A group of New York-based tap dancers has just concluded a tour of the Middle East, with performances and workshops in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. New York Tap Ensemble founder Noah Racey hopes the tour will help promote cultural understanding and introduce tap to a wider audience in the Middle East.
The New York Tap Ensemble was formed in 2007 with the idea that people of all nations understand the languages of song and dance.
Artistic director and founder Noah Racey told Reuters that he hopes to use dance to bridge language and cultural barriers. "We connect through rhythm and as in most places we go, we learn deep down everyone has the same connection and if I do... (beats) you go... (in sync with beats). Everybody knows it. We do not know why, we just know it. It makes sense," he said.
The group also included a music ensemble under the direction of three-time Richard Rogers Award winner Andrew Gerle. The dancers tapped to standards such as I've got You Under My Skin, Steam Heat, and Sunny Side of the Street.
There is a tradition of the rhythmic Dabkeh dance in the region, but tap was something new. Rania Qamhawee, the director of the Dance and Arts department and the deputy president of the Jordanian National Center for Culture and Art, told Reuters that the tappers helped enrich local appreciation for the art form.
"We have a group at the center call Miss and we try to develop popular arts, which is a characteristic of Jordanian culture and very important," she said. "But it needs more techniques, so at the center we try to establish good technique so we can show the world this culture.
Noah Racey says that tap allows everyone to communicate through its rhythm and music. "Rhythm is an interconnecting energy," he said. "Everybody has the same ability to let go of the language and the mind and enjoy the rhythm. And that happens and is re-enforced every time we perform. People are really eager and joyous to let go and have fun with it.
The tour marked the company's second trip to the region, after they performed in Amman's Al Hussein Theater in 2008. The trip was organized through the U.S. State Department's Cultural Affairs Office and included workshops with Palestinian students in Bethlehem as well as performances in Jerusalem and Amman.