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Get Rhythm

It starts with the sound. [People] have a sense that tap is about making noise, or making rhythms, but I don’t know that they get—from traditional representations or mainstream representations—a sense of how complicated or delicate or nuanced or expansive those rhythms can be.” Lauren Squires has always been mildly obsessed with sound. She’s a [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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It starts with the sound. [People] have a sense that tap is about making noise, or making rhythms, but I don’t know that they get—from traditional representations or mainstream representations—a sense of how complicated or delicate or nuanced or expansive those rhythms can be.”

Lauren Squires has always been mildly obsessed with sound. She’s a sociolinguist who researches language variation and processing. She’s capable of nerding out over vowel shifts and dialects. She’s also a lifelong student of tap dancing. What do these diverse interests have in common? Quite a bit.

“I think that they are both very analytical, and very creative and humanistic at the same time. Language is human and it’s social… tap is the same way,” Squires explained. “Of the dance forms that I have done, as they have been taught to me, [tap is] the one that feels a little bit ‘mathy.’ The precision of the rhythm. The counting. My brain likes to combine the creative and the analytic and I think that both linguistics and tap dance have me doing that.”

I’m with her. As a former student of linguistics, I understand having a love of organized systems, and a wonder at how the vibration of sound waves can create a way for people to relate to one another. I also understand how something that seems fascinating to you can often be overlooked by others—sometimes it’s that way with linguistics. And tap dancing.

Originally from Springfield, Missouri, Squires began dancing in a studio at age four, doing the normal round of community performances and competitions before she got to perform in a show in nearby Branson. “I was a dancing bear in that show, among other things,” Squires laughed.

But serious tap dance has never left her agenda. When she moved from Ann Arbor to Columbus to take an assistant professorship in OSU’s Department of English, she hoped that in a larger city, she would find an active tap scene.

“You see other larger cities getting in on the action with people starting new companies and new festivals popping up all over the place,” she explained. “I didn’t find anyone providing what I wanted, which was a community of adult advanced tap dancers to dance with and to perform with. So that’s why I tried to create it myself.”

Movement Afoot—Squires’ appropriately linguistic creative name for her company—is part of the nationwide “movement” to help people with a passion for tap dance find each other, a place on the dance floor, and an appreciative audience.

“One of the things that I’m trying to do in my own small way is to expand people’s understanding of what tap dance is,” said Squires. “It’s not just the Rockettes. It’s not just Savion Glover, either. It’s a whole bunch of things. It can be emotional or up lifting. It can be thoughtful like all other dance forms can be.”

Squires serves as the director and has performed with seven other dancers at festivals and community events over the past three years. The company also hosts open workshops with guest teachers and jazz jams.

Last summer, Movement Afoot held its first theater concert at the Van Fleet Theatre, introducing the city to the world of rhythm tap, or jazz tap. Rhythm tap focuses on musicality—the percussiveness of the taps striking the floor. Broadway, or show tap, is commonly performed in musical theater and focuses more on whole body movement—it’s what people tend to think of when they think of tap dancing.

“Oftentimes I’ve had people act surprised at what they see us doing, and I don’t exactly know the source of that surprise. But I do think it’s something like the experience of tap dance is one of just silly, upbeat, pure entertainment as opposed to a feeling of being moved,” Squires mused. “What we really try to do is focus on rhythm, sound, and acoustic feelings as opposed to visual ones, [which] can be just as moving. And there’s also something really interesting about how dancers’ bodies can create those sounds.”

Rhythm tap stands in contrast to ballet or modern dance, which are concert forms and usually taught as part of college dance curricula. In Squires’ experience, outside of dance studios for children, very little tap is publicly performed.

“Tap is an art form that was, sort of, a very vernacular art form,” she said. “Possibly because of that history, [tap] has always struggled to get the kind of funding or prominence other dance forms have had.”

But as ambassadors of their art, Movement Afoot is tapping out a message—and the capital city seems to be catching on.

“There is an appetite for tap dance in Columbus,” said Squires. “People always love seeing it. Every time we perform people just get so excited.”

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Arts Fest Preview: See BalletMet live outdoors!

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BalletMet’s Friday night’s headline performance at 8:30 p.m. at the Arts Festival is sure to be a highlight of weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 largest professional companies, BalletMet consists of dancers hailing from across the nation and the world and boasts a premiere academy for aspiring professional dancers, one that’s been recognized as an institution of local and national stature.

Since 1978, BalletMet has brought incredible dance to theaters in Central Ohio and beyond and their commitment to bringing dance to the Columbus community, especially in underserved areas, is unparalleled.

Art of War Photo by Jen Zmuda

From in-school programs to theater field trips, scholarships and free performances, the company is dedicated to making dance accessible to all. More than 10,000 children attend the company’s Morning at the Ballet field trip performances each year. And thanks to a grant from PNC Arts Alive, BalletMet’s second company, BalletMet 2, has performed at free events at the King Arts Complex, Franklin Park Conservatory and more, throughout the 2018-19 season.

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In addition to the free performance at the Arts Festival BalletMet will perform at Dance on Dakota on Friday, May 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Franklinton. This performance is also free.

Dance on Dakota, co-hosted by Franklinton Arts District, is part of a weekend-long block party in Franklinton and features free food and drink and a collaborative performance with TRANSIT ARTS. The event will take place at Dakota Ave. and Town St.

Dancers Grace Anne Powers and William Newton Photo by Jen Zmuda

BalletMet’s Columbus Arts Festival performance will include a mixed repertoire of shorter pieces from its past productions and will be preceded by music from DJ Donnie M. of Damn Girl.

And if these performances capture your interest, the company recently announced its 2019-20 season, which includes ALICE, based on the later stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Twisted 3, a collaboration with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

More info at www.balletmet.org. For all your Arts Festival details visit www.colubmusartsfestival.org

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Arts Fest Preview: You wood hate to miss local crafter

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Woodworker and Art Makes Columbus featured artist Devon Palmer has been working with his hands since his upbringing in northeast Indiana. His mother a wood carver and his father a carpenter and cabinet maker, Palmer took a more mechanical route by obtaining his pilot’s license and attending Purdue University to pursue a career as an airplane mechanic.

But as his career transitioned from maintenance to the tech field, he yearned to work with his hands again. Originally he considered pottery, before a class he planned to attend got canceled. But a trip home the weekend before Thanksgiving led to his father introducing him to woodturning.

That was more than 15 years ago. And though he is largely self-taught, Palmer also credits local woodturners from the Central Ohio Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners) for taking him under their wing. In 2005, he opened his first studio just north of Downtown, and in 2007 he began teaching woodturning at Woodcraft Columbus.

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Today, Palmer does a bit of mentoring of his own. He teaches classes in blade and bowl turning, resin cast pen turning and more advanced projects like hollow vessel turning in his studio at the Idea Foundry. He is also adding a series of LGBTQ date night pen turning classes to his growing schedule of classes, shows and demonstrations.

Palmer says his work represents “family and connectedness” with work ranging from salad bowls and laser engraved pens to funerary urns and ornaments. The details in his hand-crafted tableware and home goods manage to invoke a warm sense of community, fellowship, and hospitality.

Devon Palmer works in internet technology and is also a pianist and ordained minister.

Make your own wood turned pen with Devon Palmer at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7-9, at the Big Local Art Village located at the Festival’s Franklinton entrance. Learn more about Devon at www.columbusmakesart.com/stories/devon-palmer and get all your Arts Festival details at www.columbusartsfestival.org

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Arts Festival Preview: Dr. E uses voice to overcome adversity

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Dr. E, singer-songwriter and author Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Dr. Elaine Richardson — known by her stage name Dr. E — has used her voice to detail the incredible circumstances she encountered while overcoming great adversity. Born to a musician father and Jamaican immigrant mother, Dr. E begun tapping into her talent while singing in church, her school’s choir, and in girl groups.

Dr. E continued to sing despite the difficult path she faced. As a teen, she became a sex trafficking victim and fell into addiction. In her recovery, she pursued higher education at Cleveland State University and Michigan State University. During this time Dr. E also began performing as the frontwoman for a number of cover bands and placing her original music on various TV shows. She recorded her first album, “Elevated,” in 2010.

Dr. E’s introspective song lyrics reflect the often difficult process of healing while defending those who share her experiences or face exploitation and discrimination in other ways.

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On her sophomore album, 2017’s “Songs for the Struggle,” she gives a soulful retelling of her journey from sex trafficking survivor to university professor, Ph.D., author and advocate. Blending elements of soul, rock, funk, rhythm and blues, and jazz, Dr. E sings with an astonishing amount of hope and positivity; Though the album details the trauma and exploitation experienced by Dr. E during her teen years, her power message ultimately expresses affirmations of self-love and acceptance employed with an equally powerful and joyous voice.

Dr. E is currently a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has written a number of books on African American literature as well as a memoir, “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life.”

See Dr. E. perform at the Columbus Arts Festival, Saturday, June 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Big Local Stage on Rich St.

For hours, artist listing and all Festival information go to www.columbusartsfestival.org

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