Kyle Van Newkirk is a tap dancer you probably remember from the premiere season of NBC’s World of Dance. In case you missed it, he is also one of Showstopper’s incredible convention teachers. What makes Kyle stand apart from some of today’s other incredible tappers? He isn’t afraid to change what tap means to his audience and even himself. This modern view of tap dancing is important because it shows us that tap dancers are just as versatile and dynamic as dancers of any other genre. We sat down with Kyle to get his advice on bringing tap dancing into the 21st century.
Focus on Musicality
One of the things that Kyle believes changes tap is how people use it to interact with music. This means interacting with every facet of the songs you choose to dance to from the meaning to the lyrics to the many components of the instrumental part of the track. Obviously, this leaves a dancer with an infinite amount of possibilities for each song they choose to work with. Where do you aim your focus? Well, Kyle chooses to focus on the lyrics, and he uses them to guide him as he chooses other rhythms in the song to highlight. This is because he thinks it is important to pay homage to the musician that created the song you are working with. Think of it as a collaboration between you and the artist. Lyrics and rhythms come together in song. They should come together in tap as well.
Improvise and Blend
An important element of modern tap is improvisation. This allows tap dancers to bring unexpected elements into their choreography which makes it more interesting. This is not new, though. If you look through the history of tap dancing, you will find that many of the moves we consider standardized today were and still are greatly varied depending on your location and culture. Kyle specifically prefers to blend his tap with elements influenced by hip hop and other urban genres of dance. However, watching Kyle dance, you would not say that he is hip-hop dancing. It is undeniably tap.
“Don’t be afraid to move.”
Kyle encourages dancers to remember that even though you should branch out and explore different methods of blending your tap technique with elements from other genres, you should not forget to practice basic elements of tap. It is important to keep your base strong. Slipping into looser versions of standard technique to be unique can be cool, but if you do not maintain the roots of tap, your style will suffer because your basic movements will be sloppy.
Make it Your Own
Throw in splashes of other things to develop your own style. Tap isn’t all feet. You can learn how to use and incorporate props, your body, and anything you can think of to enhance the rhythms and stories you are sharing. This isn’t a simple process. You won’t be able to figure out one hand movement or the intricacies of balancing one prop in a day, and it will take even longer than that to understand how one movement or prop can support and enhance your style. Don’t get discouraged! Style takes work. Every risk you take is a chance for you to expand your ability to express yourself and a step toward developing a style that is your own.
“Explore more. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box with tap.”
Kyle Van Newkirk is an award-winning choreographer, performer, and teacher in the from Nebraska. Recently he competed in NBC’s World of Dance. He has also performed with the Dizzy Feet Foundation, National Tap Dance day as a soloist, in his own one-man show “Tappin n Time,” and as a soloist at the IDO World Gala. Along with this Kyle has won numerous awards including World Champion of Tap and others. When he isn’t choreographing his latest masterpiece or performing on stages around the world, Kyle can be found teaching at Showstopper’s dance conventions.