LEWISTON — On stage, Michelle Dorrance told her audience she’s a passionate “tap nerd.”

New York City-based Dorrance — one of the best tap dancers around — performs around the world. The winner of numerous awards, she’s been called a tap genius.

Dorrance is one of the key performers in this summer’s Bates Dance Festival.

Tap dance is experiencing a resurgence, festival director Laura Faure said. Dorrance’s performances on Thursday and Saturday are sold out.

During an interactive “Show and Tell” Tuesday night, Dorrance gave a tap dance history and demonstrated different styles. Her dancing is joyous, fun and amazing to watch.

Tap dancers like Dorrance are practitioners, performers, teachers “and historians, in part because the form is not supported like other dance forms in academic study,” Dorrance said. It’s considered folk dance, “not art with a capital A.”

Skill is passed on by watching the masters in old movie footage.

“We’re lucky to have these priceless gems,” she said.

Race relations and oppression play a big role in the dance form’s history.

“We’re all hyperaware there is still so much hatred in our culture,” Dorrance said. “It’s incredibly important to know these landmark things happened and that some people are still close to that mindset. It’s terrifying.”

Knowing the history is important, Dorrance said. She coached her audience to say aloud some facts about tap dancing and names of dancers, including John W. Bubbles, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Master Juba, Leon Collins and others.

Tap dancing is an American art form, its birthplace among African-American slaves, developed as a secret language. On the plantations, slaves communicated about uprisings through drumming, until plantation bosses discovered what they were doing and took their drums away. Body percussion took the place of drums, from which tap dancing evolved.

Even though its roots are from oppressive circumstances, tap dancing became a powerful, transformative expression of joy and emotion, Dorrance said.

The first famous tap dancer was William Henry Lane, known as Master Juba, a free black in New York City, who in the 1840s, outdanced Irishman John Diamond. Beating Diamond in dance contests earned Lane the title of best in the world.

After the turn of the century, tap dancing continued to emerge, becoming big in Vaudeville.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was a star, a brilliant technician and a power of social change, Dorrance said.

He and young Shirley Temple were the first interracial dancers “to touch hands” in film. Unlike other blacks of the era, Robinson refused to blacken his face, what Dorrance called a horrific entertainment tradition that reinforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans.

Robinson was appointed honorary “mayor of Harlem,” and his funeral was attended by thousands.

After showing a film of Robinson dancing, Dorrance told the audience that his birthday is May 25, which is also National Tap Dance Day.

Dorrance then showed a film of the high-energy dancing of Cora LaRedd, another important figure in the history of tap dance.

“Nobody knows Cora LaRedd,” Dorrance said. “Now you guys know Cora LaRedd.”

Between introducing different artists, Dorrance demonstrated tap dance styles, from the soft-shoe to hard-driving pounding, always with a catchy rhythm.

During the big band era, brothers Harold and Fay Nicholas were highly skilled, innovative and popular. In later years, they taught Michael Jackson and other famous dancers.

Dorrance had met the Nicholas Brothers.

“They were two of the most generous human beings,” she said.

By the end of their lives, they needed hip replacements, she said. After Dorrance showed a film of their high-energy dancing and leaping, it was clear why.

At the end of her talk, Dorrance invited the audience on stage to teach them the “shim sham.”

“Stomp and brush back,” she coached the audience. “Stomp and brush back. You’ve got it!”

The moves quickly became more involved.

Dorrance explained the shim sham was popularized by chorus girls and is now the “national anthem of tap.” Today’s dance moves are largely based on the tap masters, she said.

After the talk/dance ended and the audience filed out of Schaeffer Theatre, a little girl held her mother’s hand. As they walked down the sidewalk, the little girl began to dance.

The festival continues through Aug. 6 with lectures and dance.


Highlights of the Bates Dance Festival

July 19: Show and Tell sneak preview: Doug Varone and Dancers, master choreographer Doug Varone opens up the lens on his process, Schaeffer Theatre, 7:30 p.m., free.

July 22 and 23: Doug Varone and Dancers performance, Schaeffer Theatre, 7:30 p.m., tickets $12 to $25.

July 26: Show and Tell sneak preview, Kate Weare Company, Schaeffer Theatre, 7:30 p.m., free.

July 27: “Moving in the Moment,” Alumni Gymnasium: an evening of improvisational dance and music with over 20 festival faculty and musicians, 7:30 p.m., free.

July 29 and 30: Kate Weare Company performance, Schaeffer Theatre, 7:30 p.m., tickets $12 to $25.

Aug. 2: Musicians Concert, The Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center: A festival favorite, this concert features gifted composers and instrumentalists playing music from around the world, 7:30 p.m., tickets from $7 to $15.

Aug. 4 and 5: Different Voices, 7:30 p.m., Schaeffer Theatre: celebrating dance in all its diversity with performers from Atlanta, Chicago, and dance movements from Japan and Ivory Coast. An evening of new works puts the festival faculty and emerging choreographers talent on display, $12 to $25.

Aug. 6: Young choreographers’ new works, 1 to 5 p.m., Schaeffer Theatre, informal show featuring new works by talented festival students. People are invited to come and go throughout the afternoon; free.

Aug. 6: Festival Finale, Alumni Gymnasium: Festival students showcase their talents in dance choreographed by Doug Varone, Kate Weare, Autumn Eckman and more, 7:30 p.m.; $6, cash sales at the door only.

For tickets call 786-6161,  or www.batestickets.com.

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