While I am neither beautiful nor pretty and while I am charming and clever, I am also a tap dancer and not a particularly good one. Last week I went to Friday Night Tap Jam at the American Rhythm Center in Chicago and it was awesome. Bril Barrett, professional tap dancer, runs it and it is every sort of terrific.
How Friday Night Tap Jam works is like this: Everyone gets in a big circle. Each person has four bars and it goes around the circle, everyone improvising whatever tap moves they feel like offering at that moment to those four bars. There are some sensationally talented, longtime students of the art who do magical ethereal things when it gets to them, people like Bril who runs M.A.D.D. Rhythms, the professional tap company, and another guy who had such flair and was so smooth and who brought out such different awesome steps each time it was his turn that I told my sister I wanted to marry him (except I am ancient and he is young) and she proclaimed him the Don Draper of the Friday Night Tap Jam. There are fantastic young people who just want to dance and show their stuff in a supportive environment. There are people who like to show off and have the skills for showing off but who have to look in the mirror to make sure it's right. There are those who've never danced a step in their lives. There are people like me who aren't that great but love being there and are glad to participate. Around and around it goes for about an hour, Bril getting everyone very excited to add something to the mix. Everyone leaves their attitude and being judgmental behind because Friday Night Tap Jam's about doing better for yourself not doing better than everyone else.
People come up with great combinations. A gifted dancer may take something from a less experienced dancer and do a whole riff on it. A total neophyte may just do digs and toes but it's done with great sincerity and he or she owns every bit of those digs and toes. It's a great combination of people, young and old, rich and poor, highly trained, just learning, embarrassed and confident. Some people think they are bringing nothing to the circle; I think being there and trying your utmost means you are bringing something to the circle -- your joie de vivre, your enthusiasm, your willingness to make a dang fool of yourself in front of people who make money tapping for a living.
If you're near the Fine Arts Building in downtown Chicago on the second Friday of the month, cruise by the American Rhythm Center on the third floor (call to make sure it's on). Bring your tap shoes and your excitement, leave your judgment on the street, and join the circle for a thrilling evening of improvising on whatever music Bril has on iPod Shuffle that night. Come stand next to me!