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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 & Culture

Summer Camp Soap Opera

J.R. McMillan

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Young screenwriters shocked by surprise casting at Thurber House

Summer camp is a rite of passage wrapped in revelry, rivalry, and romance — all the makings of a must-see soap opera. But when Thurber House (humorist James Thurber’s former home turned local literary center) rushed to push their summer camps online this year, they feared some of that creative connectivity might be lost among aspiring young writers.

Hoping for a hook, camp counselors Justin Martin and Frankie Diederich decided to challenge campers with a genre they’d never tackled before: writing an original soap opera. Entirely on a whim, Martin took to Twitter to see if anyone happened to have a connection to the industry.


“I genuinely didn’t expect it to go anywhere, I didn’t even tag anyone. But an hour later I had half the cast of Days of Our Lives,” recalled Martin, whose disbelief still lingers. It was a plot twist even campers didn’t see coming. “California’s stay-home order was so uncertain, we never knew when everyone might go back to work. Even when we told writers and their parents the night before the performances, some of them didn’t believe us.

Though daytime television isn’t an obvious obsession for middle school students, nearly every novel of young adult fiction is essentially a soap opera. And Days of Our Lives is set in the fictional Midwest city of Salem — folksy yet sophisticated, and never short on scandal, not unlike Columbus, Ohio. It’s a short stretch that only seems non sequitur.

“Everyone started with a blank page, but by the end of the week, Frankie and I had helped them create a complete screenplay. But the cast was still a shock,” Martin explained. “Kids admire anyone who has made a career out of doing something they love, and these actors and actresses were so enthusiastic, flexible, and generous. They were every bit as into it as the campers.”

It was actress Martha Madison who happened to see a retweet of Martin’s request and matter-of-factly replied, “Can I bring some friends?” She soon roped in more than a dozen of her costars, all equally eager to give a bunch of adolescent screenwriters the performance they deserved despite a pandemic.

“I’m a big believer in fate. It was an easy ask, everyone said yes,” revealed Madison, better known to many as Belle Black. Her character’s parents John and Marlena have been synonymous with Days of Our Lives for decades. “There was so much character development, and they all had love and murder in the plot. They were real soap operas.”


Like many nonprofits struggling to adapt, the shift to online programming has actually expanded the reach of Thurber House. Much like parents working remotely, kids from across Ohio, and from New York to California, also received insightful lessons in craft and collaboration from screenwriter Amanda Beall, whose credits include The Young and the Restless, All My Children, and General Hospital.

“If you’re a creative person, none of that goes away just because you’re stuck at home. You can still share your experience with anyone anywhere,” Madison noted. “I was very impressed with the writing. I’d love to work again with any one of these kids someday.”

***

For more on Thurber House and upcoming events and programs, visit thurberhouse.org

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Rare flower ready to stink up 2020 at the Franklin Park Conservatory

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Photo provided by Franklin Park Conservatory.

“Some people wait a lifetime to see this,” said Bruce Harkey, president and CEO of Franklin Park Conservatory. 

What someone will wait a lifetime to see (or smell) varies from person to person. If watching a massive flower bloom and let out a wretched odor is your thing, you better keep a close eye on the Conservatory.

According to a press release sent out Wednesday, the endangered Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) will flower in the next week for the first time in the Conservatory’s history. The flower can grow to 10 feet tall and emits a strong odor, resembling rotting flesh. While the “corpse flower” only blooms for a few days, those who go to the FPC to visit it will not soon forget it.

And while it may seem that 2020 could not get any weirder with its masks and murder hornets,  this particular brand of weird is actually kind of cool—and it’s in our own backyard.

Check out the FPC social channels, where you can view the bloom live, or head to the Conservatory to smell it in person, though the required mask may prevent a full whiff of the dreadful stench. But if you dare, you can buy your timed tickets online here.

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Columbus Museum of Art opens June 23 for members; June 30 to the public

Julian Foglietti

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The Columbus Museum of Art (CMA)  has announced plans to reopen in the coming week after closing in mid-March due to COVID restrictions. Though museums were allowed to open on June 10, CMA chose to hold off reopening and will instead see it’s first visitors tomorrow,  June 23, as they reopen for museum members, and to the general public next week on June 30..

To coincide with the reopening, CMA has announced multiple measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, such as significantly reduced capacity, and the introduction of timed tickets, and special hours for at-risk populations.

Tickets for the following week will be made available for sale online each Friday, and an extremely limited number of tickets will be available for day-of admission. While there isn’t a time limit to how long visitors can stay in the museum, there is a one hour entrance window assigned to each ticket. 

Visitors will be asked to socially distance while in the space, and face coverings are strongly recommended. 

Learn more here.

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