Up Front

UP FRONT

June 04, 2006|By JESSICA BRANDT | JESSICA BRANDT,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SPOTLIGHT

TAPPERS WITH ATTITUDE

Fancy footworking

Young dancers are proud to carry on tap's jazz-rhythm tradition

Rhythmic stomping of 14 feet resonates through the Grand Ballroom of Washington's Renaissance Hotel as seven young members of Tappers With Attitude take the stage. Clad in African work suits and rubber-soled boots, the dancers begin to call to one another in carefully articulated Zulu.

The power of their voices grows in tandem with the volume of their intricate steps until the stage is alive with a swell of movement and sound that commands the attention of every audience member.

These tapping feet will take the stage at the group's "Fifteen Years of Rhythm" anniversary performance June 10 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.

Tappers With Attitude Youth Ensemble, a multicultural dance troupe based in Silver Spring, is dedicated to fostering cultural pride in the discipline's rich history by introducing young dancers to the jazz-rhythm tradition of tap.

Lively, soulful and at the cutting-edge of the renaissance of tap, TWA performs regularly on local and national television and on stages throughout the Washington metro area,3 including the Wolf Trap Center for Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center.

Backstage at the recent Washington performance, several young dancers shared their enthusiasm for participating in the art of tap.

Seventeen-year-old Eric Lewis says tap is "the artistic fuel" that feeds him in other forms of creative expression. Asked what keeps him tapping, Eric says, "Everything about it."

Many of these young dancers say they are attracted to the opportunity to use their feet to explore rhythm and express something musically.

"Every tap dancer is a musician," says ensemble director Victoria Moss. "They may not play the piano, guitar or violin, but their feet can be a really lovely instrument."

Moss, with co-director Yvonne Edwards, founded the group in 1991.

They pursue an approach to tap instruction that is deeply rooted in the African-American history of the art. The studio regularly brings in master artists such as Lane Alexander, Van Porter and Lesole Maine to choreograph ensemble numbers and provide key insights into the cultural history of tap.

"The older guys have lessons for us beyond 'move your feet like this, honey,' " says Moss. "We think it's imperative that our students get as much of that first-hand. Whenever we can we try to bring in master artists, go places where [there will be exchange with other dancers], and expose our children to oral histories and books."

TWA also encourages student choreographers to develop their own artistic expression, as part of its commitment to fostering a new generation of dancers.

"Teaching [our own choreography] helps us learn a lot about ourselves as dancers," says Michael Love, a senior member of the core company. "You have to tap through the entire body, not just the feet."

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"Fifteen Years of Rhythm" will take place at 7:30 p.m. June 10 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. Tickets are $15-$25. Call 301-405-ARTS (2787) or visit clarice smithcenter.umd.edu.

Shop till you drop

Pushing your way past weekend sale-hunters and mallrats can get old fast. When that happens, itsablackthang.com puts the joy of dropping cash back into your shopping experience. The online store offers gifts meant to appeal to black consumers, including artwork, board games and hip-hop gear. Owner and CEO Kane Kinnebrew III says the goal is to be "the black Amazon of the Internet." Art collectors can fawn over Thomas Black Shear's Ebony Vision Collection of upscale spiritual and family-themed figurines, while the musically inclined can shop for Bob Marley memorabilia.

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Information: itsablackthang.com or 866-444-8413

Move over, B&N

Indulge your inner bookworm at Karibu Books at the Security Square Mall, 6901 Security Boulevard. Karibu, which means "welcome" in Swahili, opened its Baltimore location in November 2005. It specializes in books and music "by and about people of African descent." CEO and co-owner Simba Sana says he and his partner started as street vendors selling books. By 1994, the first Karibu bookstore opened at The Mall at Prince Georges. Karibu now has six locations in Maryland and Virginia. The store hosts author appearances and book signings.

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Hours: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. More information: 410-944-6090 or karibubooks.com

West African flavor

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