A TAP DANCER LIKE NO OTHER

Michelle Dorrance brings her energy, good spirits, and gift for collaboration to the Joyce Theatre.

Dorrance discovered early on that she was a natural. When she was nine, she was in an advanced tap class with eighteen-year-olds. She joined the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, and from there went on to other companies. She also took time out to get a B.A. at N.Y.U. and spent four years as one of the drummer-dancers in “stomp.” In 2010, she founded her own company and began making work for it. The awards soon started rolling in, capped, last year, by a MacArthur Fellowship. It isn’t every day that a tap dancer gets a MacArthur.

Dorrance is a new kind of tapper. Classically, tap is a matter of a cool, contained upper body suspended over a huge clatter down below—a contrast that is supposed to be witty and, in a great or even good tapper, is. (“My feet are producing twenty taps a second, in alternating rhythms? Gee, I didn’t notice.”) Dorrance supplies plenty of action in the feet, but meanwhile the rest of the body is all over the place. Her elbows fly out; so do her knees, in great, lay-an-egg squats. She looks like a happy little tomboy vaulting around in a tree. Now and then, she’ll put on the mood-indigo, darkness-in-my-soul expression sometimes seen in tappers, or, alternatively, the Vegas-y let-me-entertain-you expression, but both of them fall off her face pretty fast, because she is fundamentally unaffected. Last October, she appeared on Stephen Colbert’s show—you can see it on YouTube—to teach him some steps. With no smirking, she got this big, besuited man to do the shim sham. He even seemed pleased with his performance. In any case, she was pleased, and completely relaxed.

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