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.”