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Practices aim to keep tap dancing alive across nation

There was torrential rain outside, but inside Gladstone’s Grand Finale Dance Studio, members of Beat BangerZ, a professional tap-dance troupe, were burning up the floor with their tap shoes, practicing a routine they hope to perform at the Oregon Fair Association’s January 2014 convention in Salem.

If they are chosen to perform, they will entertain representatives from all 36 Oregon fairs at the week-long convention, said Lisa Garner, an agent with Dancer’s Corner.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Beat BangerZ, a professional tap group based in Gladstone, show their style. Pictured left to right, back row: Jennifer McKay, Alicia Schuler, Erin Lee and Hillary Hart. Front row, left to right, Mikaeyla Pool, Pamela Allen and Damon Keller.Garner, a Rex Putnam High School graduate, is a studio-trained dancer and dance instructor at Grand Finale. She has performed tap, jazz and musical theater her whole life.

Now she is trying to nurture the careers of other dancers, and is in a position to do so, since she and business partner Shannon Wilcox have formed Dancer’s Corner, a dance retail shop and dance agency, based out of the Grand Finale studio.

“We help dancers with what they are wearing, and we get them jobs. We have placed teachers in studios and dancers in film and print projects and in live performances,” Garner said.

The group, affectionately known as the BBZ, was formed three years ago “with the hope not only to bring tap back to the mainstream, but to also put Portland on the map as having one of the most innovative hoofing crews in the country,” Garner said.

The group originated with five members, all local teachers, choreographers and performers, and has since continued to grow in number. They have auditioned for “America’s Best Dance Crew” in Texas, and were the only hoofing crew to make it to callbacks.  

They recently created a junior BBZ company with young local talent, with the goal of “keeping the art of tap alive in the Northwest and the nation by performing, and also passing down their knowledge to the younger generation,” Garner said.

Keeping tap at forefront

Damon Keller has been with Beat BangerZ since its conception in 2010 and is the only man in the seven-person group. Like the other adult members, he is a dance instructor, currently teaching at Billings Dance Center in Beaverton.

What he likes best about tap dancing and performing “is the connection I can give people that watch me or BBZ through music, rhythm and sound. The dancers dedicated to this company share the same mentality.”

He added, “I want to perform at the convention event to be an inspiring avenue through tap dance. It has been my goal through BBZ to be Portland’s first professional tap company in a downtown theater, like OBT is to the Keller Auditorium; like the Oregon Symphony is to The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall; and like the White Bird Series is to the Newmark Theatre.”

The six female members of the BBZ are Pamela Allen, Hillary Hart, Erin Lee, Jennifer McKay, Mikaeyla Pool and Alicia Schuler.

Hart teaches at Cami Curtis Performing Arts Center in downtown Portland and has been in the BBZ for three years.

Like the others, she wants to perform at the convention to share the group’s love of tap and spread the art form.

“I love to tap, and my favorite part about it is the rhythms. It’s like another language, and this is my way of expressing myself. Performing is a way to show others my passion and sharing this language,” she said.

Lee is a BBZ founding member who teaches all over the Portland area, primarily at Studio One Dance Academy.

“Performing the art of tap is a love and passion of mine. I look for opportunities to share it whenever I can,”Lee said. “Tap dancing is all about joy — to enjoy and love the dance.”

Pool also is a dance teacher at Studio One Dance Academy and has been with the BBZ for three years.

She wants to perform at the convention event to help “bring tap dancing back up to the forefront of dance, so that tap dancing can have the same love and following as the many other styles that have became popular over the years.”

Pool added that she enjoys being able to create her own music, using her feet as her instruments and her voice. 

Schuler has been tapping with BBZ for a little more than two years, and just started teaching at the KAD Performing Arts Centre.

“I think it will be refreshing to the audience to see that tap is not a dying art, and it has such a rich history,” she said.

Younger dancers embrace tap

The junior BBZ crew just started this year, because “these aspiring pre-professional dancers wanted an outlet and avenue to perform,” Keller said.

The younger dancers include: Alexandra Beneloga, 17, Grace Hankins, 11, Tearzah Harrell, 12, Morgan Jansen, 16, Madelyn Johnson, 13, Taylor King, 15, Aisha Lakshman, 13, MaKenzie Pool, 14, Olivia Poyser, 16, Rebecca Reynolds, 14, and Jessica Wethessen, 12.

Beneloga attends Milwaukie High School and trains at Grand Finale in Gladstone. She started with tap and is continuing with tap because she just loves it, she said.

Hankins also trains in Gladstone, is the youngest in the group, and has been tapping since she was 2 because she likes all the different rhythms of that style.

Feeling that rush before and after a performance keeps Harrell going, the Cascade Heights Public Charter School student said, while Jansen said her favorite part of a routine is the fact that “you can’t do anything wrong.”

Watching the two groups rehearse, Garner said, “Tap dancing is not only fun to do, but is fun to watch and listen to. This art form of creating music with your feet is not an easy task. Classic tap styles, hoofing and each individual style of the BBZ members are merged in their pieces.”

She added that she is grateful to Becky Hankins, owner of Grande Finale Dance Studio on Portland Avenue in Gladstone, for providing rehearsal space to the BBZ on Sunday nights.

To book a show with the BBZ, call Garner at 503-260-8266.



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