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Making Music with Your Feet
The Industrial Dance of 'Tap Dogs' Comes to Kingsbury Hall
By Karen Anne Webb

Dance Preview:
'Tap Dogs'
Kingsbury Hall
(University of Utah)
Feb. 24 and 25, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets cost $31.50 to $40.50, and there might be student discounts. No late seating
Buy tickets through the Kingsbury Hall box office at (801) 581-7100 or visit

Most people think of making music with violins and flutes and trumpets. "Tap Dogs," the industrial-strength, industrial-aesthetic tap show that burst onto the world dance scene 10 years ago, is different. Its members make music with their feet.

The blokes in the Blundstone boots return to Utah this week-end with two shows at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall on Feb. 25 and 26.

“The first 20 minutes of the show are done entirely a capella,” says company veteran Joshua Allan Cyr. “People think they’re hearing instruments, but it’s just the six of us tapping out different rhythms at the same time. It’s amazing the effect you can get with just a complex set of rhythms.”

Tap Dogs is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. The parent company debuted at the Sydney Theatre Festival in 1995, where it won instant acclaim. Within two years, the show had proved so popular that it was forced to spawn several touring companies to meet the demand for engagements.

All this from rather humble beginnings. Dein Perry, who conceived the show, was one of a septet of friends who had learned to tap in childhood in Newcastle, a steel town north of Sydney. Seeing no prospects for a career in dance when he left school at 17, Perry earned his papers as an industrial machinist. Then, hoping to break into show business, he shuffled off to Sydney.

Small parts in musicals eventually led to his being cast in a featured role in the Sydney production of "42nd Street." By the time the show closed, he had decided to try to create his own show and had sufficient name recognition to apply for and receive an Australian Development grant

His concept: a contemporary tap show based on the themes of his industrial experiences. “Tap Brothers,” an early incarnation of "Tap Dogs," bowed in 1991. The brothers’ work shortly spawned the musical "Hot Shoe Shuffle," which had as its main theme—what else?—a seven-man tap act trying to hit the Big Time.

"Hot Shoe Shuffle" became the first all-Aussie musical to play London’s West End (the British Broadway). It earned Perry an Olivier (the British Tony Award) for choreography. "Tap Dogs" was already in the works—the multi-tasking Perry had conceived it in 1994, the year before "Hot Shoe Shuffle" made it to the Great Brit Way—and in 1996, it netted Perry his second Olivier. Billed as a “reinvention of tap for the New Millennium,” the show has now garnered a veritable mountain of awards. There are currently three "Tap Dogs" groups, one touring Australia, one Europe, and one North America.

“It’s `dancing rough,” says Cyr, “a more natural style of movement in which you use your whole body. When I joined the group, I had to drop everything I had ever learned as a dancer—which was really a pleasant change!”

And, yes, they really do wear Blundstone boots (Blundstone Original 505 boots, to be precise), which have been outfitted with Capezio tap plates. Fun fact: over the last decade, the company has worn out more than 5,026 pairs of boots and 22,678 Capezio tap plates.

“It’s a change from dancing in a conventional shoe,” says Cyr. “The boots are heavier, and you have to learn to pick up your legs a bit more. On the other hand, with so much else to do—all the parts to learn, and we construct the set as a part of the show—the change to tapping in a boot was pretty much the last thing on my mind!”

The dancers are costumed to look like workers in a steel yard, and the characters are based on typical industry roles: a foreman, his second, the tough enforcer, the “rat” who is always in trouble, the “funky” guy who wants to do things his way.

And it’s costuming in the loosest possible sense. After a character is given his “look”—say a white tank top and black pants—Cyr says the individual dancers are free to choose exactly how to implement that look. The actual appearance of the dancers changes from night to night

“But that’s just a place to start,” Cyr goes on. “You have to establish your own way of doing the role. Every role has something of our own personalities in it. I find the show is at its most successful when the dancers are using that, tapping into the side of their personalities reflected in the roles, rather than acting something they’ve never felt.”

Cyr’s case was unusual: he was replacing an injured cast member mid-tour. Sidelined by a transportation glitch in Buffalo, New York, he stayed up all night, then read about the audition in the morning paper. With quite a few tap credits (including several championships) to his name, he decided to try out.

“Three weeks later,” he recalls, “they called me up and asked if I could be ready to go in three days.”

He learned the entire show in 11 days and was thrown immediately into the main roles. (The show typically has two swing dancers who start out taking one role at a time when they are the new kids on the block.) Even as an eight-year veteran and even with the observation that the veterans want to support new cast members in their efforts to learn the show, Cyr says it’s a rough show to learn.

Touring, too, is a rough way to live. For the four months of this particular tour (the contracts change show to show and year to year), the Dogs are doing one and two night stands exclusively. The up side is, according to Cyr, that the dancers and crew are his best mates in the world, so the sense of camaraderie in the show is not feigned. In April, when the tour ends, he plans to return home to British Columbia to visit the family he hasn’t seen in 10 years.

Cyr says the longevity of the dancers with the show helps to make it successful.

“You really need veterans to make it work,” he says. “Not only do you have to have the skill to establish your character in the 80 minutes of the show, but you have to make sure the moral or the spirit of the show is preserved.”

“And I guess that’s about drawing vitality from an industrial ethic. But it’s also about the things that make the show successful: that it’s about appreciation for a good day’s work, that it has no language barrier, that it’s about working hard and having conflict but also about being good mates. The show and its message really have something for everyone: old, young, dancers, non-dancers. It’s about how you want to live your life and how you want to be known.”


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