About 25 people, young and old, some from as far away as Philadelphia, watched tap-dancer Andrew J. Nemr twirl, tapping his feet as musician Max ZT played the Hammered Dulcimer. Together they produced an enchanting mélange of rhythmic clinks and clanks against the backdrop of the setting sun, illuminating the graffitied Brooklyn rooftops, as seen through the large windows of the loft space that is Chez Bushwick.
After he finished his repertoire, Nemr sat down to discuss his love of tap.
“Tap-dancing has a lot to do with feeling,” said Nemr. “More often than not, it’s about love and determination to fight for that love.”
Nemr began tap-dancing at three-and-a-half years old at the insistence of his parents, who wanted their only child to make some friends in their hometown in Virgnia. One thing led to another, and Nemr began entering competitions, meeting other tap-dancers and forming alliances. In the late 1980s Nemr met the legendary tap-dancer, the late Gregory Hines. In 2002 the two founded the Tap Legacy Foundation, the only organization of its kind that preserves, promotes and educates about the art of tap dancing. Today Nemr, in conjunction with his work for Tap Legacy, runs and choreographs his own tap-dance company, CPD Plus (Cats Paying Dues), some of whose young protégés, Kurt Csolak, Rebecca Snow and Daniel Starer-Stor, tapped along Nemr in Saturday night’s performance.
The show was a collaboration between Chez Bushwick’s CAKE Series, an artist-run performance series that runs on the first Saturday of every month, and Norte Maar, a cultural organization. Joseph Andrew, the director of Norte Maar, said that he was attracted to Nemr’s work because he thinks it contains something very fundamentally American. Tap-dancing, said Andrew, is one of the few indigenous American traditions.
According to “Tap Origins: A Brief History” by Paul Corr, tap-dancing originated in America in the 19th century and is thought to have developed out of traditional Irish and English jigs, clog dancing and slave improvisations. During the period between 1930 and 1950, tap dance moved to Broadway and film with such tap celebrities as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Shirley Temple. During the 1950s tap-dancing declined with the advent of rock’n’roll, but in the late 1970s the dance was revived and has been growing ever since.
Nemr said that right now is an exciting time for tap-dancing, since it seems to be spreading and becoming more popular. He said tap-dance is slowly rising from obscurity—aided in part by Tap Legacy’s current efforts, which include the “One in a Million” campaign, the goal of which is to build an international tap-dancing center in New York City.
“Tap dancing is not pop culture by any means,” said Nemr. “But we’ve come a long way. We’re in more places, doing more.”
Nemr praised the openness of the Bushwick art scene and expressed gratitude to Chez Bushwick for inviting him to perform with his dancers.
“The Brooklyn scene is allowing dancers to be what they wanted to be,” said Nemr. “This wouldn’t be happening without spaces like Chez Bushwick that are allowing us to come out and perform.”
Before he finished the sentence, Nemr’s feet started to tap out a beat, and he began to hum a tune, oblivious to everything but the soft humming that naturally rose from his throat, and the rhythm of his metal-soled shoes against the wooden floor.