Dancer revels in rhythm of tapping
By MEGAN SCOTT
PALM HARBOR -- During the day, Dr. Tanya Goodwin treats patients at her Palm Harbor gynecology practice.
But at night, she trades in her white lab coat and stethoscope for a black leotard and a pair of black tap dance shoes.
Then she heads to her Clearwater dance studio, Rhythm Works, to teach students of all ages the art of tap dance.
"It's not a hobby," Goodwin said. "It's a passion. I'm dedicated to promoting tap dance. I've been doing this for more than eight years, and I'll do this the rest of my life."
Goodwin will present a free program on the history of dance at 3 p.m. today at the Palm Harbor Library in connection with Black History Month. The program, "Loves Music, Loves to Dance," will focus on tap dance as it relates to African-American life along with the history of ballet and modern dance. There will even be a demonstration of different types of dances.
"A lot of what she's doing is showing the amount of influence black culture has had on the history of American dance," said Lois Eannel, head of youth services and assistant director at the Palm Harbor Library. "The library is not just a book depository. It's a cultural center. We try to offer programs that would be interesting to the community."
Goodwin, 42, of Palm Harbor has been dancing since she was 3, and she sees dancing as a way of life. She's always listening for sounds with a beat. Even at the gas pump, she'll think about dancing as gas chugs into her car.
In her late 20s, though, she had grown bored with jazz and ballet.
"The type of dancing I was doing I was very frustrated with because it was not challenging for me musically," she said.
Then she saw the movie Tap, starring Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr. and Savion Glover. She was dazzled.
"I said, 'That's what I want to do,' " she recalled.
She read books about the dancers. And she looked for a studio to teach her rhythmic tap dance. She soon learned that a book was as close as she was going to get unless she went to New York.
So she went.
She began learning rhythmic tap dancing in 1994 after attending the North American Tap Dance festival. She would travel to New York four or five times a year and train with masters such as Hines and Prince Spencer, the last living member of the Four Step Brothers, a famous dance troupe.
"With tap, it's not only the dance," she said. "You're a musician with your feet. You learn to be musical with your feet."
Rhythmic tap dancing has been slow to hit mainstream culture, Goodwin said. Besides Hines and Glover, jazz tap legends -- such as Buster Brown and Jimmy Slyde -- are largely unknown.
Outside New York and Chicago, few cities have a rhythmic tap dancing culture or places to learn the art form.
"People don't know how to teach it," Goodwin said. "All they've learned is the white type of tap dance. Tap dance has always been there. It's just not received the recognition beyond Broadway tap because no one really knew what it was."
Unlike Broadway tap dancing, rhythmic tap incorporates more of a drumming, free-style movement with the feet, Goodwin said. It's meant to be expressive. Routines are performed to the music of jazz artists such as Thelonious Monk and Count Basie.
In Broadway tap, performers dance to the melody, Goodwin said. In rhythmic tap, they dance to the melody and the beat.
"People seek out their own individual expression and style," Goodwin said. "You can express your joy, pain and sadness. It'll come out your feet. A lot of it is improvisation."
Tap dance started in Africa when natives used the stomping of their feet on hard clay to send messages to each other. As Africans were shipped to different countries during the slave trade, they used body and foot percussion to communicate.
Goodwin said rhythmic tap dancing hasn't gone mainstream because it's considered a black art form. If it's not the Nutcracker, it has a hard time catching on with the general public, she said.
That's why she is so devoted to teaching rhythmic tap dancing, she said, especially in the Tampa Bay area, where the culture for tap dancing doesn't exist.
"People don't patronize the arts here like they do in New York," Goodwin said. "It's a whole different marketplace. People in the large metropolitan cities want to see the eclectic. People in the South want to see the standard thing."
Goodwin hopes the families who come to her program this afternoon will be inspired to try "something new on the menu."
"I went to New York to find these people," Goodwin said about her tap dancing instructors. "I found these people, and we're a tap dance community. I'm trying to do that locally with people who want to seek out this type of art form. I teach what's been passed down to me."
-- Megan Scott can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you go
Dr. Tanya Goodwin will present "Loves Music, Loves to Dance," a free program on rhythmic tap dancing, ballet and modern dance, at 3 p.m. today at the Palm Harbor Library, 2330 Nebraska Ave.
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