Anita Feldman

Anita Feldman, one of a new breed of tap dancers in the early 1980s who expanded the parameters of the art, and one of the earliest to articulate her tap aesthetic, was raised in the suburbs of Chicago. Her mother was an accountant and her father an engineer; both encouraged her to become a mathematician. She began her tap training at age five in Chicago with tap master Jimmy Payne and continued classes with him until she graduated from high school. She also studied ballet and jazz dance, and piano, and learned the rudiments of music theory, becoming attracted to the rhythm section's instruments (bass, drum, and piano) of a jazz combo. When she entered the University of Illinois she studied percussion and African drumming while settling on a major in dance. Modern dance's value as an art form and as a physical outlet was appealing to her, and after graduation she moved to New York where her aesthetic of percussive performance began to evolve. She enrolled in the Dance Education Program of Teacher's College at Columbia University, studying musical composition with Robert Dunn, a John Cage associate who fostered the Judson Dance Theater in the early 1960s. Dunn exposed her to new methods and tools of choreographic experimentation. Still working in the modern dance mode, her choreography was rhythm-oriented and extremely complex, requiring accurate and technically proficient performers. Feldman's early partner was Carol Hess.

Meanwhile, Feldman performed in the modern dance companies of Marta Renzi, Ruth Barnes, and Beverly Brown, gaining the reputation as a very skilled performer and technician with a style that was leading toward that of Merce Cunningham. After receiving her Masters degree, she focused on the study of tap dance, realizing it was the perfect expressive medium for her as a dancer and choreographer as it challenged her skills in mathematics, percussion, modern dance and tap. In tap dance, she melded the creative and analytical aspects of her self.

Her first group tap work, Off A Cliff, was an a capella trio in non-unison that mixed meters, the "time" changing from threes to fours to nines, etc. Each dancer, while relating to one another, worked in a separate rhythmic framework, reaching unity only in some instances, and then not in consistent of predictable patterns. Feldman composed a "tap score" for the work, and has since continued to work from an original sound base rather than from a pre-existing score. While Off a Cliff was composed from an original sound base, Three Monk Tunes (1983) was created to a pre-existing score, here the music of Thelonious Monk. She collaborated with music composer Larry Polansky by writing a score (that included notated tap rhythms) long distance-- he in California, a lecturer in contemporary music at Mills College; she in New York. The work, which premiered at the University of California at Hayward was a three-minute duet for tap dancer and percussionist in which each of three sections presented a different challenge: the big, middle, and low tones defined by Polansky in the score challenged Feldman to duplicate them with different parts of her tap shoes. The order of the tones and the new rhythms were written without regard for the way conventional tap steps were executed. The particular challenge, then, was to find coordinating patterns that simultaneously fulfilled the rhythmic and tonal requirements while presenting the sounds visually, through the dancing body.

Feldman also realized other composers' percussion works as ensemble tap dances, such as Tapping Music (1985), a realization of Steve Reich's "Clapping Music" with percussionist Gary Schall at a lectern using wooden clackers to establish the beat and rhythm; and Three Quartets for Eight Feet (1984), composed by James Tenney. 1988 saw Anita Feldman and Dancers presenting Shimmer, a twenty-minute work for herself, David Parker, and Rhonda Price to taped music that explored her interest in the different sound a tap dancer can produce. Each dancer walked onstage from the wings and executed a few taps and whisked back stage; they reentered to a disjointed sax and drum mix, moving with the beat and swishing off. As Feldman soloed, the others froze. "At moments the three pairs of feet move so fast, you marvel that the beat and tap can remain so amazingly clear," wrote Lillie Rosen in Attitude. In Hexa (1988), another abstract, non-literal work, Feldman, Price, and Parker tap-danced on a two-to-three-inch high special platform, whose build, height and position made sounds of different caliber.

Wrote Jack Anderson in the New York Times about Feldman's unique tap works: Anita Feldman employs traditional tap steps in untraditional ways by choreographing tap dances that—though they lack specific subject matter—are so varied in mood and rich in dynamic shadings that they could be called abstract paintings in motion."



Click here to read about composer Lois V Vierk.


Click here to view the works of the collaboration of Lois V Vierk and Anita Feldman.