An Interview with Peridance's Tap Teacher, Tony Mayes
“ If you own a pair of tap shoes, you’re in…”
Tony Mayes teaches tap dance at Peridance . Originally trained as an actor, he began to study tap after moving to New York City and quickly became immersed in the field. He is a man of many talents and has since worked as a technician, an actor, stage manager, writer, teacher, director, tap dancer, and a producer. I wanted to know more about our accomplished tap teacher's inspirations and how he made the switch to tap. Here are his responses. -Kaarin Holmquist
Originally you were studying as an actor; how did you become interested in tap?
I was at Steps on Broadway and I saw Lynn Schwab teaching tap class. While I’d seen tap before, danced a little in shows, I’d never seen rhythm tap like this and I was instantly drawn to it. Before that my focus had always been on acting. I was working as an actor and doing pretty well, but once I started taking tap, I knew that was what I wanted to spend my time on. It sort of took over – ask anyone. Watching a young company perform at Variety Arts downtown (now long gone) was also a big influence, because for the first time I saw people my age doing rhythm tap, which made it more accessible. During that show I leaned over to my date and told her ‘that’s what I’m going to do’. Later that year I started working for the American Tap Dance Foundation and never looked back.
What do you look for in a dancer?
Well, I look at a lot of shows from two sides – performance and production. Of course a dancer has to be able to do the choreography and the style that piece requires; however, I tend to look for a good presence. Technique and quality footwork are of the utmost importance, but without personality you will run the risk of losing the audience’s interest, and then what is the point of performing?
Where does your inspiration come from now?
I draw a lot of inspiration from everything really. Performances such as Tony Waag’s Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival, Tap City on Tour, Sound Check, a Tap Dance Concert Series and Jason Samuels Smith’s A.C.G.I. (among many, many more) have just blown me away! I’ve had the rare opportunity to watch and work with performers from all over the world. I love video clips and archived material – I spend a lot of that time letting those things soak in. I hear rhythm and songs all the time from all over the city. Playgrounds, parks, buses, stairways; I love to listen to rhythms and translate them into tap. One of my favorite moments was walking up 9th Ave in Midtown and hearing what I thought had to be tap dancing coming from a store front – it sounded just like someone swinging! When I looked in, it was a huge mixing bowl, mixing dough for the bakery next door – “ba-doom, ba-doom, ba daddaa, daddaa” – as the dough was moving up and down the mixing forks it changed tone, rhythm and was just out of control. I recorded a clip and my friends still don’t believe that it was a huge industrial mixer….
What is unique about working at Peridance?
Tap is relatively new at Peridance and it is a great place to be building a program from the ground up because there is so much support from Peri. I know and have worked with most all the tap teachers that work there. It’s a great community and the tap dancers are very supportive. The tap program at Peridance is growing and is definitely going to keep growing because we, as teachers, have the ability to create a program for what our students need and want.
What would you say your teaching style is?
That’s a difficult one to answer. What I think makes me ‘me as a teacher’ is that I started dancing tap later in life, after college. Many dancers have danced most of their lives so they do not necessarily remember learning that first step, or better yet, they don’t remember what it ‘felt like’ to learn that first step. I do remember what it is like to go through that process. I teach a lot of mature students and I understand what they are struggling with intellectually, emotionally and physically. For anyone to put himself in a position where they are starting something from the beginning can be daunting. I think it is very important to adapt to the students; I do not have one style of teaching for everyone – whatever works.
To be a tap dancer you have to be a musician as well. Tap is different from other forms of dance in that way. Sometimes you are just the dancer. YET, sometimes you are making your own tunes at the same time. When you wear a pair of tap shoes, EVERY SOUND COUNTS.
I learn as much from my students as I hope they learn from me. In the classroom I tell my students, “if you can walk you can tap dance” (Charles “Honi” Coles said that). I believe it too. I say it often and it puts my students at ease when they hear it. It might take a long time if you are working full time and can only take a class or two a week, but anyone can do it. I have seen people go from never dancing before to having a comprehensive understanding of tap. Watching that transition is great.
What are you working on now?
This fall I will be teaching full time at Peridance and PeriChild. I just had a performance on September 11th with group called “The Secret City” (www.thesecretcity.org) and “The Manhattan Wonderwalk” (www.themanhattanwonderwalk.com) I’m also working with Jason Samuels-Smith at Fall for Dance at City Center on October 6th and 7th. Ben Nathan (another adult tap teacher at Peri) and I are collaborating on some new work. I have a couple of films that I’m working on this year, but those are pretty long- term projects.
Watch the video of Tony's class!
Tony teaches at Peridance: Monday 6:00-7:00pm (Intro), 7:00-8:15 (Beginner), and 8:15-9:30 (Advanced Beginner) and Tuesday 7:00-8:15pm (Slow Intermediate)