From Screen to Stage to Student: Tap Fest Inspires Dancers with Performances and Master Classes

Colburn faculty Melinda Sullivan conceived the theme of this year’s Tap Fest, Screen to Stage, in collaboration with Tap Chair Denise Scheerer.

Photo of Melinda Sullivan by Lee Gumbs

This March, Tap Fest returns to Colburn with celebrated tap professionals who will join Colburn faculty on stage to pay tribute to films that inspired them to dance. Following the performance on March 9, the artists will lead an invigorating day of master classes on March 10 to share the traditions of tap with our students.

Colburn faculty Melinda Sullivan conceived this year’s theme, Screen to Stage, in collaboration with Tap Chair Denise Scheerer. During the performance, the artists will show clips from movies that inspired them, which will lead into a live performance based off the film. “We want to help the kids see the relationship between what has inspired us and what we’re doing today,” said Melinda.

This year’s roster of tap stars includes Evan Ruggiero, a dancer and singer known for his inspiring story of being a virtuosic one-legged performer. He was diagnosed with bone cancer and had his leg amputated to save his life. In spite of the physical setback, Evan held close to the dream of dancing and learned of the famed Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, a legendary African-American entertainer who taught himself to tap dance after losing a leg in a cotton gin accident.  Evan now tours the world teaching and performing, and notes that movie musicals like Singing in the Rain helped him during recovery. During the Tap Fest performance, he’ll perform a tribute to Gene Kelley.

Other performers include Dominique Kelley, Jillian Meyers, Anissa Lee, Assata Madison, Jason Rodgers, and Johnnie Hobbs III, who will each bring their own unique element to the stage and the studio. “It will be great for our students to see the diversity within tap dance,” said Melinda.

Melinda got into tap by watching old films, using movies as inspiration and motivation to keep practicing when she was young. She continues to use them today in her classes. “I use tap dance footage from old movies to help students see that it is this tradition that has been happening for many, many decades in our country,” she shared.

Since tap dance is an oral tradition, history is an important part of the American art form. It’s passed down through sharing and improvisation, which has created a strong subculture and community that celebrates inclusiveness and joy. Tap Fest will also introduce that community and source of artistic inspiration to our students.

This year’s Tap Fest will help our faculty and guest artists hand that tradition down to the next generation: our students. “It will tie together all the themes that we teach here at the school: musicianship, performance, innovation, and tradition,” explained Melinda.