Tapestry Dance Company (Austin, TX)

The Souls of Our Feet

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Jason Janas as John "Bubbles" Sublett

Jason Janas as John "Bubbles" Sublett in Tapestry Dance Company's production of The Souls of Our Feet. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Austin-based Tapestry Dance Company received a touring grant of $25,000 to support a tour of The Souls of Our Feet, a celebration of masterpieces from the rhythm tap repertoire alongside contemporary work by living tap masters. Executive and Artistic Director Acia Gray -- also the company's co-founder -- spoke with the NEA about the project and its importance to the preservation of tap as a dance form.

ACIA GRAY: [Tap is] an indigenous American art form. It was invented right here. Of course it's an amalgamation of many different cultures and rhythms from African juba to Irish step dancing, but it didn't become tap dance, in the form it's been in the last 150 years, until it was invented here. It was our goal to truly celebrate this wonderful world of tap dance with not only a small selection of film classics but to be able to showcase some of the incredible artists that people don't know.

NEA: How important was the NEA touring grant to realizing a tour of The Souls of Our Feet?

GRAY: It was actually imperative, I believe, because it gave a stamp of approval to Tapestry Dance Company's work on a national level. Not that we hadn't toured, but to know that [the project] had gone through an elite panel of people who really gave it a lot of thought, people knew they were going to get a wonderful production.

NEA: Is there a community outreach or educational component to the project?

GRAY: The outreach program kicks off [in March], and we're going to start it here in Austin. We do a program called Rhythm, Dance, Music, and You, and it's structured around the premieres we do each season. A big lesson in these outreach programs is really rhythm and music education. The next very important part of it is a history of the artists that are depicted in The Souls of Our Feet and the history of tap dance. It's an elementary school program that we're doing right now; the program that we take on the road will actually be adapted for all audiences.

NEA: What are the preservation efforts associated with the project?

GRAY: The reconstruction of the choreography itself, to have it documented for archival purposes, and keeping rehearsal footage of how the pieces were put together is important to me. But most important, there's a reason, I believe, why tap dance hasn't been touring, why you don't see a lot of it. Finding out why that is and talking to people is a big thing we want to do. So evaluating our audience members and our presenters to gather that information on the interest of tap dance and the preservation needs of the art form is vital for us. And also [we want] the evaluations of the dancers or the musicians involved in the project: what was difficult, what were their thoughts on recreating the works, how are they going to use that for new work they intend to do?