Dallas — Katelyn Harris has big plans for the tap dance scene in Dallas, and it starts with the Dallas DanceFest.
As a native of Big D, Harris grew up taking dance classes in all genres, studying at Chamberlain School of Ballet on one end of the spectrum and with the late and legendary tap master Buster Cooper at the other. She discovered a somewhat unknown side of tap dance when she started taking classes with Acia Gray, artistic director of Tapestry Dance Company, a full-time professional tap dance company out of Austin. Harris joined the company in 2006, only to find the tip of the iceberg.
“Everyone knows the Hollywood days with 42nd Street and chorus girls,” Harris says, “but tap is so artful and versatile. Acia opened up this whole world to me, not just physically with the footwork, but incorporating tonality and being melodic with your profession.”
After touring worldwide with Tapestry, and juggling a Dallas teaching schedule, Harris settled back in her hometown to focus on the tap scene here, which is quite different from Austin. “I’m discovering a lot of good tap here, but it’s very isolated and you don’t really know about it. My goal is to connect everybody. There’s so much talent here, it’s ridiculous. That’s what so great about the Dallas DanceFest. I see the potential, and I’m stirring the pot.”
So what will we see from Rhythmic Souls on the opening night of DDF?
“Because this is our debut, I really want to show how versatile tap is. I took three different pieces that we have and weaved them together.”
That combination will easily cover the range Harris is after. Her signature contemporary tap style is on display for an intricate first section, which drops in tone to a sand dance using soft shoe elements to music by Erik Satie. Finally, the company goes old school with some traditional Copasetics dances, ending the work on a high note.
“I’ve been trying to build an audience outside of the dance community and finding people interested in the arts in general. We haven’t done anything like this, so it’s a big deal for us. We get to show the community what we’re about.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Her desire to grow the tap scene in Dallas includes finding opportunities for her former students to continue with tap as a profession and grow in the art form. “I want my students to have that experience, and that’s a lot of what creating this company is for. I know what Tapestry did for me.”
Opportunities do exist around the nation to audition for shows and tap dance groups, but it’s not exactly well known. Most of the opportunity to connect happens in the tap festivals, which harbor a style quite different than what the general public might think of when they hear the phrase “tap dance.”
“It’s not commercial, not visible. It’s this underground artistic community.” A community that Harris hopes to bring to the forefront with the upcoming Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF), Dallas’ first-ever tap festival, co-founded with Malana Murphy.
Happening this January over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the festival features up-and-coming industry celebrities teaching workshops and performing. Local tap groups will have their time to shine in a community showcase, and there will be improv jams and tap battles.
Did I hear someone say “Challenge!”?
» For more info on Rhythmic Souls, including classes and the youth residency, check out www.rhythmicsouls.org
» Rhythmic Souls will perform at the Friday night showcase, 8 p.m. Aug. 29, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The other companies performing Friday are: Dallas Ballet Company, Ewert & Company, Indique Dance Company, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
» Companies performing Saturday are: Chamberlain Performing Arts, Chado Danse, Houston METdance, Avant Chamber Ballet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Rep I and II companies, Tarrant County College Movers Unlimited, Mejia Ballet International, Bruce Wood Dance Project
» The Dance Council Honors are Sunday at 2 p.m., honoring Nita Braun, Ann Briggs-Cutaia and Joe Cutaia, Buster Cooper, Dylis Croman, Suzie Jary and Beth Wortley, with performances by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Bruce Wood Dance Project and 2014 Dance Council Scholarship Recipients.
» Look for more stories about the Dallas DanceFest this week. Below are links to profiles of some of the dance companies we've published: