Learning to dance
I am the founder, choreographer, musical researcher, and dancer of the KlaXson dance company. My dance story began 20 years ago when I started taking lessons at the Dance Factory in 1989 with Don Jordon and Philip Cole, and Tap Dance under Nancy Hodge.
As I trained, I became less interested in Jazz dance and I started to concentrate on tap dance and its infinite musicality. As my knowledge of dance and music increased I found myself needing more and more control over the choreography and the artistic elements. I became more interested in music than in dance (even workshops with the late and great Gregory Hines). This music was of the likes of Billy Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald etc…
This curiosity became quite problematic. Neither my tap nor jazz classes quenched this thirst. So I moved on away from my original dance classes. I joined a tap dance company called Tapotage, whose founders were my original tap teachers, Benny Draier and Nancy Hodge. However I was still lacking artistic control which I increasingly sought. Soon after I left Tapotage and completed my journey by deciding to form my own company called, KlaXson.
When I left dance and intensified my music research, I spent a lot of time listening to Jazz music During this same period I went to College and University acquiring a background in Creative Arts, Cultural History, and Film Studies. My studies combined with dance and jazz to create a unique and advantageous perspective.
I not only trained in the physical and musical aspect of dance, but also studied its historical context. Jazz music allowed me to re-invent what John Bubbles was doing in the 30s with his rhythm taps. By listening to jazz music I began tracing jazz harmonies and melodies and applying them directly to rhythm which created my style of unexpected pauses and sometimes awkwardly placed sounds.
My greatest influence wasn’t so much a single artist but rather a musical event, The Montreal International Jazz Festival. Essentially it provided the ear training and sampling of many different types of jazz music, introduced me to live acts and the fathers of jazz, and finally provided me with a good arena for sampling audience reaction to different sounds/styles of music. It was my good fortune to find myself in a city that is home to the largest and most prestigious jazz/music festival in the world.
I originally got into jazz and dance through my love of history, in particular the first half of the 20th century. Add to this a series of coincidences, notably, Montreal’s Studabaker’s rock & roll club and PBS television melded together to developing my interest in dance and the culture of America in between both World Wars.
One night I found myself being lead to Studabaker’s, a Rock & Roll club, which is also where I first saw Nancy Hodge (billed as a rock & roll queen) dance for the first time. Rock & Roll was a far cry from the modern house music, which was the craze at the time. The club acted as a time warp back to the fifties the minute you crossed its doors. I asked my friend about Nancy he said she teaches tap dancing somewhere downtown so I picked a school at random and showed up to watch the tap class and she happened to be teaching it. I watched all three classes that night and signed up!!!
At about the same time, while flipping television channels, I ended up watching one of PBS’s Saturday nights at the movies which featured classic black & white films from the 1940’s. I suddenly found myself very interested in older films. Fortunately, PBS fulfilled this curiosity by playing a constant stream of film from Hollywood’s Golden Era. Therefore, a night club lead me to Nancy Hodge and tap dance and television lead me to study history and film.
I tried twice, unsuccessfully, to get into Dawson College’s reknown theatre program. But I was accepted into Creative Arts and got to study a perfect mix of history, film, music, theatre, voice and hence obtained a more varied approach to the arts.
History was to be my major at Concordia University. This provided me with many tools to research and find out more about Hollywood’s Golden Era. In studying history I accumulated an interest in film history which led me to obtain a second Bachelors of Arts in Film Studies. Film history thus introduced me to two other influences, which combined with jazz music to compose my style, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly. Through my studies in film I have become an expert in the Hollywood musical genre in all its many different facets.
I could never dance like Fred Astaire nor would I want to. That is because I believe in developing your own style as an artist. But Astaire’s influence for his class, his execution and his ability to combine singing, acting and dancing was incredible. He was the preferred interpreter of the great composers like Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and the Gershwins.
Gene Kelly, on the other hand, influenced me by his exuberance and versatility. Gene Kelly could handle any style of dancing but is especially remembered for his slides, leg leap overs, and wind mill turns. He provided us with the greatest dance masterpieces on film, never limiting his imagination, which taught me never to set boundaries to my own imagination.
Therefore Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and jazz music were crucial in providing me with my practical and theatrical passion for tap dancing.
Dance was my first artistic outing as a young child of 5. So I have been aware of music way before I knew who Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were. My studies of history gave me a context and film studies provided me with a medium of understanding my performance art. Tap Dancing gave me my medium of expression.