Very excited to be a speaker/performer at this year's TEDxFulbright event at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, Ireland! The theme of this year's event is "Old Myths and New Realities." More info on how to attend coming soon. Meantime, feel free to read the abstract for my talk below!
Oral Tradition in the Age of Smart Phones: The Case of Tap Dance
Tap dance is an American oral tradition and one of the oldest art forms to come out of the United States. Embedded in its beautifully intricate rhythms and footwork are the stories of African Americans forced into enslavement, attempting to hold onto their culture despite all efforts at its erasure; as well as the stories of Irish immigrants, fleeing the Great Famine and facing prejudice abroad. If necessity is the mother of invention, it might also be said that adversity is the mother of tap dance.
As an oral tradition, the form has long been transmitted from one generation to the next without the use of written language. Dancers are often very aware of their tap lineage, knowing precisely who mentored their mentors’ mentor. Movement material is learned and passed on through observation, repetition, andvisual/aural mimicking (sometimes affectionately referred to as ‘stealing steps’). Physical proximity between dancers was traditionally a crucial criterion for this process.
Today, we find ourselves in the age of smart phones and social media. Tap dance may be recorded, produced, and published for global consumption entirely via the modern miracle of mobile devices. We are simultaneously more connected and less connected than ever before. Physical proximity is no longer a prerequisite for learning steps, but do the steps truly translate when divorced from the stories they carry? How do we continue to learn from the struggle that begat this beautiful art form, while living in a newly accelerated age of transmission? Crucially, how do we harness the power of our technology to both innovate and honor our traditions? This engaging and performative talk will offer some possible answers to these inquiries based on the personal experiences of the speaker as an ethnochoreologist and professional in the field of tap dance.