakes. We all wish we could do better sometimes. So be kind to others and to yourself. And together we can make the world a better place.
So as I say in A Bridge To You – Discover You! Love You! Be You! – and allow everyone else to do the same.
– Christine –
For more on Tapatak Oz head to: www.tapatak-oz.com
And for A Bridge to You head to: www.abridgetoyou.com.au