By Valerie Lopez | @valschwarie
When most people think about tap dance they think of Shirley Temple, Broadway, or men in black and white films. Tap dance is an American dance form often associated with age and dust. However, tap dance is not a dying art form, and Tap That Production is here to prove it. The five fierce women— currently consisting of Tellina Lee, Sydney Campbell, Jeze Zankich, Katelyn Newham, and Emma Grosjean— banded together as one of the most influential tap dance crews with a modern twist on the dance style. With fervor, the Tap That group has turned a male-dominated dance form on its heels and shown the world exactly what it means to be dancers.
Forming the Group
Tap That began when choreographer and founder of Tap That Production, Tellina Lee began noticing the lack of representation of female dancers in tap dance. Tellina, born in Australia, had been tapping since her early childhood and naturally grew fond of the dance form. One of Tellina’s favorite groups growing up was the Tap Dogs—a male tap dance group formed in 1995. Tap Dogs were not only talented dancers, but they put on well-plotted productions with explosive choreography, sets, and music. The Tap Dogs exploded in popularity in the world of tap, yet a female equivalent of the group never came. That is until Tellina Lee took on the task of creating her own top-tier team of tapping ladies.
In order to find a group of dancers who matched her enthusiasm and talent, Tellina Lee looked for teammates through auditions and referrals. With this process came the birth of Tap That—a mix of five women from Australia and the United States with strong chemistry and passion for tap. “If you sit down with this crew you will very quickly see their unmatched commitment to the craft, their magnetic connection, and genuine support and love for each other. The Tap That Crew is a sisterhood,” Tellina Lee said.
Similar to Tellina, the rest of the members have also danced since their childhood. Sydney Campbell told EnVi the group “all had a crazy passion for this art form from day one, it was like it was already in us. There is something amazing and magical about making music with your feet, and ‘hearing’ yourself dance. I still remember when I went to my first live show and it ignited my love for tap dancing.”
Since their start in 2015, Tap That has put on many show-stopping performances both in-person and on YouTube. Their performances always feature their one-of-a-kind modern tap dance choreography, stylish wardrobe, elaborate sets, and top-notch production.
Among their grand performances, is their appearance at the 2018 Darley Awards at the world-renowned Dolby Theater. The group performed “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and the LALA LAND track “Another Day of Sun” for the horse racing ceremony.
Tap That performed various choreographies including “Salute,” a song member Emma Grosjean dubs as the group’s “most trusted piece to perform on stage.” Their performance of “Salute” celebrates women’s empowerment and strength—one of the crew’s main messages.
Among the group’s favorite performances is their tap choreography for Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon.” Jeze Zankich said that it captures their “essence as a group” with powerful dancing and visuals. Another favorite is their cover of K-pop group BLACKPINK’s song “Kill This Love,” their first co-choreographed piece. The group decided to perform this piece after Jeze, one of two K-pop fans in Tap That, listened to it.
“BLACKPINK is an iconic, strong girl group that we felt aligned with Tap That. Not to mention, the song is SO good. We wanted to represent that power by stepping in the boxing ring and showing the world who’s boss!” said Emma, Tap That’s second K-pop fan.
Smaller performances can be seen on Tap That’s TikTok and Instagram, where they upload challenges, share updates, and tease choreography. They have covered songs like Britney Spears’ “Circus” and posted acapella dances. The first TikTok the group posted was a short cover of K-pop boy group BTS’ song “Black Swan.” According to Emma, the Tap That group are huge fans of BTS and often use their songs during jam sessions.
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Behind The Scenes
Inspiration for their powerful performances comes in different ways, but one is by finding the music. If Tap That comes across a song that stands out, they follow that first step by thinking about the concept, choreography, stage setup, and production.
“We create our rhythms to complement and enhance what already exists. Bringing together our love for stage and screen, most of our videos are created with the camera movements in mind and filming for the cut, whereas our live pieces are purely created for the stage,” Tellina Lee said.
Kate attributes most of the group’s unique choreographies to their leader and founder, Tellina. “Tellina’s choreography and knack for hearing beats, coming up with fresh new rhythms, and having the finesse of a true leader is a ritual on its own.”
When the group makes choreography together they split the music by part and work on those bits before coming back together to combine everything and clean the choreography.
With every performance, Kate aims to “encourage and influence dancers of all ages and backgrounds around the world!” On a similar note, Jeze hopes that their videos make people “excited to see tap dance captured in an all-new, modern, cutting-edge way—with an equal level of production quality that other styles of dance often have!”
Challenging the Pandemic and Moving Forward
While they have made incredible choreography in the past, the pandemic has been a challenge for the team. According to Kate, the Tap That crew were unable to visit each other since some members live outside of Los Angeles, yet the members overcame this obstacle by connecting on FaceTime and Zoom. The group “vibes and thrives off of each other’s energy and just love being together.” Another obstacle came last year when their plans to launch a show were thwarted by the pandemic. They have been working on producing a full-length show since 2018 and had to put a pause on their plans.
With restrictions lifting, the group has been able to reunite and work on upcoming projects. On their mindset coming from the pandemic, they said, “We see the light at the end of the tunnel and this week, after a year and 2 months of not dancing together or seeing each other, we are back together and stronger than ever. If this time has taught us anything, it’s how resilient we are, how passionate we are, and how much we connect as a whole.”
The Tap That group plan to showcase their tap dance by continuing to produce videos and their full-length show. Sydney exclaimed the group hopes to tour and looks forward to performing on live stages. In the coming months, Tap That will certainly continue to empower and inspire dancers through their unique, modern tap dance performances.
Interested in learning more about dance? Check out our exclusive interview with I Love Dance director MJ Choi on K-pop dance fashion here!
Thumbnail Courtesy of @dimalemur